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Dec 24 2015
Wild Alaskan Owner Guilty of Sewage Dumping PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 24 December 2015
Jay Barrett/KMXT
The owner of the Wild Alaskan, a night club aboard a converted Bering Sea crabber that had been anchored in Kodiak, was found guilty in federal court Wednesday of illegal dumping of sewage and lying to federal authorities about it. 

Darren Byler faces maximum fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and years in prison for the violations. The jury found his wife, Kimberly Riedel-Byler, not guilty of the same charges.

The Wild Alaskan, built on the hull of the former fishing vessel Shaman, had two restrooms, one for customers and one for the burlesque dancers, but had no provisions for storing and properly disposing of sewage. Byler contended that the ship's sewage was either pumped off at Pier 2, or taken beyond the three-mile limit and dumped at sea. Prosecutors estimate that in the six months the Wild Alaska was in operation, more than 1,000 customers frequented the night club.

Investigators found that his claims were false. Byler is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason in March.
Dec 24 2015
Court Orders City of Kodiak to Release Pletnikoff Documents PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 24 December 2015
Jay Barrett/KMXT
A Superior Court judge Tuesday sided with Kodiak Public Broadcasting Corporation and ordered the City of Kodiak to immediately comply with the state's public records act in a case of alleged excessive use of force by three Kodiak police officers. The order was handed down by Kodiak Judge Steve W. Cole.

KMXT public radio's parent corporation sued when the city denied the station's Freedom of Information Act request for details after an incident where three policemen handcuffed and pepper-sprayed 28-year-old Nick Pletnikoff, who is severely autistic, as he was checking his family's mailbox on September 16th.

Pletnikoff was not charged with any crime, but was left bloodied, bruised, and according to his mother Judy, traumatized by his encounter with the KPD officers. 

KMXT sought more information about the incident, including the identities of the three officers, as public outrage grew and the police blotter referred to the call only as “suspicious circumstances; all okay.”

In his order, Judge Cole flatly rejected the argument that a third-party investigation underway is an “enforcement action,” and therefore exempts the city from complying with the Alaska Public Records Act. 

Judge Cole likewise rejected the city’s assertion that it did not want to invade the privacy of those involved in the incident. Cole points out that Pletnikoff’s name is well known to the public and is a part of the public record, and any witnesses interviewed did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy since they likely consented to the interviews. Cole didn't address whether the police officer's identities should be private, but wrote if the city had alleged that, it would not be a well-founded claim.

In summary, the Cole wrote, in part, “(T)he city has not met its burden to show the disclosure request should be denied….”

Judge Cole has ordered the City of Kodiak to immediately comply with KMXT’s Public Records Act request and to release to KMXT, immediately – but no later than December 31st, the chest-cam videos recorded by the three KPD officers during their response to the Pletnikoff incident.

Assistant Kodiak City Manager Mike Tvenge said that the city fully intends to comply with the court order and hopes the information proves valuable to the community.
Dec 23 2015
Senator Gary Stevens and Representative Louise Stutes Respond to Governor's Budget Plan PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 23 December 2015
Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Kodiak Senator Gary Stevens and Representative Louise Stutes attended Governor Bill Walker’s budget plan presentation to the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly and Kodiak City Council Monday.
Stevens said the state legislature is taking the plan seriously, but suggested that it might be hesitant to support some of Walker’s proposed changes.

“The issue of income tax and permanent fund is very important for us to think about and talk about. I’m not sure that the legislature will actually go along with that this year. I can support it personally, but I don’t think you’ll see the legislature doing that because of issues like election coming up, you know.”

Stutes said some ideas are going to work, some won’t.  

“I think it’s a good starting point and it gives us something to work with. We had nothing on the table before this. We had tossed ideas back and forth, but now we’ve got something solid. I think it’s a good start.”

The legislature will discuss the budget at its first regular session starting in late January and continuing into April. 
Dec 23 2015
Governor Walker on Budget Plan, Revenue Sharing, and Public Radio PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 23 December 2015
gov_walker.jpgGovernor Bill Walker speaks to members of the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly and Kodiak City Council at budget plan presentation. Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Governor Bill Walker dropped by KMXT on Monday between presenting his budget proposal to the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly and Kodiak City Council and attending a reception on Near Island. We took the opportunity to ask him about some topics he didn’t get to earlier in the day.

Walker has had many opportunities to talk with members of the public about the budget plan, and spoke about the mixed reaction he’s received so far.

“It’s been a combination of some have said finally somebody’s putting a plan forth and sort of the relief and there’s always the comments about the plan, which I don’t take as criticism, I take – I guess if anything, it’s constructive criticism of saying ‘have you thought about this? Have you thought about that?’ So, that part I enjoy. Because we’re all in this together. There are no sides of the table. It’s a big round table.”

He also touched on how his proposal would affect the fishing industry, which he said is the largest employer in the state. He said it’s possible not all the same programs will be available in the fiscal year 2017.

“Some of the grants may not be. Hopefully the loan programs will. It will change sort of our ability to provide fisheries infrastructure to the degree we have in the past. Ports and harbor development. We’re gonna to do some here in Kodiak. I’ve seen a - tour today. I’ve seen some of the projects. The one project – we’re gonna be able to fund a portion of that. Used to be we used to fund everything that would be done or nearly everything, and now we’re not going to be able to do that.”

The fishing industry is vital to many smaller communities, as is municipal revenue sharing, which has been a way for the state to share its oil wealth with municipal government.

Walker, who served as mayor of Valdez, said he and most of his cabinet members come from local government, and they want to hold onto revenue sharing. He says some communities rely on the amount of money they receive from that program.

“It would be disproportionate to Alaska to eliminate it, so there may be some way of modifying the formula with larger cities that have opportunities for other forms of revenue enhancement, but some of the villages just don’t, some of the smaller communities, so I certainly don’t want to have anything to do with completely eliminating the program at all.”

Public radio also serves a unique role in smaller communities. It provides a lifeline during emergencies and bad weather and can be a way of getting messages out to loved ones.

Walker said the new budget will decrease funding in almost all areas – including public radio.

“Hopefully there will be some private sector opportunities to pick up contributions  –help some of that funding, maintain its level. We didn’t eliminate it, but we did reduce the funding and that’s  - we need to get more creative on some of these funding opportunities.”

Cuts are inevitable, but Walker said it’s hard to predict which parts of his budget proposal will be successful with the legislature.

“You know we’ve been focusing on a balance. Trying to find a balance. If you take any piece of it out, it sort of tips the scales one way or another. So, that’s my concern - and that’s why we put it together as a complete package, because whatever we do, it’s going to impact somebody differently, but if there’s another balance over here that balances that out, then that helps a great deal.”

The upcoming legislative session will determine how that distribution works out.
Dec 22 2015
Governor Bill Walker Presents Budget Plan to KIB Assembly and Kodiak City Council PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 22 December 2015
gov_walker_at_presentation.jpgGovernor Bill Walker sits at the end of the table with members of the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly and Kodiak City Council. Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Governor Bill Walker presented his budget plan before the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly and Kodiak City Council Monday. He elaborated on some of his proposed methods of bridging what he called a $3.4 billion budget gap. One of those ideas is to change the oil and gas tax credit system. Walker said when he came into office, there was $700 million budgeted for tax credits.

“Which is great if they find something, but if they don’t, we’ve paid 65 percent of their costs and so, we are looking at looking at changing that into a low-interest loan program, and the interest rate would float based upon the percentage of local hire. If unchecked, the tax credit program would have been 1.2 billion dollars this year and 1.78 billion dollars next year.”

Which he said is higher than the budget for education. Walker also spoke about implementing a personal income tax to build revenue.

“It was a toss-up for us, it was a close call, between a property tax and income tax. One of the reasons we went on income tax rather than sales tax was because a lot of local governments use sales tax as their source. We want to make sure out-of-state workers, that they come to Alaska, earn their living of our resource development and then live somewhere else, that they’re part of the solution as well.”

One of the benefits of living in Alaska is receiving a Permanent Fund dividend, which Walker suggests cutting to $1000 dollars, almost half as much as 2015’s PFD amount of $2,072. During the question and answer portion of the meeting, Kodiak Island Borough Assemblyman Mel Stephens asked why the budget plan proposes an income tax while leaving the PFD as high as it is.

“It strikes me that what you’re doing is giving me a $1000 PFD, which Uncle Sam says thanks very much, hey pass some of that over to me. Whereas if you, I mean if we, cut the Permanent Fund dividend to say $600, looks to me like that would probably give as much money as all of your new source income.”

Walker agreed that if the PFD went away, a lot of the other budget issues wouldn’t exist.

“But there has to be this balance and the Permanent Fund impacts rural Alaska disproportionally than not-so-rural Alaska. It has become part the … because of cost of energy, cost of living, those kinds of things. So it was treating every Alaskan equally, but not every Alaskan is in an equal situation.”

Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Jerrol friend asked what communities like Kodiak can do to help, and Walker cautioned against fearing a negative reaction.

“I think the message we’re giving, it doesn’t work here, because of who you have. You have such great representation, but other places we say let your elected officials know that it’s okay to make tough decisions. It’s okay to do something that’s going to impact in a negative way someone’s pocketbook.  Because there’s groups out there that are putting together some media that say it’s okay to make these tough decisions. And it’s gonna be tough.”

In the end, it will come down to the legislature which tough decisions make it into the Fiscal Year 2017 budget and which do not.
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