Japan Junket

The MSB sent Port Director Charles Marc Van Dongen plus Robert Sheldon and two Assembly members – Stephen Colligan and Ron Arvin – to Tokyo Japan in September, 2015.

Director Van Dongen apparently was going to speak at an Oil & Gas Opportunity seminar.

Why did three other Mat-Su Borough folks need to tag along on this expensive trip?  Robert Sheldon wasn’t on the MSB staff; was he a paid consultant?

What is problematic about tapping people other than the Port Director (or another full-time MSB staffer) to work on “economic development” projects is that these other folks could have conflicts of interests or their own agendas.  The Port Director didn’t because he was working only for the Mat-Su Borough at the time. However, Ron Arvin and Stephen Colligan, despite being Assembly members, also had their own ongoing business interests at the time they took this trip. And Robert Sheldon clearly had his own business interests at that time too. (He was the Director of Business Development at Venture North Group.) Why was he hired by the MSB? Wasn’t the MSB concerned about possible conflicts of interest? Or was the MSB a client of Venture North Group? If so, why wasn’t the MSB transparent about this?

What is also interesting about this Japan trip is the connections between these folks.  See more later in this post.

Japan trip 2015Japan trip 3Japan trip 2

Background:

From about 2014 until 2017, the MSB tried to make a deal with a Japanese company (REI) to develop a LNG plant at Port Mac. REI pulled out of the project in March, 2017.

Japan REI

https://www.alaskapublic.org/2015/10/28/rei-alaska-looking-forward-to-export-facility-at-port-mackenzie/

REI cancels

The interesting connections btw. the travelers on the Japan trip:

Stephen Colligan’s business partner (they jointly own the company E*Terra) is Frank McQueary. Mr. McQueary is very involved in Alaska Republican politics; he was the Vice Chair of the Alaska Republican Party.  Frank’s son-in-law is Robert Sheldon.  Well, technically, Frank’s stepdaughter is Marne Sheldon – who is married to Robert Sheldon. (Frank is married to Marne’s mother – Jeannette (Kolesky) McQueary. )

Stephen Colligan and Ron Arvin – in addition to serving on the Assembly together – have been involved in business together.

Very cozy.

More about Robert Sheldon – here is his resume from when he applied to be re-appointed to the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct in 2015:

Robert Sheldon 1Robert Sheldon 2

E-Terra:

E Terra

 

Ron Arvin

Now – Ron Arvin also worked for NPI – another company which had business/contracts with the Mat-Su Borough Port. More on NPI in another post.

And Ron Arvin and Robert Sheldon served together on the Alaska Energy Authority Board:

Alaska Energy Auth

The MSB’s secret contract with Sean Parnell

Shhhh

The MSB, without Assembly approval and without public disclosure, hired former Governor Sean Parnell to work as a consultant on “Port, Rail and Economic Development” from the summer of 2016 to the summer of 2018.  Mr. Parnell was paid over $100,000.

2016 Borough Contract

2017.2018 Purchase Order No_

Contract Amendment no Borough Sign 12.21.16

The MSB also didn’t inform the Port Commission that Mr. Parnell was working to market and develop the Port and Rail.

Last week, I called a Port Commissioner who has been attending the Port meetings since before 2016. I asked – Were you aware of this contract? This commissioner told me – NO. If you find out more about it, please let me know. According to this Commissioner, who has never missed a meeting,  Mr. Parnell never attended a single Port Commission meeting and the MSB Manager and staff never informed the Port Commission of Mr. Parnell’s role. Also – the Port Commission never goes into Executive Session – so it wasn’t revealed in an executive session.

What exactly did Mr. Parnell do for the MSB? So far, the MSB is not saying. The Manager, Mayor and Public Relations Director have not responded to my email.

My public records’ request also sought “all work product” but so far, the MSB hasn’t sent me any.

What is interesting about this contract is that no written work is required. And conveniently, due to the Cyber Attack, the MSB’s higher level staff have “lost” all their old emails. (Emails for lower level staff were restored.)

All told, Mr. Parnell’s consulting firm “NavNorth” made $103,500.

QUESTIONS:

  1. What work did former Governor Parnell do for the MSB?
  2. What was accomplished with this contract?
  3. Who was aware of the contract?
  4. Why was this contract so secretive?
  5. Why wasn’t this contract approved by the Assembly? (All contracts over 100K require Assembly approval.)
  6. Why wasn’t the Port Commission told about it?
  7. If Gov Parnell was supposed to market the Port, why didn’t he meet with the Port Commission to discuss his role and get input from them?

See previous post – https://matsumuckraker.com/2019/01/17/msb-paid-former-governor-sean-parnells-firm-navnorth-103500-for-consulting-work/

2/11/19 Update – The MSB Public Records Clerk sent me this note via email:

I have forwarded you everything that was given to me. My understanding is that the work product was in the form of meetings and phone calls. There is no other documentation to forward to you.

Is the MSB trying to SELL the PORT?

FSBO

A source just told me that Sean Parnell and his consulting company NavNorth were hired by the MSB to SELL THE PORT.

(The MSB paid NavNorth $103,500 from July 2016 – July 2018. I have been awaiting more public records to find out exactly what NavNorth did for all this $$$.)

Questions:

1. Was the Assembly in on this?

If they were – why wasn’t this debated at a public meeting?

Why not hold a work session and discuss this topic – Should the MSB sell the port or hang on to it?

Why so much secrecy?

2. Was the Port Commission in on this?

3.  As we haven’t sold the Port, did we actually get anything for the $103,500 spent?

UPDATE – A discussion on the Borough Budget Watch Facebook group:

Sell the Port 1Sell the Port 2Sell the Port 3Sell the Port 4Sell the Port 5

Port Operations Manager Position

At the Port Commission meeting this week (January 21, 2019), the Port Operations Manager gave a presentation on her proposed FY2020 Budget.

budget 2019

Included in the presentation was a notation that FY2020 proposed wages have not been calculated but “add an estimate of 120K.”

budget 2019 wages

Let’s analyze this – 120K per year seems to be a substantial increase from FY2019 which had total wages budgeted at 100K. (I am assuming that the benefits amounts are separate. Also note – the actual amounts to date for FY2019 are just for half of year so far. The budget year ends June 30th 2019.)

If this is a salary increase for the Port Operations Manager, why is this?

THE MSB NEEDS A REAL PORT DIRECTOR

This is something I posted on the Facebook Group “Borough Budget Watch” on October 15, 2018:

I attended the Port Commission meeting today down at Port MacKenzie. Here are my thoughts: I am generally against a gov’t trying to do economic development. And I think the Rail Spur was and continues to be a colossal waste of money. (Years of litigation; so expensive and it is still nowhere near completion. Plus there is no good plan about what entities will actually use the Rail Spur.) I have mixed feelings about the Port itself. However, if the MSB and the citizens are determined to try to make the Port profitable, we need to have a real Port Director again. We need an expert in Ports and Shipping and International Markets etc. Our manager, John Moosey, our “Internal Auditor” James Wilson, our Attorney and our Port Manager/former Port Admin Assistant Therese Dolan are all spending a great deal of their time (which costs us all $ as they all make good salaries) on all things PORT. Plus, and I am sorry to be so blunt, but they do not have the expertise. They just don’t – as has become plainly clear over the last few years (the ferry fiasco, the FERC fiasco, the now endless & extremely expensive dock repairs with little to no insurance reimbursement, all of our tenants have left the Port, the new timber just deal fell apart, NPI (which is an absent tenant) hasn’t paid the MSB in a few years (do they owe us $1.5 million??) and yet Jim Wilson keeps travelling to Oklahoma to meet with NPI owner Dale Rich to discuss stuff – which makes no sense to me at all. Also, I don’t think we should waste any funds paying for our Manager or Mayor or Assembly people to travel all over the world (China in May; plus there was trip to Japan in 2015 by Arvin and Colligan) to try to drum up biz for this port. Let a Port Director do this instead. If we are going to get real about the port, we need a real Port Director again – not a “Port manager/Admin Assistant” with help from an “Internal Auditor” whose expertise was in Agriculture and Emergency Response efforts before he joined the MSB. We need to get smart about this. How to pay for a Port Director? I would eliminate the “Internal Auditor” and the “Port Manager” jobs. Use those salaries to pay for one world-class Port Director. Further note: we don’t need an Internal Auditor AND a Deputy Manager of the MSB. If the MSB wants someone who is a CPA to keep tabs on finances (but someone separate from the finance director), then hire a Deputy MSB manager who is a CPA. That would be a more efficient use of that position in my opinion.

This was originally posted on the Facebook Group – “Borough Budget Watch” on September 29, 2017 – but posting here for posterity:

THE PORT OPERATIONS MANAGER WAS PROMOTED FROM A SECRETARIAL POSITION AND SHE IS MARRIED TO THE DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC WORKS

The new MSB “Port Operations Manager” is Therese Dolan. Previously, she was the Port Commission Secretary and the Administrative Assistant to the (recently retired) Port Director Marc Van Dongen.

A source tells me that her new job came with a substantial increase in pay.

Mrs. Dolan is married to Terrance J. Dolan, the MSB Director of Public Works.  The same source tells me that Mr. Terry Dolan used to work for Assistant MSB Manager George W. Hays when they were both in the military.

Questions: Was this newly created position of “Port Operations Manager” posted?

Did the MSB Assembly approve the hiring of Ms. Dolan for this position or was it approved only by Manager John Moosey?

PUBLIC COMMENTS (from the original FB post):

T.S.: Just as a point of reference Ms Dolan has worked at the port assisting the director for quite awhile. Not looking to start a ugly conversation about the merits of the port.

NDS: What is her operational experience operating a deep water Port? How many candidates applied? Why didn’t the MSB issue a press release introducing the new Port Manager and her professional background…….

NDS: Where was the transparency??? If this was a closed door promotion and newly created job, it was not posted internally or publicly. The MSB owes tax payers answers. Who made the decision to create a new job title and hire the Admin Assistant to fill the position? What is the salary? Why did this happen without public comment or notice? The Port is our biggest Capital project.

TS: Are you sure it wasn’t advertised? There has been a director and an assistant for as long as I remember. Her salary will be in the budget. I’m sure if you wanted to know you could ask. I never have known personnel issues getting public comment.

MG: Just a short note to put in this conversation. Usually, jobs are advertised in house before they go public. If there are qualified people available, it doesn’t go out of house. It could be that they deemed they had the qualified people, therefore it stayed in house.

NDS: My source says this job was not posted at all – not internally or otherwise. It was a done deal.  Why hasn’t Moosey made any public announcements about this?

BK: MSB staffing still is often based on connections and favoritism. MSB HR should be an independent process. It’s under the direction of management currently. That way you don’t get 5 family members working for the Borough at one time. The legitimacy of the hiring (and forced resignation) process at the Borough needs a thorough vetting.

J.C.: Oh come on Bill, you worked for the Borough

B.K.: Exactly. That’s how I know

NDS: (I wrote this comment after conferring with my source again) The new “Port Operations Manager” position was not posted internally or externally. Ms. Dolan‘s position was reclassified from an Admin Assist position to the newly created “exempt” (i.e. non union, management, highly compensated) Port Operations Manager position. The only notice about this was in an MSB email re: personnel changes which is sent out each month to employees.

port dolan 2

The last public mention of this issue (the dilemma of whether or not to hire a new Port Director or do something else to save money since the Port is not very active) that I was  able to find on the MSB website was the March 2017 Port Commission Meeting (where Therese Dolan was listed as the Administrative Assistant by the way.)

And then – boom – by late June, 2017, Mrs. Dolan is the new Port Operations Manager – with no public announcement. I found this out because a source sent me a note.

Apparently, the MSB Employees Association (the Union for non management MSB staffers) complained about the way this matter was handled.

Here is the press release from when the MSB hired Mr. Dolan. (There was no press release when Mrs. Dolan was promoted to her key position.)

(Was Mrs. Dolan hired to be the Admin Assistant to the Port Director at the same time her husband was hired by the MSB back in 2013? Was this a two-fer? And what exactly is their connection to MSB Asst Manager George Hays?)

port dolan 1

I couldn’t find much about Mrs. Dolan’s work background but I did find this:

port dolan 5

UPDATE: When I shared this blog post on the Borough Budget Watch FB group, Mrs. Dolan’s husband, Terrance Dolan, came to her defense and explained her qualifications.  However, he failed to respond to my additional questions. (And note: this post was before I found out that Sean Parnell was being paid 100K to promote the PORT…so in addition to Mrs. Dolan, the economic development of the Port was being done by: the Manager, the Atty, the Internal Auditor, and Sean Parnell…so a lot of paid folks working on developing the Port.)

Terry Dolan response 1Terry Dolan Response 2

 

Port Commission Meetings

port mac photo

The Port Commission meets monthly – generally on the third Monday of the month at 3 p.m.

The MSB staff tends to reveal important information at the Port Commission Meetings and thus, these meetings are crucial for the media and public to attend.

It is interesting to read through the meeting minutes to review the “progression” of various potential projects…AK LNG; REI; Timber; A2A; NPI…with NOTHING EVER COMING TO FRUITION.

The Port Commission Agendas & Meeting Packets are usually posted online at the  very last minute (sometimes the day of the meetings; sometimes the Friday before.) However, the MSB staff usually passes out many more documents at the meetings themselves and these documents never make it to the MSB website.

The Port meetings are held in the lower level conference room of the main MSB building. They should be held in the Assembly Chambers instead so that they can be video recorded properly and live-streamed.

The Port Operations Manager does make an audio recording of the meetings (probably so she can prepare the minutes), but these recordings are not posted online and are not available to the public without a Public Records Request.  This is not okay. The audio recordings for all Commission Meetings should be posted online.

Here is a collection of meeting minutes from the past few years.

January 2016:

March 2016:

April 2016:

May 2016:

July 2016:

 

August, 2016:

October 2016:

December 19, 2016:

February 13, 2017:

March 20, 2017:

May 15, 2017:

June 19, 2017:

August 21, 2017:

October 16, 2017

January 15, 2018:

 

cancelled

April 2, 2018:

April 23, 2018:

May 21, 2018:

June 18, 2018:

July 16, 2018:

 

September 17, 2018:

October 15, 2018:

Minutes not available on website.

November 19, 2018 – Meeting cancelled

December 17, 2018:

 

 

 

Tar Sand Oil Dreams

Is BITUMEN going to save the Mat-Su Borough? Does the public really want to allow Bitumen to be shipped through our area?

beverly hillbillies

I posted this note on the Borough Budget Watch Group on November 28, 2018.

msb a 2 a original

* HUGE NEWS * * “MSB Manager’s Special” * The MSB may allow a private Canadian company (A2A Rail USA – i.e. Alberta to Alaska Railway) to fund the completion of and then lease our Rail Spur for 99 years! To ship BITUMEN by rail. Bitumen is tar oil. Shipping it by rail is controversial. The Canadian Gov’t would NOT allow BITUMEN to be shipped from Alberta (which has a lot of this stuff) to British Columbia due to safety and environmental concerns…Thus, investors are trying to find another “tidewater” port to access in order to ship this stuff to Asian markets – primarily China. So, now, A2A and its majority owner – Sean McCoshen – are interested in Port Mac and our rail spur. This new proposed project/deal would also involve various (yet to be sorted out) Port leases etc.

The MSB manager, who downplayed (I don’t think he even mentioned it) what commodity was going to be shipped, is fast tracking this. This is a “MSB Manager’s Special.” As usual, the public and the Assembly were kept in the dark until the very last minute – and now there is a “rush” to sign a contract. Apparently, A2A has been in talks with the MSB (Moosey and our “Internal Auditor” James Wilson) for about 1 1/2 years…but yesterday’s “work session” was the very first time that Moosey has publicly disclosed anything about this potential project. Now the manager wants the MSB Assembly to vote on this proposed project within the next month! This proposal is scheduled to be introduced at the next MSB Assembly meeting with a final vote on Dec 18th.

What about PUBLIC PROCESS? (Also, What about the timber deal? What about the gasline? I guess those projects are now going by the wayside.)

Moosey says that he and the MSB Attorney and A2A are ironing out the details of a contract now. Note: Assembly Member McKee said while he was given a copy of the very rough draft contract, it contained no attachments. McKee asked Mr. McCoshen to please submit a letter outlining his proposal in layman’s language.

Why weren’t the (limited) documents which were given out to the Assembly members made available to the public online or at the meeting?

WHY are the MSB staffers (Moosey, Wilson, and Spiropoulos) ALLOWING the public and Assembly members MERE WEEKS TO REVIEW THIS PROPOSAL? Why can’t the public review the actual contract and have some time to investigate the merits of this proposal?

Where does the State of AK and the AK RR stand on something like this?

WHAT IS IN IT FOR THE MSB? i DIDN’T HEAR ANYTHING ABOUT THE MSB MAKING much if any money off of this proposed deal.

What about safety concerns? Is this why (now former) Assembly Member Kowalke proposed gutting our transportation permitting process?

Note: at the 6 p.m. Assembly meeting following the 4 p.m. work session, Mayor Halter publicly urged Kowalke (who was in audience for both meetings) to apply for the open Port Commission seat. Hmmm…

Local Watch Dog Eugene Haberman attended this A2A Work Session and pointed out (at the public comment period he had to ask to be added!) that this whole thing is very mysterious…First, he said – the “work session” agenda was lacking in ANY DETAILS. The name of the company wasn’t even included on the agenda! (I guess the MSB didn’t want anyone doing any pre-meeting research.) And there was no meeting packet! (The rough draft contract and any other relevant documents should have been included in a meeting packet for the public to review.) Prior to the meeting, Mr. Haberman politely asked the gentlemen who were present and who were obviously there to give a presentation to reveal their names and they refused! They told Mr. Haberman to talk to their attorney – Jonathan Katchen with Holland & Hart – who was also present. Why the lack of transparency asked Mr. Haberman?

Fun fact: Mr. McCoshen and his team flew in by private jet from Canada directly to the Palmer airport. They arrived just 45 minutes prior to the “work session”. McCoshen said this was the only day he had available and that he would be leaving (via his jet) immediately after the meeting. McCoshen said he was born and lived in USA until he was a teen whereupon he moved to Canada with his family. He has law degree but has been in biz for many years including working on Wall Street. He now lives in L.A., California, but travels back to Winnepeg where his company is based all the time.

Fabulous quote from Mr. Haberman: You don’t give away the family jewels. (i.e. why would we gift our port to this private company essentially?)

Note – Google “Sean McCoshen” – he is involved in a recent controversy.

I urge everyone to listen to the MSB work session which took place yesterday at 4 p.m. The video/audio link is on the MSB’s website.

Manager always does stuff behind scenes and then brings it to assembly at very last minute. But I have seen the Alberta to AK railway listed as an agenda item on Port Commission meetings for a while now…and also, I was googling and saw that Mary Lockman did do a story on this 2 years ago..She interviewed the then Port Commissioner. So, while this mostly came out of the blue for the public and Assembly, the Port Commission has been aware of it for a while. See below article by Mary Lockman

https://www.frontiersman.com/news/international-markets-set-stage-for-port-development/article_9eef290c-f338-11e6-84eb-5f01332326b2.html?fbclid=IwAR1sRTug03TstZBEWO2RHEfYyA-b-dylgBkZYBIPRJ941GDZLPub4K474qI

 

December 14th, 2018 UPDATE: 

There is a Port Commission meeting on Monday afternoon (December 17, 2018).

The MSB manager will give an update on the Alberta to Alaska Railway project (which he did not introduce at the Dec 11th Assembly meeting as promised) AND the Port manager will give an update on EARTHQUAKE DAMAGE…Was there any damage to the Port from the earthquake?

January 19, 2019 UPDATE:

There is a Port Commission meeting on Monday, January 21st, 2019 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.)

The A2A project is on the agenda again.  (Note: The manager recently announced that he will not bring anything forward to the Assembly until at least February.)

msb a 2 a

Links to read:

http://www.a2arail.com/index.html

https://www.nationalobserver.com/2018/03/07/opinion/fatal-flaw-albertas-oil-expansion?fbclid=IwAR0iwmO_eOxbDdtD8ws-KU2MudWtIih6Eiqnqh6xpdZqoa6T1T5eAxqCXlM

https://www.jwnenergy.com/article/2017/12/two-rival-groups-promoting-same-alberta-alaska-oil-rail-proposal/?fbclid=IwAR2fTD8cZrFLn8Stmmk_jTw46vYK4s3X42iXvM5g4Pb_dUeA2vaUuCpYFwI