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Borough meeting triggers attention

Private prison, appointment top agenda for Tuesday

Posted: Monday, November 20, 2000

Two items are attention-getters on Tuesday's agenda for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.

One could result in the creation of approximately 250 to 300 corrections-related permanent full-time jobs in the borough, according to borough Mayor Dale Bagley. The other item focuses attention on the mayor's request for confirmation of a Cooper Landing resident to that community's Advisory Planning Commission. However, the individual in question currently has two lawsuits pending against former borough employees and officials and one current borough employee.

Ordinance 2000-59, introduced by Bagley, seeks authorization from the assembly "for the borough to negotiate an agreement with the state to operate a prison facility and to publicly solicit bids or proposals for the land, design, construction and operation of an 800- to 1,000-bed prison facility, to be financed with municipal revenue bonds."

In August, after reviewing a proposal submitted to the borough by the Kenai Native Association, a resolution was passed by the assembly supporting the concept of establishing a private prison within the borough.

The concept was spurred by the seeming demise of a plans approved by the Alaska Depart-ment of Corrections for construction of a private prison at Fort Greeley. KNA proposed constructing and operating a privately owned prison adjacent to Wildwood Correctional Facility, using the borough as "a pass-through agency for the receipt of state funds." Two assembly members, Bill Popp of Kenai and Jack Brown of Nikiski were appointed to work with KNA.

Timing is now a driving force in speeding up the review process.

"We have a legislative session that we need to be keeping in mind," Popp said. "Because of the fact that the Greeley project is faltering terribly, we're getting into situation that if this is what we want to do, bring the prison to the Kenai Peninsula, it is going to require that we be prepared for the beginning of the legislative session. We need to explore this and find out what citizens of the borough want to do."

Popp said the start-to-finish process is a long one.

"Just because the borough goes forward with the ordinance authorizing the administration to work on this, it's still going to require quite a bit of work at the legislative level," he said. "With that schedule in mind, in all likelihood, we won't see construction of this project before next winter.

He also anticipated the level of borough participation in KNA's Prison Project Committee would decrease.

"I believe the borough's participation will be pulled back out of respect for the bid process and to main integrity," Popp said. "KNA's proposal sparked this idea, but based on what the state is willing and able to do, the playing field has changed substantially. The model that we see now is one where the borough would bond for the prison and would issue a request for proposals to all comers who have a team, an idea and a location for where they would want to build this prison and what their costs would be. This is a public bid process. I'm sure KNA will be at the table providing its proposal, but this will absolutely make certain other contractors are able to participate in presenting their proposals. From there, the borough will have to weigh the proposals."

Brown agreed that the ordinance would open the door for other organizations.

"We have to go through a process that allows anyone interested in constructing and operating a prison the opportunity to bid on it," he said. "It's open for anyone. I looked at three or four companies that are interested in constructing and operating a prison. So, I think there's going to be some interest. We'll just wait and see who applies for it."

The spokesperson for KNA was unavailable for comment.

Hoping to fill empty slots on the Cooper Landing Advisory Planning Commission, Bagley is requesting the assembly confirm Jon James, Glenn Sackett and Sherman "Red" Smith. Smith has filed two lawsuits against former borough employees and officials and one current employee. This is not the first time Bagley has asked the assembly to confirm Smith for this position. However, the attempt earlier this year was unsuccessful.

According to borough attorney Colette Thompson, one of the lawsuits filed by Smith relates to actions of a former assembly member relating to Bagley's previous attempt to seat Smith on the commission. The second lawsuit relates, at least in part, to the transfer of 10 acres of land from the borough to Smith and his daughter.

Although the borough has not been named as an entity in either case, Thompson said legal council on lawsuits is being paid for by the borough because "everything that is alleged appears to have been done within the course and scope of (the individuals) employment and positions with the borough."

The mayor's appointment of Smith is confusing to some Cooper Landing residents.

"It's a considerable problem," said Bob Baldwin, who regularly attends the community's APC meetings, is president of Friends of Cooper Landing and is named in one of Smith's lawsuits.

"It's hard to understand how (Smith) can be appointed to a public policy commission when, in fact, he actually has two lawsuits pending," Baldwin said. "I do have an apparent vested interest because I'm mentioned in one of the suits, but I'm not concerned about that. This fellow has no business representing anybody but himself."

Baldwin said the majority of the community would be adamantly opposed to Smith sitting on the commission.

"He's well-known for pursuing issues that benefit himself and that don't necessarily benefit the community," Baldwin said. "I can't think of anything he's undertaken that benefits the community, at least without him being first in line."

Baldwin said he doesn't understand Bagley's continued support of Smith.

"It kind of boggles the mind that the mayor would appoint someone who has two lawsuits against the borough," he said.

Cooper Landing resident Bill Stockwell said he has no problem with James' or Sackett's appointment, but doesn't understand why Smith is being considered again.

"With Red Smith, I have a problem," said Stockwell, adding he is one of the individuals being sued by Smith.

"Of course, the bigger question is that he's suing other people here in the community, one who is on the APC," said Stockwell, who is chairman of the Cooper Landing Fish and Gave Advisory Committee. "Why is the mayor doing this?"

Both Baldwin and Stockwell said they have expressed their concerns to members of the assembly.

Bagley was out of town and unavailable for comment, but his assistant, Ed Oberts, said several assembly members have contacted the mayor's office regarding Smith's appointment.

"But they haven't asked that he not be appointed," Oberts said." As this point, his name is still going before the assembly. We're hoping to get it passed and Red (Smith) really thinks he has the assembly's support. He thinks he'll get confirmed."

On Saturday, Smith was asked if he felt a conflict existed between his appointment and the legal actions he has initiated.

"If there's a legal conflict there, I'm totally unaware of it," he said.

He referred to a letter he wrote and submitted with his application to Bagley in August. Accompany-ing the letter were signatures of 43 supporting individuals from Cooper Landing, Sterling and Homer.

"I worked at the Kenai Peninsula Borough in the Planning Depart-ment when the objective was to implement Article VIII of our state Constitution," Smith wrote. "I will continue to educate the later generations as to why we have article VIII in the state Constitution and how to implement it."

Article VIII relates to Alaska's natural resources and sets the policy to encourage the settlement of land and the development of resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest.

Smith wrote in his letter that the 43 signatures, which he claimed represented "a broad spectrum of local residents," were gathered after former assembly member Pat O'Brien of Seward said in March that he had received communications from individuals asking that Smith's original application for the commissioner position be rejected.

"I see no need to continue the popularity contest beyond this expression," Smith wrote. "To date I have found only one written comment from a neighbor who does not want me to be on the local commission. If there are other written requests to not allow me to serve my community, I would like to have copies so that I might communicate with those neighbors in good faith as to why I volunteered."

The signatures came with a letter that read, in part, "We believe that Red Smith can fairly, openly and honestly represent Cooper Landing on the Kenai Peninsula Borough's Cooper Landing Ad-visory Planning Commission."

"He's got as much right to be on there as anyone," said George Siter, who currently serves as vice chair on Cooper Landing's APC. "I know he's been in conflict with the borough trying to get on there, but he has a right to be on there. It gives us some diversity, I suppose."

Other items on the Tuesday assembly agenda for public hearings include:

n Over-the-counter disposal of forest resources;

n Receipt and appropriation of a municipal capital matching grand of $497,690 from the state of Alaska for Road Service Area capital projects;

n Receipt and appropriation of a $50,000 grand from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a joint venture research project on vegetation and fire history;

n An amendment to borough code relating to real property and personal property taxes;

n An amendment to borough code changing the dates on which property taxes become delinquent and the rages charges for penalty and interest on delinquent taxes; and

n Confirmation of the assessment roll for the Moose Range Meadows Utility Special Assess-ment District and establishing the method for terminating assessments and making refunds to property owners.

The borough assembly meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Borough Building in Soldotna. Committee meetings begin with the Policies and Procedures Committee at 1 p.m., Finance at 2 p.m., Lands Committee at 3 p.m., Legislative Committee at 4 p.m. and Commit-tee of the Whole at 5 p.m.



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