Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cash mob coming to a business near you!

No, not THAT kind of mob ...

THIS kind of mob!

A mob will descend on Palmer Bar Thursday at 6:30 p.m. It's OK. The mob will be holding $20 bills. It's very business-friendly. 

Most people are familiar with flash mobs - the sudden and seemingly unscripted appearance of large groups of singers or dancers as coordinated by smart phone. 

Well, tomorrow night marks Palmer's first cash mob, an idea dreamed up by local business owners Denise Statz (NonEssentials) and Teresa Roy (Cover Ups). Roy says the mob encourages people to "shop local, eat local, drink and meet local." Find them on Facebook at cash mob Palmer AK. Everybody is encouraged to bring a $20 and meet one new person. Future mobs are planned. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Putting the Post on a temporary hold

As some of you few but loyal followers may have noticed, the Post has been mighty quiet these past weeks. Well. We've been pondering our future. And, sad to say, we've decided to put the Post on hiatus.

Our lives are currently too busy to spend the kind of time necessary to making this blog as informative and lively as we'd hoped. We founded the Post as a way to make use of our journalistic talents and fill a gap in local news coverage.  But we're finding we end up posting whatever story we have the time for in a given week. That's not journalism, and our community deserves better.

Rindi and Melodie are moving on to other things. Zaz will carry on; send any communications her way at We'll try to update as often as we can but you won't be seeing weekly Wednesday updates. Check back regularly - you never know what might appear!

-- Rindi, Melodie and Zaz

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Council vs Mayor: City hall infighting goes public

The City of Palmer passed the 2013 budget.

The $14-plus million budget includes a new 80/20 health insurance split for employees who until now got free coverage. The admittedly sweet deal on health insurance made up for lower wages and helped the city retain staff. 

But instead of employee retention, the staffing issue that dominated conversation at last week’s budget meeting was Mayor DeLena Johnson’s assistant.

Make that former assistant.

After an hour of sometimes bitter discussion, the council voted to ax Johnson’s part-time assistant on partisan lines. Yes, the Palmer City Council is a nonpartisan entity. But on this body, and most like it, certain issues reveal political divides. And there is an election coming up in the fall. 

Johnson said the position meant that, for the first time, someone answered the phone on behalf of the mayor. The mayor said the position wasn’t about improving communication between her office and the council as much as it was about adding an element of professionalism to her efforts as the city’s lobbyist in Juneau. 

The largely self-described conservatives on the council - Edna DeVries, Kathrine Vanover, Linda Combs, Richard Best - voted to ax the assistant. Best raised the motion; he opposed the position last year. 

“This is not about personalities,” Best said during the Dec. 11 meeting. He went on to describe the assistant as “an experiment last year to give the mayor an assistant to improve communication with the council. I think communication over the past year has gotten worse.”

That thought - the anti-assistant sentiment wasn’t personal, the degraded level of communication between mayor and council - was echoed by the four councilors. Several also questioned the city attorney on the legal merits of the position. City code dictates the mayor “shall not direct the appointment or removal of any administration officer or employee of the city.” The attorney at one point said the assistant, who technically falls under the supervision of the city clerk, didn’t violate those provisions. 

The opposing members remained unconvinced.

“Communication between the mayor’s office and this council has disintegrated,” Vanover said. “I’m not blaming that on the mayor. It is just a fact and it bothers me. I hate, and I will say this in public, infighting.” 

She went on to point out that city employes are being asked to give up their generous health insurance deal. “What have we as a council given up?” she asked. “This is our give-up. Not because the mayor doesn’t deserve it because that’s not true but we all have to contribute.”

Johnson was not pleased.

“I have watched this council, probably two or three people, spend a lot of time on managing the mayor’s office,” she said. “There’s probably a lot more interest in managing the mayor’s office than managing the manager. I see this as a good position doing good things ... I never asked for an assistant. I asked for assistance.”

Deputy mayor Brad Hanson scolded his fellow councilors. He said the creation of the mayor’s assistant wasn’t just to improve communication but “fulfill other inadequacies within the city.”

“It appears to me it’s more political than it is professional,” Hanson said. “I hope we can put some ill feelings, some unproductive activities, some undermining of one another to bed so we can deal with issues that are far more pressing.” 

-- Zaz Hollander

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wind didn't freeze the Christmas spirit

Photo by Kristy Thom-Bernier
A worker from the Williams Reindeer Farm
minded one of the festively festooned deer
on display at Colony Christmas Saturday.

UPDATE: A new fireworks date is pending. Check back after the weekend for more details.

Colony Christmas was full of good cheer despite the blustery wind that killed the fireworks display (more on that in a minute) and drove people to the attractions indoors. Holiday warmth, fun events and good sales or attractions at downtown businesses made up for the bitter weather.

The temps even seemed to warm a little during the 5 p.m. parade – or perhaps that was a sugar-fueled warmth from the holiday treats handed out. But the breeze didn’t calm enough for the fireworks to be lit. The good news is, the fireworks display will be held soon. Chamber officials are meeting tomorrow morning to discuss when to hold the postponed show. We’ll update this post when we know the details.

-- Rindi White

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

High pressure system steals winter from snow lovers

Photo by Zaz Hollander
The sort-of snowy road to Mountain Streams B & B 

Got snow? Nope. In fact, we've got so little snow that snowplow drivers are sitting idle, snowmachines are sitting in the garage and homeowners are sweating the specter of frozen pipes brought on by low snow insulation. Even a big gala opening for the Mat-Su Borough's new Nordic Center at Government Peak is on temporary hold - no snow, no nordic skiing. 

What gives, Mother Nature? 

Two simple words, meteorologist Dan Peterson responds when asked: High pressure. 

"It always blocks out the lows. All the way through Tuesday," Peterson says. He's polite but sounds like he's tolerating these questions until he can get back to his real job as a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Anchorage. 

How many times can you tell somebody why it's not snowing? It's weather. It happens. 

But I get excited. He said through Tuesday! Does that mean we're getting snow on Tuesday?? 

Calm down, kid. Peterson says that's just the extent the National Weather Service forecasts into the future. 

OK, so this year feels pretty unusual. When was the last year we had so little snow this far into what Alaskans consider winter? 

Peterson thinks on that for a minute. He goes to the data. 1995. There was less than an inch of snow on the ground at this time of year. That's at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, where the Weather Service measures such things. This year, there's 2 inches at the airport.

"It's not even close," he says.

It's also not enough for plow trucks to get to work, snowmachiners to get to play or pipes to get cozied up in a layer of white. 

And what kind of winter postpones the inaugural"Skiapaloosa"? That's the Government Peak Nordic Center Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, featuring a Skate Clinic, races, Moonlight Ski Tour and Junior Nordic Social. Watch the Mat-Su Ski Club Web site for more information. 

Meanwhile, you can check Government Peak snow levels - or lack thereof - via the new weather station at Mountain Streams B & B, the lodge owned by Hatcher Pass nordic ski patriarch Ed Strabel and his wife, Glynn, at the base of Government Peak and just down the road from the new center. 

-- Zaz Hollander

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mat-Su delegation holds key positions in Legislature

Photo from LobbyComply, a blog of
State and Federal Communications Inc.
The dust has settled and, with the makeup of the Alaska House and Senate finalized, it looks like Mat-Su is in a fairly good position.

Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, is the Senate President; a job former SPs have said means doing a lot of handholding. But the Senate President also steers the action in the Senate and appoints members to committees, such as the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, which ultimately hammers out the state budget.

In a press availability following the announcement of new leadership positions, Huggins said he plans to focus on cutting state spending, increasing oil production (likely by working with Gov. Sean Parnell on his plan to cut oil taxes) and bring affordable energy to the state’s users.

Newly elected Sen. Mike Dunleavy chairs the Labor and Commerce Committee in the Senate. Dunleavy is also a member of the TAPS Throughput Decline Committee and is a member of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.

Mat-Su was also favored in the House. Rep. Bill Stoltze, a Republican who represents Chugiak and Butte, as well as a few other parts of Mat-Su, remains co-chair of the House Finance Committee, along with Republican Rep. Alan Austerman of Kodiak. Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, is a member of that committee.

Also in the house, Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, chairs the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, co-chairs the House Resources Committee with Rep. Dan Saddler, R-JBER/Eagle River and Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, chairs the House Education Committee. Rep. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, was chosen as chair of the Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Special Committee in the House.

In case our readers have forgotten, Feige, a pilot and bed-and-breakfast operator, is married to Corri Feige, the former spokeswoman for Evergreen Resources, a company that wanted to drill for shallow natural gas in Mat-Su. She has since been project manager for a few other resource-based companies.

Gattis was elected to the Mat-Su School Board in 2010. She favors school vouchers, backs equal time in the classroom for creationism and evolution and is open to the idea of regional schools for rural areas of the state, according to a Zaz Hollander story in the Frontiersman about her appointment to the Education Committee. Gattis said she plans to resign from the School Board in order to serve in the Legislature. Her campaign manager, Erick Cordero, is School Board vice-president. He’ll be heading to Juneau with Gattis as a legislative aide but plans to stay on the school board. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mat Maid purchase mooving slowly

The Alaskana Bookstore
Photos by Zaz Hollander
Since 2008 or so, the City of Palmer has been trying to buy up the checkerboard of properties that make up the Matanuska Maid block. Voters two years ago very narrowly OK’d the city spending up to $3 million in a bond to buy the properties. 

Where do things stand today?

Not too far along, given the pollutants in the ground at as-yet unknown levels. Oh, also the fires that consumed first one warehouse, then the other on the 9-acre site. And apparently too-low offers on six of seven parcels.

As community development director Sandra Garley tells it, the city had appraisals done on all seven properties that make up the site. Seven property owners received offers. 

Only one property - the circa-1935 building that houses the Alaskana Bookstore at 564 S. Denali St. - is in the purchase loop. The city executed an agreement there that allows officials onto the property to start doing environmental studies. Even that is just a $5,000 “binder” as Garley calls it, to get a local environmental engineer on site to look at contamination from past uses.

“One thing the council said very clearly when we started the process: ‘We want to know before we buy anything, what is the environmental liability?’” Garley said. 

We’re not talking about manure here - no cows. But the original colony garage occupied the property, as did a powerhouse and two warehouses, both now lost to fire. That’s left pesticides and fertilizers, oils from the garage. Some, like oil and gas, tend to evaporate when exposed, Garley said. But chemicals in pesticides and fertilizers linger - it’s just not clear in what amount.

Anybody who buys contaminated property is liable to clean it up under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations, though the original owner also remains liable. 

The city got a $70,000 Brownfields grant from EPA. The agency uses the money to drill holes and sample for contamination. Before they enter any property, the city has to get permission, a la Alaskana Bookstore. 

The agency will wait and do sampling on the properties as a group, rather than come up from Seattle to do each site, Garley said.  

Meanwhile, city officials are still working on those six other parcels. The biggest and most expensive, at eight acres, is owned by the state Department of Natural Resources through the Agricultural Revolving Loan Fund. The city hopes to do a land swap, Garley said. That hasn’t happened yet. The powerhouse parcel is owned by the Palmer Arts Council. Jeff Johnson owns the parcel with mini-storage warehouses. Attorney Bill Ingaldson owns the warehouse property. 

“We’re proceeding slowly which can be frustrating to the property owners but we’re being careful because it’s a huge expense to the city,” Garley said. “There’s an upside but there are some downsides too.” 

She expects a report to the city council this month or next. 

-- Zaz Hollander