School board divided - Members split on redistricting

Posted: Friday, November 09, 2001

This year, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly questioned fair representation on the school board, and the question has vexed the board ever since.

The usually harmonious school board is split on the issue.

Assembly president Tim Navarre appointed a committee in April to look at redistricting the assembly in the wake of the 2000 census, as required by federal law. It agreed to consider overhauling the school board and the borough planning commission after the October election. The committee will decide whether to recommend a ballot measure changing the way the school board is elected.

School board members have expressed concern that they were not asked first, and they are working on a recommendation to send to the committee in December. A Monday work session was supposed to be a first step.

"I think it is still up in the air. I don't think we have come to any consensus," said board member Al Poindexter from Anchor Point.

Should the board members continue to be elected at large? Or should each seat be assigned to a geographic area?

If the system is changed to districting, incumbents could lose seats, the board could become more politicized and the balance of power between the central peninsula and outlying areas could change, according to the discussions.

Board president Dr. Nels Anderson of Soldotna and former board president Deborah Germano of Homer differ widely on the districting issue.

"There is no system, districting or not, that is going to guarantee representation," Anderson said. "It's kind of an uncomfortable situation."

He noted that the Alaska Constitution and other large districts around the state favor at-large districts.

"I think we ought to leave it alone," he said.

Although Germano was unavailable for comment for this story, she told a reporter last month she thinks the school board should support changes to the election system before the idea goes to the assembly.

"I always hoped the school board would come to the conclusion that it needed to be done," she said.

"They say we potentially would only be advocating for Homer schools," she said. "I disagree with that. I don't see how with all the staffing formulas you could advocate for your own group. You are only one member on a seven-member body. The real policy and formulas are set by the body."

Joe Arness, a school board member from Nikiski, said Germano and other districting advocates have good points, but he opposes districting.

The seven-member school board now has two members from Kenai, two from Nikiski and one each from Soldotna, Homer and Anchor Point.

Differences in voter turnout rates due to localized, hot-button issues have influenced school board election results in recent years, and central peninsula voters tend to favor candidates from their area.

"Seward is the issue," Arness said.

Poindexter agreed.

"I think it is going to be extremely difficult for someone from Seward to get elected," he said.

The smaller, remote schools feel disenfranchised, and the only way candidates outside the population centers can get elected is with a great deal of name recognition and money, he said.

Those following the issue say eastern peninsula people feel alienated from the seat of power in the central peninsula. That perception was reinforced during the October election, when Kenai resident Margaret Gilman defeated appointed incumbent Sandra Wassilie of Seward at the polls, despite Wassilie's nearly unanimous support in her hometown.

Anderson disagreed with that assessment of Seward candidates' prospects.

"The proposition that a person can't get elected from Seward, I think, is ludicrous," he said.

If the present-sized board gets put into geographic districts, the seat representing the eastern peninsula would extend into and be dominated by Sterling. Districting opponents say such a change could leave outlying areas with less representation than they have now.

Arness and Anderson, advocating the status quo, said they worry districting could make the board more political and pit schools against each other competing for resources. Such in-fighting would be bad for the school children districtwide, he said.

"I have a lot of sympathy for the Seward situation. I am not sure repairing it is worth what may or may not come out of it," Arness said. "There is a possibility we could do ourselves damage."

Anderson agreed that the at-large board serves everyone well.

"We are trying to be as fair and honest to everyone in the district as possible," he said.

Poindexter said he views the concerns about politicizing the board with skepticism.

Since board members are elected, the body already is political in a sense, he said.

The school board plans to hold another work session about districting Nov. 19 in Soldotna. The board plans to vote on a position on districting at its Dec. 3 meeting and submit it as a recommendation to the borough's districting committee meeting Dec. 6.

Anderson said he doubted the school board's recommendation would make any difference to the committee.

"I don't think it will amount to a hill of beans," he said.

"I wish it had never come up."

HEAD:Reconstruction aimed at terrorism


BYLINE2:Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration on Thursday announced a sweeping redesign of federal law enforcement, the first step in transforming America's security and intelligence agencies for the 21st century fight against terrorism.

Attorney General John Ashcroft submitted to Congress his ''wartime reorganization and mobilization'' plan. It will shift 10 percent of the resources and jobs from the nation's capital to field offices, and add FBI agents, immigration screeners and prosecutors.

''The war on terrorism will not be fought in Washington but in the field by agents,'' Ashcroft said. He said the FBI would focus more on preventing terrorist acts and less on solving traditional crimes that local police could handle.

''We cannot do everything we once did because lives now depend on us doing a few things very well,'' the attorney general said.

Officials said an additional $2.5 billion would shift from other programs to counterterrorism, more than doubling what the agency now spends to fight terrorism.

The restructuring will mean program cuts at the Justice Department and require congressional approval, said a senior department official, speaking on condition of anonymity. He estimated the reorganization would take six months.

Meanwhile, a presidential panel prepared to recommend an overhaul of U.S. intelligence agencies. The plan would consolidate often disparate and competing spy resources under the stewardship of the CIA director, officials said.

The panel, expected to deliver its recommendations to President Bush next month, would give the CIA new authority over spy satellites and electronic intercepts, officials said.

The CIA chief would gain control over three large military intelligence agencies that now are part of the Defense Department, according to a U.S. official familiar with the draft proposals.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the agencies include the National Security Agency, which oversees electronic intercepts; the National Recon-naissance Office, which designs and operates intelligence-gathering satellites; and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, which interprets satellite pictures and creates military maps.

The shake-up follows the failure of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement to predict or prevent the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings, the worst act of domestic terror in American history.

Lawmakers applauded the restructuring, but want a thorough examination of how authorities failed to prevent the attacks.

''You cannot plan for the future effectively without knowing what went wrong in the past,'' Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., wrote Ashcroft.

Leahy said an FBI oversight panel headed by William Webster, former FBI and CIA director, should review the FBI's counterterrorism performance before Sept. 11.

The combined changes at the FBI and CIA would consolidate criminal intelligence gathering, now spread across multiple defense and civilian agencies, and provide federal law enforcement agents with broader access to evidence gathered by the nation's vast spy apparatus.

Officials said the goal was to modernize an American security apparatus still heavily steeped in Cold-War ways.

''Our new mission requires a new way of doing business; when terrorism threatens our future, we cannot afford to live in the past,'' Ashcroft said.

Information-sharing allowed under a new anti-terrorism law has helped prosecutors assigned to terrorism cases.

Intelligence information under review at the Justice Department can be used to build criminal cases and has been farmed out to local prosecutors, the senior department official said.

HEAD:Bush assures nation U.S. will prevail. See story, page A-6


BYLINE2:Peninsula Clarion

"If you build it, they will come," might work for ball fields and baseball fans, but it doesn't guarantee public participation in the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.

For John Kistler of Kasilof it boils down to logistics and personal responsibility.

"The district I live in is so large -- and always has been -- that, in essence, I have no representation," said Kistler, whose lives 30 miles from the home of his representative, Paul Fischer.

"If I want the assembly to know what I think about some things, I have to go tell them."

Grace Merkes of Sterling announced at Tuesday's assembly meeting her interest in increasing public involvement.

"I feel that too much discussion and decisions are made at committee meetings and by the time they get to the assembly, the hearings are really useless because decisions have basically already been made," she said.

Her plan calls for elimination of committee meetings. Special issues could be are handled by appointed committees or workshops open for public comment.

According to borough code, the assembly meets at 7 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of each month, unless changed by resolution. Four committees -- lands, finance, legislative and committee of the whole -- begin earlier in the day, generally at 1 p.m.

"I feel like the public has lost so much interest and respect, if you will, for the assembly and the process, that they really feel disenfranchised from what's happening on the assembly and in the borough," Merkes said.

As an example, she pointed to the development of a private prison that was considered by the assembly but rejected by borough voters Oct. 2.

"I think that issue brought it out pretty much that the process needs to be changed on how information is given and taken from the public."

Fischer used Tuesday's meeting as an example of the impact committee activity has on the evening assembly meeting.

"You could see that everything was programmed before the meeting," Fischer said.

Options to Merkes' idea, said Fischer, include a 6 p.m. start time, stretching the meetings over two evenings or holding them on Saturdays. He said the schedule should be "for the convenience of the people that vote us in" and suggested a change in meeting times might encourage assembly candidates.

"If you look at the present assembly, I don't think anyone on there right now is a wage or hourly employee," he said. "We need to get people who have regular jobs to get on the assembly, but they can't go to an employer and say they want two times off a month."

To cut meeting length, Fischer suggested a time limit on assembly comments, similar to the three-minute limit on public testimony.

Milli Martin of Homer commended Merkes for raising the issue and looked forward to getting voter comments. Afternoon committee meetings allow interested members of the public to attend, testify and return home during daylight hours. On the flip side, Martin said unless people attend the afternoon meetings, "they're kind of missing out."

From the other side of the peninsula, Ron Long of Seward also saw other sides of the issue.

"People that I've heard from in my area view it as two opportunities for public input," Long said. "I kind of like the idea of giving people an option."

High school students were in attendance Tuesday, including several from Linda Raemaeker's government class at Skyview High School.

Taylor Magone drew a good-natured laugh from the assembly when he described the meeting as "vastly stimulating."

Raemaeker's students attend assembly and city council meetings as part of a unit on local government.

"It gets the students more actively involved and to at least know the process," she said. "It generates classroom discussion of what's going on in the area and is a chance for them to see the members, to know what the local issues are and how the process works."

Representatives from Nikiski High School were on hand to receive two commending resolutions. One recognized the school's football team as the Alaska School Activities Association Small-Schools State Champions for 2001. The second recognized the Nikiski Bulldog athletes who made the 2001 Alaska All-State Football Small-Schools Team.

A group of peninsula residents was on hand to support passage of an ordinance conveying property on Kalifornsky Beach Road to the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Associa-tion. The ordinance was enacted as amended.

For the most part, however, hearings on eight ordinances went without public testimony.

Will changing meeting times have any impact?

"I wish I could say differently, but I don't believe any more of the public will have any more interest in the assembly unless it hits them in the wallet or at home," Kistler said. "That's the only two things that seem to bring people out. If they have a road they want fixed, they show up. If there's a tax increase they don't like, they show up. If they want money for whatever organization, they show up. I think we call this government by special interest group."

Kistler commended the assembly for its efforts to keep the public involved and encouraged other borough residents to become involved with the assembly.

Other action taken by the assembly included the following ordinances scheduled for public hearings:

n Acquisition and appropriation of $121,000 to purchase two lots for addition to the South Peninsula Hospital -- tabled;

n Acceptance and appropriation of a $44,032 grant for the Bear Creek Fire Service Area wellness and fitness programs -- enacted as amended;

n Receipt and appropriation of a $3,100 grant to Bear Creek Fire Service Area -- enacted;

n Third of four hearings on planning commission membership and apportionment -- amended and postponed until Nov. 20;

n Authorization of a land exchange to acquire a former Anchor Point material site for a solid waste transfer facility and provide the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities with a maintenance site on East End Road, Homer -- postponed until the Dec. 11 meeting;

n Authorization of a lease with option to purchase land for the Cooper Landing Post Office -- enacted as amended; and

n Apportionment and composition of the borough assembly seats -- enacted.

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- State Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman will run for the Republican nomination as lieutenant governor, the Anchorage lawmaker said Thursday.

Leman said his priorities are fiscal discipline, school accountability and parental choice, combating drug and alcohol abuse and opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Leman has served 13 years in the Alaska Legis-lature and was first elected to the Senate in 1992.

In making the announcement he cited numerous accomplishments by the GOP-controlled Legislature, such as reducing general fund spending, welfare and education reform and state agency consolidations.

Leman chided Gov. Tony Knowles and Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, both Democrats, for opposing the Republican reforms.

''Many of these positive changes were enacted without the support of the Knowles-Ulmer administration, and occasionally we had to overcome their active opposition,'' Leman said in a statement.

Under state term limits laws, Knowles cannot seek a third term as governor. Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer is running for governor on the Democrat ticket.

U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski also has announced his intention to run as the Republican nominee for governor. Leman said the Legislature ''can accomplish so much more for Alaska when we have a governor and lieutenant governor who will work constructively with the Legislature.''


HEAD:Leman announces bid for Republican Lt. Gov post


BYLINE2:Peninsula Clarion

The Joint Committee on Natural Gas Pipelines, chaired by Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, wrapped up two days of hearings in Kenai Thursday. The purpose of the meetings was to evaluate the supply and demand for natural gas in Cook Inlet.

"Natural gas will run out in Cook Inlet, and we need more to come here from different areas," Torgerson said. "All agree that if there are no changes, and we go full speed ahead, by 2015 we'll be dry."

He said if new discoveries in Cook Inlet are brought on line, the reserves could be pushed seven to 10 years further out. There are "really wide swings" in what reserves may or may not be out there, he said.

Committee member Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said that for years petroleum companies did not seek gas, only oil. Now that they are looking for gas again, new reserves could be found.

No matter how much gas is found in Cook Inlet, it will run out at some point, Torgerson said. The solution is a natural gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Cook Inlet.

"And the sooner the better," he said. "We can't go into the future without a plan."

A gas pipeline from the North Slope to Nikiski is not the front-runner in the pipeline scramble, but a spur line from either an Alaska Highway or Prudhoe to Valdez route could be possible.

"It's very, very important that natural gas come to the Kenai Peninsula and Cook Inlet basin," Torgerson said.

Alaska's vast natural gas reserves on the North Slope, estimated at more than 35 trillion cubic feet, have lacked markets in the past. But rising demand and declining supplies are likely to make their development feasible before the end of the decade.

Torgerson said the Nikiski petrochemical industry would be the first to go if reserves began to dwindle. Two, and soon three, North Road plants depend on natural gas: Phillips Petroleum creates and ships liquefied natural gas to Japan, while Agrium turns gas into fertilizer. BP's gas-to-liquid pilot plant will turn gas into synthetic crude oil once it is operational.

"We certainly don't want to see our industry shut down, so timing is essential," he said.

Tony Izzo, president of Enstar Natural Gas Co., showed slides of the company's projected demand and supply for the next 15 years. By 2010, if no new natural gas is discovered or brought into Cook Inlet, one slide showed Enstar's demand outstripping supply more than two-to-one.

Enstar purchases its gas under long-term contracts with Marathon, Chevron, ML&P and Phillips. It has two new contracts, one with Moquakie, comprised of Anadarko and Phillips, which starts Jan. 1. The other with Unocal starts in 2004. The company supplies natural gas to 160,800 homes, Izzo said.

A chart he displayed showed the supply of known gas reserves in Cook Inlet falling below Enstar's average peak demand in 2003 and the average daily demand in 2006, if industrial use was cut in half by 2010.

"Putting on my Enstar hat, if pushed, I think curtailing industrial use could be considered, but that is the last thing we would like to see," Izzo said.

Chris Tworek, vice president of supply management for Agrium, said bringing North Slope gas to Cook Inlet would create more jobs for Alaskans if the company expanded its Nikiski fertilizer plant.

Richard Peterson, president of Alaska Natural Gas to Liquids Co., or ANGTL, spoke about transforming North Slope natural gas into synthetic crude and indicated the company would be interested in building a GTL plant in Cook Inlet.

He said if the United States really wants to reduce dependence on imported foreign oil, it should look to North Slope GTL, which could add 1 million barrels a day that could be shipped down the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

"This can be built in Alaska and provide jobs for Americans," he said.

A GTL plant could provide steam, hydrogen and nitrogen to be used as feed stock for fertilizer plants, as well as the synthetic crude for oil refineries.

He said the GTL process also can be applied to coal bed methane, which Alaska and the nation has plenty of.

"There is enough coal (methane) reserves in 38 states across the nation to make over 10 million barrels a day of synthetic motor fuels for over 200 years," he said.

Mark Sexton, president and chief executive officer of Evergreen Resources of Denver, testified by telephone how his company is poised to drill for coal bed methane, which he described as nearly identical chemically to natural gas.

Sexton said Alaska has half the known coal reserves in the nation, and that the Cook Inlet area possibly holds 200 trillion cubic feet of coal bed methane. Torgerson estimated that was probably a 1,000-year supply. However, past efforts to extract the methane in the Cook Inlet basin were unsuccessful, he said.

In Sexton's presentation, he described how the company had developed its own technology to successfully extract the coal in Colorado. Torgerson said he was glad to see the company has had success with the technology.

Evergreen acquired rights to drill for coal bed methane near Wasilla this year, and already has sunk several wells.

Scott Heyworth, with the initiative group to promote an all-Alaska natural gas pipeline, wants a line to Valdez where the gas would be turned into LNG for shipment to the Pacific Rim.

The plan of the Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority calls for a spur line to supply Cook Inlet electric, heating and industry needs.

"This plan assures cheap gas to Cook Inlet," Heyworth said. "The Beaufort and highway routes have no provisions."

The Beaufort Sea, or "Over the Top" gas line route would ship North Slope natural gas to Canada's MacKenzie River Delta area where it would then make its way to market. The Alaska Highway route would follow the trans-Alaska oil pipeline to Fairbanks and then follow the highway into Canada.

"(The All-Alaska route) is the gas line project Alaskans want to see," Heyworth said.

The Alaska Highway route is Gov. Tony Knowles' preferred plan, however. John Ellwood, executive vice president and chief operating officer of of Foothills Pipe Lines Ltd., thinks that will be the option that will eventually be built. His company would be one of several in a coalition that would build it.

"Things will coalesce around the highway route," he said. "In the end, the competition will melt away."

The committee may hold another hearing at a later date, either in Anchorage or Juneau, before the next legislative session begins in January.

In the meantime, Torgerson said the committee will hire its own economist to sort through the myriad numbers and economic scenarios surrounding the issue.

The committee will create an executive summary and present it to the Senate and House resource committees. Torgerson said he would like to see legislation generated to encourage a Cook Inlet spur or direct gas line and have it passed in the upcoming session.

Clarion reporter Shana Losh-baugh contributed to this story.

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