NO TRESPASSING

Rail Spur

The MSB does not want anyone to travel on our new 32 mile unfinished “Rail Spur” which connects the Parks Highway to the Port.

https://www.adn.com/commentary/article/new-alaska-rail-line-peters-out-forest-after-consuming-184-million/2016/02/02/

^ Very informative February 2, 2016, column by Anchorage Daily News columnist Charles Wohlforth who discovered that the Mat-Su rail spur is a wonderful bike trail.

However, on September 28, 2017, the MSB told the public to stay off of the trail.

https://www.matsugov.us/news/port-mac-rail-s-32-miles-closed-to-travel

From the MSB press release:

The Port MacKenzie Rail Extension’s 32-mile embankment is closed to travel. Responsible residents do not trespass. Please stay out of the 200-foot wide right of way for the rail embankment. Check in with landowners before you go out and recreate or hunt on their lands.

Numerous incidents of vandalism and thefts have occurred in the last month on the embankment including: Borough rail embankment gates rammed, cut off hinges and stolen chains and locks, stolen and damaged signs, stolen barriers, deep ruts in the embankment from vehicles climbing the side slope, ruts on the top of the embankment from vehicles spinning in circles and sliding sideways. A break-in also occurred at a port lessee facility.

Because of numerous criminal violations, the Borough has recently increased patrols along the corridor by Borough employees and a security company. Patrols have been effective at reducing trespassing and criminal activity. No Borough employee or contractor has fired any weapons during these patrols.

Here’s how the public reacted on Facebook when this press release was posted on the local news group:

“This looks like a fabulous bike trail! I wish we could use it as a bike trail instead of waiting (forever) for it to become a railroad track.”

“Okay say we do. Are you willing to pay all the cost associated with making it that including the things everyone complains about …enforcement, safety, trash pick up, returning it to its present state when and if funding is found to complete it? Because the state has no money to pay..just asking…”

“I worry about the “Streisand effect” with this notice from the MSB. (I.E., now people are going to be aware that this RR spur is actually a very nice trail.)”

“Why close it .We paid millions for it.”

“Why can’t taxpayers use it as a trail now as it apparently isn’t going to be used for anything else – at least not for a long time. At least if people were using it as a trail, the vandals would have that many more eyes on them and they’d have to go elsewhere.”

“They cut off existing trail use for people south of the extension to access their property. Then never complete the project. Then get mad the people drove over their fancy elevated bike path to get to their property. Sure some dumb asses a spinning donuts on it… but the government needs to take some responsibility.”

“Exactly.”
“It’s sort of like what’s called in law an ‘attractive nuisance’  “
“Nope… we now have to go through the port and cross property of someone who isn’t really a fan of my family. They have decided to allow access, but it’s still super awkward when we had our own road out to the point and could avoid it all together.”
“Just as a note of information the route for this was publicly noticed and debated for literally years. It was the route that was picked right and wrong. Easements were bought etc.”
“Taxpayers paid for it why not use it for something. Since the MSB likes to spent so much money on trail work and design how about removing the gate and putting up a welcome sign and quite and squandering money on security and use those funds for something productive.”
“First of all that easement was paid for by the people there for I have every right to use so I wonder how it is u can tell me I can’t.”
“Or what? Get arrested and thrown in jail? Please someone get arrested for trespassing. Then have the court explain the difference between our homes and the half done rail bed.”
“What a Waste of Money ! “
“I sympathize with people having problems accessing their property. But is it asking too much to not carelessly destroy what has already been built? Maybe that rail spur will never be finished. Then again maybe the next big mining or pipeline project will make it useful…and maybe you or your kids will benefit from it with a good paying job.”
“It’s going to grow over with alders of it isn’t used. No matter what it will require repair work so as tax payers we might as well get to use the damn thing. They could have built a Wasilla bypass for the money wasted on it.”
It is serving no purpose other than closing off access to public land.”
“And now you know the real reason.”
“Dan Mayfield, u put this together apparently so know how do we go about using it that we paid for it ????”
“Sounds very familiar didn’t we pay to maintain a ferry that we never got to use. Increase boro land assessments threats of sales tax. Matsu bro spends way too much money on speculative endeavors. Dairy farms, ports, fairies, rail beds with no rails . What will be next taxation More taxation no doubt.”
“This is a ridiculous waste of land and money. That Port saw one barge last year. I drove out last month just to see what was out there. A sign bragging about how much money and another saying to check in at the abandoned, boarded up gate house. I drove to the open gate, called both numbers on the sign and no one answered. I then drove down to the Port and not a soul anywhere to be found and this was a Thursday around 2pm. I then drove and parked at one of the gates and took a walk to see the rail extension that cost so much money only to realize, it’s no rail extension, just very tall expensive one lane gravel road.”
“Even if its finished there is no work for it. Even the railroad people don’t want it.I paid for this closed gate with lock. Millions poof. No trespass stay away .No money.blah blah.Its madness.”
“Isn’t that payed (sic) for with public money?”
“Mostly federal money and state. But just like federal or state park you just don’t get a key to do what you want it is an asset.”
“Yep but we the people paid for something we cant use. Because the borough says it belongs to them.”
“Yeah what everyone else said! Public land, public funds, government failure, threatening arrest. Typical government.”
“Well if the only ones that can enforce it is Code Compliance then everyone have at it!”
“There’s really no where to hunt out here now . everything else is private. We been hunting out here for years.just one more thing they want to take away.”
“Here’s a pic of who is really driving around the gates, there security guard is to lazy to get out and unlock it so he drives around it. And yet the borough keeps blaming there residents. This picture was just talking a couple of days ago.”
“Wow isn’t that something plus blaming everyone else for the road bank being tore up wonder what this costing us in wages and benefits!”
security truck
The ADN’s detailed article:

 

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The MSB owes the Federal Government over Nine Million dollars (Why didn’t the MSB keep the public informed about this?)

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough owes the Federal Transit Administration $9,287,929.

This amount is the FTA’s final determination on the ferry and port project federal grant payback matter.   This decision was announced in a letter dated February 7, 2017, which was signed by Robert J. Tuccillo, Associate Administrator/Chief Financial Officer for the FTA’s Office of Budget and Policy, and sent to the MSB’s contract attorneys at Venable LLC, a Wash DC law firm.

According to the FTA’s letter, the MSB had 30 days from the date of the Feb 7, 2017, decision to either 1) pay the debt in full; 2) propose a repayment plan subject to FTA approval; or 3) make a submission to FTA regarding why it is unable to pay the full amount of the debt within a reasonable time, substantiated by financial information, and an offer to compromise the debt.

Below is the FTA’s Final Determination letter:

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Scan_20180120 (2)

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Scan_20180120 (5)What the MSB has done in response to this letter is not known.  This final determination was made almost ONE YEAR ago.  And yet, the MSB has not made any public statements about it.

I obtained this letter from the FTA though a FOIA request and received it today.

I had to contact the FTA because the MSB was not responsive to my requests for information about this matter. (I sent the MSB – including the Attorney and Manager and PR person – an email on Dec 21st 2017 and a follow up email on Jan 4, 2018, asking if the MSB had ever resolved the Ferry/Port federal grant payback matter and the MSB did not respond at all.)

Background:

In August 2014, the FTA demanded that MSB repay $12,319,299, it had drawn from federal grants in the early 2000s for the MSB’s port and ferry project.

The MSB issued a press release about this payback demand on August 7, 2014. This press release can be found on the MSB’s website.

https://www.matsugov.us/31-communication/press-releases/14825-fta-asks-for-grant-funding-back-on-ferry

However, the MSB has never updated the public about the status of this matter since that 2014 press release.

The MSB hired the Venable law firm to represent us in this matter.  From the Feb 7 2017 letter, it seems as if our attorneys negotiated with the FTA for almost 2 1/2 years without a lot of success.   The MSB proposed to pay back $2 million.  The FTA rejected this offer.  The FTA did lower the amount we owed from $12 million to $9 million.

Why doesn’t the MSB give the public status updates re: this matter?

 

 

 

The Mat-Su Health Foundation’s Fancy New Headquarters (and how we all paid for it via the high cost of medical care)

Photos of the new building – from front, side, and back.

Here is a Press Release from the MSHF about their new building which is opening in the Spring of 2018:

MAT-SU HEALTH FOUNDATION ANNOUNCES GROUNDBREAKING EVENT

09-Jun-2017

Wasilla, Alaska— The Mat-Su Health Foundation is hosting a ceremonial groundbreaking event for its new building on Tuesday, June 13 at 11 am. The public is invited.

Mat-Su Health Foundation Building Details

Project: Multi-tenant facility consisting of two building blocks connected by a center core. In addition to housing the Mat-Su Health Foundation, the project has been designed to build community by devoting space to programmatic uses, including the creation of a Community Resource Center Network, where Mat-Su residents can seek support, information, and referral to local services.

Location: 777 N. Crusey Street, Wasilla
Square Footage: 46,000
Site Size: 3.71 acres
Completion: Spring 2018

Investment in the
Community: $9 million

Speakers: Vern Halter, Mayor, Matanuska-Susitna Borough
Bert Cottle, Mayor, City of Wasilla
Elizabeth Ripley, CEO, Mat-Su Health Foundation
Scott Johannes, Board Chair, Mat-Su Health Foundation

Architects Alaska is providing design services. Other contractors include FE Contracting, Inc., RSA Engineering, Inc., And PND Engineers, Inc.

*************************************************************************************Update – May 2018 – Grand Opening.  Photos from Mat-Su Borough:

WHY DID THE MSHF NEED TO BUILD A FANCY NEW BUILDING? 

THEY DON’T!!!  They have only 15 employees! (They used to have fewer but they keep hiring new employees. They are now hiring a building manager for the new building at up to 95K according to a new ad in the Frontiersman.)  There is empty commercial office space all over the Mat-Su Valley.   How much space does the MSHF need? They just need a few offices and a conference room.

WHY IS THE MSHF SPENDING SO MUCH MONEY ON THEMSELVES? HOW MUCH STAFF TIME HAS BEEN TAKEN UP BY THIS BUILDING PROJECT?

This organization has little to no transparency.  Their monthly board meetings are CLOSED to the public and the public is no longer allowed to vote for the board members.  Thus, there is very little public oversight of this organization.  All the public is legally allowed to review are the MSHF’s yearly tax returns which are not detailed.

DO WE REALLY NEED A PHILANTHROPIC HUB?

NO. We are in a recession and most of the non-profits here in the Mat-Su Valley already have places to meet.  The new Wasilla library (which is located right across from the new MSHF building) has free community meeting rooms.  So does MTA in Palmer.

HOW IS THE MSHF PAYING FOR THIS BUILDING?

The MSHF is the co-owner of the Mat-Su Regional Hospital.  It owns 35%.  While the MSHF is a non profit (technically and legally, the MSHF is the old “Valley Hospital Association” which is one of the oldest non profits in the Valley), the hospital’s majority owner is a for profit entity.

The MSHF’s revenue comes from its share of profits from the hospital. (It also has invested some of its millions from this profit sharing arrangement.)  The MSRMC is one of the most expensive hospitals in the entire country and it is the only hospital in the Mat-Su Valley.

Thus, money pours into the MSHF with no fundraising required.  Some years, the MSHF has revenues of over $20 million.  The MSHF is supposed to use this money to promote health and wellness in our community.  This was part of the agreement made when the people of the Mat-Su Valley (the members of the Valley Hospital Association and any resident can be a member) voted to close our small non profit hospital located in Palmer and merge with a for profit company to build a new regional hospital.

So, essentially, the MSHF’s fancy and expensive building is being funded by the people who obtain and pay for expensive medical treatment at the Mat-Su Regional hospital (either through self pay and/or private insurance and by all of us taxpayers footing the massive bills for Medicaid.)

Here are some stories about the high costs of medical care at the MSRMC.  I posted this query on a local Facebook group on January 16, 2018:

“Survey. I am conducting a survey about medical care costs. Has anyone used the Mat-Su Regional Hospital (E.R. or otherwise) lately and did you feel that you were charged a fair price? How much were you charged? Private pay or insurance?”

Here are some of the responses:

“I used them back in November, insurance used. I saw the statement and was charged for “extended stay” when I was there for a few hours. Don’t feel like my insurance was charged fairly.  Total was almost 7 grand, wasn’t given any medication. Just a normal blood panel and a CT scan. I just took another look at the bill, CT was $3440. Charged for “extended visit” for $2200. *intense eyeroll* ”

“Our last stay, we had to pay out of pocket of $800 for emergency services (after insurance) We never even had a room 🙄 $400 just for the doctor/physician to say hi basically. Then another $400 for fees. The visit was for a dog bite, it happened at night so nothing else was open. We stayed until after midnight so we were charged for TWO ER visits! I’m disputing the charges now, but I find this ridiculous, especially considering we never even had a room. They stuck us in the hallway with a chair and took forever to bandage up my son’s arm(after having to ask for bandages) causing for the extended stay. $3706 before insurance. We were billed 3 charges for X-rays that were done once. Matsu regional is such a crap show it’s not even funny.”

“When I was 16 I went into May-Su Regional for extreme period pain and was hemorrhaging. They gave me a single shot, and “special underwear” for the bleeding. They helped in no way shape or form and ended up going to a OB/GYN specialist.  My bill for being in the ER for 5 hours was 11,000.  Must have been God’s tears in that single shot. Also, I had no insurance and would be on a payment plan for cash. It took me 4 years to pay it off. That was just one of many endeavors of my teens. I’m 22 now and have 14,000 still to pay. I’m homeless and working night shift and doing what I can in the day.  The medical system literally ruined my life. I finally got Medicaid last month after being denied year after year.”

“My wife had back surgery after 10 years of pain. We had everything approved through our insurance company and had to pay 3000.00 before we could have the surgery. This was 2 Nov ago. Fast forward a few months, we get a bill for $40,000 dollars because they did other things in the surgery that wasn’t part of the approval. We were told that the insurance considered it experimental and we had to pay. Between the hospital and the insurance, they just blame the other. The hospital still wants their money.”

“They double the cost if you need a payment plan then add interest. If you call them to make arrangements they will give you 7 days and about 1/2 the billed price.”

“I had my appendix out a few years back and the first thing I saw was that while in recovery they gave me a Percocet, charged me $36 for 1, I got an entire prescription of them for $8….I have no insurance so thankfully with charity care they wiped all but my anesthesiologist bill so at least that was nice.”

“I just got my statement from the hospital for gallbladder removal surgery. No it’s not fair at all. They charged me $200 for a urine pregnancy test 🙄 on top of a slew of other charges. $24K total. I can’t wait to see what insurance will cover.”

“I got quotes for a procedure for my son, he needed his ears cleaned by his ENT and he was so young they were going to have to put him under. For a 20 minute procedure Mat-Su Reg quoted $14,000, and 50% off if I could pay with in 7 days of the procedure. Providence quoted $2300 before their cash discount of 30% off and I could make payments. We ended up using Creekside Surgery center for $500.”

“Charged over $3k for tests that would’ve cost no more than $200 in NC….had insurance but since they have a percent of charge contract still cost me $2500 (all went to my deductible)..note this was not ER but just outpatient lab (only one vial of blood was taken.)”

“I’ve had to use a couple times over the past few year. Recently was last year. I was self pay, went in because my ear was throbbing, no one was there from what I could see, after 3 hours my ear drum erupted in the waiting room. Finally got me back, no pain meds(not that I was asking for any), no medical in any level, a very small bottle of some drops that numb that ear tissue, and $4500 bill. Unless I’m dying I’ll drive to Anchorage.”

“Self pay. This is just the bills from MSRMC. This isn’t including anesthesia, or the labs that were conducted through Cellnetix Labs, or my primary care provider. I always quietly screams at these bills. This was for 3-1 hour observations and a 24hr stay.”

amount due matsu regional

“I received wound care from the outpatient building. They would charge $400 for a fifteen minute visit that used $4 worth of materials.”

“Spent a couple hours in ER last week and had blood work and CT. Bill was $6500.”

“When I had my thumb injury it was an emergency so we had no choice but to go to matsu the er visit alone cost 10,000 and that was after I got all the bills for the “extended er stay” and everything else.. and mind you I opted out of all the crazy high pain Meds. In the end after all the bills and doctors and visits it cost almost 20,000 all for a snapped tendon in my thumb 😵😵😵   Oh and that was AFTER insurance.”

“My insurance was charged $1000 for each suture when I lacerated my hand in October. That does not include the cost of xrays, doctors fees or medication. Those were billed separately. Plus, I waited in a communal exam room with an elderly male patient for 5 hours before my hand was sutured. Not happy at all.”

“Hell No I was charged 3600 for signing my name and 700 for blood work for thyroid that cost me 200 through someone else RIP OFF…”

“Took my kid to the ER in August. We were there less than 30 minutes and after insurance our portion of the bill was more than $500. They literally did nothing.”

“I was put in a hall way left there . Two X-rays and back to a hallway no pillow blanket nothing two Tylenol for pain 7000.”

“I went to the ER in December because I was in so much pain, I thought I had appendicitis. It turned out I actually had a kidney stone. I told them upfront that I was self-pay and not to do anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary. They did a CT scam, which was almost $3500, and the ER time was almost $2500 for 4.5 hours. They are so inefficient, and when they said someone would be right with me to take me to the CT scan, it was nearly an hour later that it actually happened. In addition to some pain meds, a contrast by IV for the CT scan, they charged me almost $160 for a urine pregnancy test. My total bill for that visit was over $10,000. I feel it’s definitely overpriced, and inefficient use of patients’ time. I’ve heard the ER time is charged per hour, and I don’t know if that is fact, but if so, they really milk it out so they can charge a ridiculous amount for not very quality service.”

 

The Sneaky “Sales Tax Task Force”

The MSB set up a “Sales Tax Task Force” in the fall of 2017.

This task force was suggested by Assembly member Matthew Beck and approved at a MSB Assembly meeting a few months earlier.

However, the MSB did NOT let the public know any details about the task force.  The members of this task force were not announced.  The meetings were NOT listed on the MSB’s website or newspaper ads.

I happened to find the (below) letter about the Task Force on the Mat-Su School District’s website. This letter was part of “Board Connect” which is a section of the School Board’s Agenda packet.

Why was the MSB completely MUM about this task force and its meetings? Where was the public process?  Why wasn’t the public allowed to attend the meetings and give input? Also, a source tells me that the City of Palmer was upset about not having a representative on the task force.

This was a violation of the OPEN MEETINGS ACT.

The MSB only informed the public when the Task Force gave a presentation at a MSB Assembly meeting in December.

 

AS 44.62.310. Government Meetings Public.

(a) All meetings of a governmental body of a public entity of the state are open to the public except as otherwise provided by this section or another provision of law. Attendance and participation at meetings by members of the public or by members of a governmental body may be by teleconferencing. Agency materials that are to be considered at the meeting shall be made available at teleconference locations if practicable. Except when voice votes are authorized, the vote shall be conducted in such a manner that the public may know the vote of each person entitled to vote. The vote at a meeting held by teleconference shall be taken by roll call. This section does not apply to any votes required to be taken to organize a governmental body described in this subsection.
(b) If permitted subjects are to be discussed at a meeting in executive session, the meeting must first be convened as a public meeting and the question of holding an executive session to discuss matters that are listed in (c) of this section shall be determined by a majority vote of the governmental body. The motion to convene in executive session must clearly and with specificity describe the subject of the proposed executive session without defeating the purpose of addressing the subject in private. Subjects may not be considered at the executive session except those mentioned in the motion calling for the executive session unless auxiliary to the main question. Action may not be taken at an executive session, except to give direction to an attorney or labor negotiator regarding the handling of a specific legal matter or pending labor negotiations.
(c) The following subjects may be considered in an executive session:

(1) matters, the immediate knowledge of which would clearly have an adverse effect upon the finances of the public entity;
(2) subjects that tend to prejudice the reputation and character of any person, provided the person may request a public discussion;
(3) matters which by law, municipal charter, or ordinance are required to be confidential;
(4) matters involving consideration of government records that by law are not subject to public disclosure.
(d) This section does not apply to

(1) a governmental body performing a judicial or quasi-judicial function when holding a meeting solely to make a decision in an adjudicatory proceeding;
(2) juries;
(3) parole or pardon boards;
(4) meetings of a hospital medical staff;
(5) meetings of the governmental body or any committee of a hospital when holding a meeting solely to act upon matters of professional qualifications, privileges or discipline;
(6) staff meetings or other gatherings of the employees of a public entity, including meetings of an employee group established by policy of the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska or held while acting in an advisory capacity to the Board of Regents; or
(7) meetings held for the purpose of participating in or attending a gathering of a national, state, or regional organization of which the public entity, governmental body, or member of the governmental body is a member, but only if no action is taken and no business of the governmental body is conducted at the meetings.
(e) Reasonable public notice shall be given for all meetings required to be open under this section. The notice must include the date, time, and place of the meeting and if, the meeting is by teleconference, the location of any teleconferencing facilities that will be used. Subject to posting notice of a meeting on the Alaska Online Public Notice System as required by AS 44.62.175 (a), the notice may be given using print or broadcast media. The notice shall be posted at the principal office of the public entity or, if the public entity has no principal office, at a place designated by the governmental body. The governmental body shall provide notice in a consistent fashion for all its meetings.
(f) Action taken contrary to this section is voidable. A lawsuit to void an action taken in violation of this section must be filed in superior court within 180 days after the date of the action. A member of a governmental body may not be named in an action to enforce this section in the member’s personal capacity. A governmental body that violates or is alleged to have violated this section may cure the violation or alleged violation by holding another meeting in compliance with notice and other requirements of this section and conducting a substantial and public reconsideration of the matters considered at the original meeting. If the court finds that an action is void, the governmental body may discuss and act on the matter at another meeting held in compliance with this section. A court may hold that an action taken at a meeting held in violation of this section is void only if the court finds that, considering all of the circumstances, the public interest in compliance with this section outweighs the harm that would be caused to the public interest and to the public entity by voiding the action. In making this determination, the court shall consider at least the following:

(1) the expense that may be incurred by the public entity, other governmental bodies, and individuals if the action is voided;
(2) the disruption that may be caused to the affairs of the public entity, other governmental bodies, and individuals if the action is voided;
(3) the degree to which the public entity, other governmental bodies, and individuals may be exposed to additional litigation if the action is voided;
(4) the extent to which the governing body, in meetings held in compliance with this section, has previously considered the subject;
(5) the amount of time that has passed since the action was taken;
(6) the degree to which the public entity, other governmental bodies, or individuals have come to rely on the action;
(7) whether and to what extent the governmental body has, before or after the lawsuit was filed to void the action, engaged in or attempted to engage in the public reconsideration of matters originally considered in violation of this section;
(8) the degree to which violations of this section were wilful, flagrant, or obvious;
(9) the degree to which the governing body failed to adhere to the policy under AS 44.62.312 (a).
(g) Subsection (f) of this section does not apply to a governmental body that has only authority to advise or make recommendations to a public entity and has no authority to establish policies or make decisions for the public entity.
(h) In this section,

(1) “governmental body” means an assembly, council, board, commission, committee, or other similar body of a public entity with the authority to establish policies or make decisions for the public entity or with the authority to advise or make recommendations to the public entity; “governmental body” includes the members of a subcommittee or other subordinate unit of a governmental body if the subordinate unit consists of two or more members;
(2) “meeting” means a gathering of members of a governmental body when

(A) more than three members or a majority of the members, whichever is less, are present, a matter upon which the governmental body is empowered to act is considered by the members collectively, and the governmental body has the authority to establish policies or make decisions for a public entity; or
(B) the gathering is prearranged for the purpose of considering a matter upon which the governmental body is empowered to act and the governmental body has only authority to advise or make recommendations for a public entity but has no authority to establish policies or make decisions for the public entity;
(3) “public entity” means an entity of the state or of a political subdivision of the state including an agency, a board or commission, the University of Alaska, a public authority or corporation, a municipality, a school district, and other governmental units of the state or a political subdivision of the state; it does not include the court system or the legislative branch of state government.

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Here’s how other localities have dealt with the same type of issue:

http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/city-claims-dayton-schools-task-force-not-subject-open-meetings-law/4WH6O7apWqc3am7e4dTZcN/

http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/news/2017/nov/21/task-force-meeting-secret-wake-mental-health-litig/

 

Local Watchdogs

watchdog

Eugene Carl Haberman is a fixture at local public meetings.  He regularly attends the MatSu Borough Assemby meetings, including the 4 p.m. “Special Meetings,” the MSB School Board meetings, the MSB Planning Commission, the MSB Port Commission meetings, the MSB Wastewater and Septage Advisory Board meetings, the MSB Aviation Advisory Board, the Palmer, Wasilla and Houston City Council meetings, the MEA board meetings,  the State of Alaska’s Matanuska Valley Fish & Game Advisory Committee Meetings, the State’s Agricultural Advisory Board, and a sprinkling of other smaller meetings such as various Community Council meetings.

Mr. Haberman always makes use of the public comment time and he usually makes the same general point: our public officials are not following the rules re: public process.   He also makes many other, varied, topical points depending what is on each meeting’s agenda.

Read through almost any set of meeting minutes and you will find Mr. Haberman’s name and his comments.

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Here are examples of Mr. Haberman in action:

Palmer City Council Special Meeting Nov. 4, 2014:

D. AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION
Eugene Haberman:
• Stated he was unable to give the Council his comments at a previous meeting because
the meeting conflicted with a Borough meeting;
• Shared his concerns about the Mat-Su Borough’s lack of public notice for their canvas
board meetings and election certification;
• Shared his communication with various Borough officials with regard to his concerns;
and
• Requested the City and the Borough stop holding meetings on the same dates.

Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority Board MEETING MINUTES
Thursday, June 23, 2016
Wasilla, Juneau, and Anchorage, Alaska

AIDEA Board Meeting Minutes Page 2 of 5
June 23, 2016
5. PUBLIC COMMENTS
Eugene Carl Haberman, resident of Matanuska-Susitna Valley (Mat-Su), explained he follows the process used by officials for public meetings. He believes if the appropriate process is used, the decisions made by the governing body will more likely be in the public interest. Mr. Haberman reported he has attended public meetings, including Alaska Public Offices Commission, in Anchorage for the last five years and public meetings in the Valley for the last three years.
Mr. Haberman expressed concern regarding the unavailability of hard copies of the AIDEA Board meeting information for the public. He believes this is an inappropriate practice and has been an issue for a number of years. Mr. Haberman reported staff made a copy of the information for him immediately before the meeting began.
Mr. Haberman stated the three-minute time limit for public comments does not provide a reasonable opportunity for the public to share all their concerns. He noted the AIDEA bylaws state reasonable notice shall be provided for any special meeting. Mr. Haberman expressed his disappointment that the use of reasonable notice is too broad because there may be an occasion when the Board believes five minutes is reasonable notice for a special meeting. Mr. Haberman ncouraged members to contact him regarding AIDEA’s public process.

TRAPPER CREEK COMMUNITY COUNCIL MEETING MINUTES

Regular Meeting         6:30 PM          Thursday, July 20, 2017

Guests present: Randall & Karen Kowalke and Eugene Haberman

Public Forum:  Eugene Haberman spoke on the borough sales tax.  He does not agree with the procedures taken by the borough.

(You have to give Mr. Haberman credit for driving all the way up to Trapper Creek, where he was the only “guest” at the meeting besides the local MSB Assembly member and his wife.)

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Some people have praised Mr. Haberman for his tireless efforts.  A longtime Valley realtor who has been involved in local gov’t recently commented on a local Facebook group that he has “found that Eugene is usually correct about things.”

The Frontiersman and Anchorage Daily News reporters seem to find Mr. Haberman interesting too.

However, the MSB does not sing Mr. Haberman’s praises and sent him a “cease and desist” letter in March, 2017. (For some reason, this strongly worded letter from the MSB Manager and Mayor, which was sent to Mr. Haberman via certified mail, was included in a MSB Septage Advisory meeting packet.  See pp. 17 – 19.  See also p. 4, the Feb 9, 2017, meeting minutes, where Mr. Haberman called for the entire Septage Advisory board to resign.) (Note: A source tells me that the MSBSD also sent Mr. Haberman a similar letter.)

WSAB – Haberman

Google tells me Mr. Haberman arrived in Alaska in the fall of 1977.  He lived in Anchorage for many years, where he also was a regular at government meetings, before moving out to the Mat-Su Valley.  (He continues to attend a lot of meetings in Anchorage.)

Mr. Haberman graduated from Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1974 with a degree in Political Science and Chinese and Japanese History.  The first government official he “confronted” was U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim in 1972.

After college, Mr. Haberman worked in Wash, D.C. for a few years – first for the Presidential Clemency Program and then for Department of Commerce as a clerk.

“After working for the Department of Commerce in two different clerical positions I became disgusted with many who were working for the government and how those around me forgot on who they were working for, the people of the United States.”

And so Mr. Haberman quit and hitchhiked to Alaska (with a brief stop in San Francisco.)  In Anchorage, he worked for environmental groups and published an local arts/entertainment magazine. (I am pretty sure he is retired now.)

http://www.cherrylawnschool.org/news/bios/haberman.htm

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Other public Watchdogs include Terry Snyder and Patty Rosnel.

Terry Snyder has a blog, the Citizen Lobbyist (although her last post was in 2014, the blog has good background information), and a radio show on KVRF (Big Cabbage radio).  She also appears on Valley Edition which airs on Fridays.

http://www.radiofreepalmer.org/category/programs/citizen-lobbyist/

http://www.radiofreepalmer.org/category/programs/valley-edition/

http://citizenlobbyist.blogspot.com/

Patty Rosnel was a regular attendee at MSB meetings for many years and kept close track of the MSB’s spending habits but alas she recently moved out of state.  She founded the Facebook group “Borough Budget Watch” which continues on.

Note: Sometimes (a lot of the time lately) Ms. Snyder acts like a cheerleader and not a Watchdog.

cheerleader

 

 

The MSB’s Mysterious Budget

Budget

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough budgets hundreds of thousands of dollars under vague categories with names such as “Legal,” “Professional Charges,” “Other Contractual,” and “Assembly Reserve.”

Exactly how all of this money is spent by the MSB is not publicized.  The amounts approved for these mysterious budget items has increased by leaps and bounds in recent years.

I was wondering what we were paying for specifically in these categories so I sent an email (and an official public records request) to the Mayor and Assembly members and Manager and Attorney.  No one responded.

These are my questions:

Under “Department Assembly; Division Assembly”, we budgeted $25,000 for travel and $1200 for a building rental.   Why is 25K needed for Assembly travel?   Why are the Assembly members renting a building? Don’t they work out of the (beautifully remodeled) Dorothy Swanda building? We listed $41K for “Dues and Fees”? Is the Alaska Municipal League that expensive to join? (P. 1)  Why did we budget 7K for “training” and another 17K for “other contractual”? (P. 2)  Why are we putting 40K into the “Assembly Reserve”? (P. 3)

 

Under “Department Assembly; Division Administration”, we budgeted 50K for Legal which was increased from 9K two years ago – what is going on here?  What is this for?  Don’t the MSB attorneys represent the Assembly? Why do we have a separate budget item for “Legal” in the Assembly/Administration category when we have an entire Legal Department – with its own huge budget? Also, what is the 200K listed in “Other Professional Charges” needed for?  And we listed 183K into the category “Other Contractual” – what is this for? All told, there is about 450K in “mystery budget” items in this section of the budget.

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Under “Department Assembly/Division Law” (this is the MSB Attorney’s Office category), we budgeted 625K for salaries and 346K for benefits. (We have four attorneys and two support staffers.)  But then there is also another 607K for “Professional Charges” (broken down into 500K for “Legal” and another 100K for “Other Professional charges.”)  This 607K is almost triple what the amounts were in FY2016  – when we spent a total of 231K in these two categories. Clearly, the 500K is for hiring outside counsel (which is a staggering amount anyhow) but what is the 100K for??? This item (“other professional charges) was only $8,273 in 2016 and now it is 100K? And how did we spend the 500K exactly? What law firms did we hire? To represent us in what cases? Also in Category EX 29 – “Other contractual” – we budgeted another $36,500? What is this for?  The Law Dept also budgeted $ for computers and furniture and 21K for “travel. ” Note that under Ex. 51 – Vehicles – we didn’t budget anything for this year, but last year, 2017, the MSB spent $30,500.  This is for the MSB Attorney’s “Personal Use” SUV.  He obtained a brand new Ford Explorer to replace his older SUV.

 

Under “Department Finance/Division Common Contractual,” there is a category for “Wellness/Other” with a budget of  $17,500.  This was zero in FY2016.  So, what is $17,500 needed for?  Also on this page, towards the bottom, we budgeted 221K for “professional charges” including 120K for auditing and accounting and 75K for “Legal”.  Why does the finance dept have to budget 75K to hire attorneys?

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Under “Department Finance, Division Admin Finance”, there are more “Professional Charges” listed.  $250,500 to be exact.  This is up 100K from FY2015, when we only spent 147K on professional charges.  In this category, we budgeted 85K for “legal” (i.e. attorneys)…and another 100K for vague “other professional charges.”  What is all of this for?  Again, why are we having to hire outside attorneys for every single MSB Division when we have four in house attorneys? There is also 93K budgeted for “Other Contractual. ” 28K is for training but 65K is listed simply as “other contractual.” What is this for???

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Under “Department Public Works, Division Public Works Administration” (so the Admin costs for the PW Dept), why are there 12K in Legal expenses budgeted?  (The Public Works budget is truly lean though compared to all of the other MSB divisions!)

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Under “Department Assembly; Division Economic Development”, the MSB has budgeted 175K for “Other Contractual”.  This category was only $3,736 in FY2016.  Why the massive increase? WHAT the heck is this for anyways?

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Under “Department Public Works, Division Central Landfill”, there is a budget of 173K for “Professional Charges” (including 10K for legal), which is almost double what this was in FY2016.  What is this 173K for specifically? (It is not labor services as we pay for the employees via the $2.1 million budgeted in the separate Labor Services category.)

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Finally, under “PORT, Port Development”, why did the electric expense budget go from 97K to 160K? Why did we budget 10K for “Legal” when this category was zero in FY2016? And why are we spending 278K in “other contractual”??? That is a huge amount of money.  What is it for specifically?

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