Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Post summer hiatus

A new baby, a family crisis and graduate school demands are occupying our time these days. We're on hiatus until the end of July. Check back then and have a great summer!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

‘Palmer panhandler’ holds to Constitution

I spotted Daniel Bennett a few weeks ago at the heart of downtown Palmer - the corner of Evergreen and South Alaska, across from NonEssentials. 
Bennett is known around town as “the Palmer panhandler” but I’d never seen him before. 
I walked over. We chatted.  
Turns out Bennett, who works the corner from a wheeled walker with a seat, is disabled. He’ll tell you that a drunk truck driver hit him in 1968. He lives on disability payments. A caretaker drives him around in a beat-up Grand Marquis. 
He can always use a little help, he says.  
But the 57-year-old Bennett also enjoys a little conversation. 
This self-described “Minister of Humor” knows a lot of jokes. G-rated jokes. Why don’t anteaters need much in the way of veterinary care? Anty-bodies. They’re full of ‘em.
He also considers his pursuit of street-corner donations a constitutionally protected right. 
Bennett displays a laminated sign. The front says, “NEED CASH PLEASE GIVE THANKS ALOT.” 
The back features a mish-mash of personal affirmations including “We cannot condemn each other for misunderstanding one another’s separate realities.” 
It also bears language from what Bennett considers the most pertinent section of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech ... or the right of people peaceably to assemble.” 
Speech that solicits funds is protected by the First Amendment, he says. The protections afforded by the First Amendment are nowhere stronger than in streets and parks. 
He’s argued that point during a 2007 public hearing in Juneau on a new panhandling ordinance (it clarified where and when people can panhandle, replacing an outright ban). 
He also brought up the First Amendment in court - multiple times. 
A Wasilla police officer arrested Bennett at the Crusey Street McDonald’s in August 2010, one of several arrests he experienced at that location. The code he violated: a pedestrian on a highway may not solicit employment, business or contributions.
Bennett, representing himself, argued his constitutional rights before Palmer District Judge John Wolfe. 
Wolfe ultimately found Bennett not guilty, but not because the arrest was unconstitutional. Bennett’s solicitation occurred on the sidewalk, not the highway. Wolfe handed down another not guilty when Bennett was arrested later that year. 
Magistrate Craig Condie found Bennett not guilty the next year.
Bennett remembers the magistrate saying something about the arrests being a waste of time.
Magistrates can’t comment on such stuff. Notes from that 2011 hearing weren’t available at the courthouse. 

Bennett, who showed up as “Stone Eternal Love” on one court filing, said he leaves his fate up to the universe these days. Ask and ye shall receive, he told me. 
“It’s an act of faith,” he said. Then he raised his sign as another car drove past. 
-- Zaz Hollander

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New police chief says it's all about the team

Photo courtesy Palmer Police Department
Palmer Police Chief Tom Remaley
For several years, Palmer’s police department struggled with a problem. Instead of being a stable workplace for quality officers, it became a stepping stone; officers would be hired, trained and then they’d move on to other, higher-paying posts elsewhere.

In 2001 the city hired Russ Boatright, a recent retiree from Anchorage Police Department, as its chief and he and other department leaders worked to change the management philosophy, focusing on leadership and using strong principals – respect, compassion, integrity, efficiency, fairness, balance, ethical performance, reverence for the law and community-based policing – as guidelines when choosing whom to hire, how to train officers, how to equip them and how to help them do their jobs.

After a decade leading the department into one of the most stable in the state, Boatright retired last month. The city selected Tom Remaley, who served as interim chief in 1999 and actually hired Boatright as a part-time officer prior to his being selected as chief, to lead the department.
Remaley worked along with Boatright to implement the changes that have brought about stability and accolades. He said the department now has 14 officers, most with advanced degrees and certificates from the Alaska Police Standards Council, and most notably, who have an average of 9.5 years of experience with the department. A supporting cast of 12 dispatchers help things run smoothly.

Courtesy Palmer Police Department
The city police department patch
Remaley prefers to play a supporting role and didn’t want to be directly quoted in a story about his new post. He’s been an officer with the department for nearly 20 years, starting out as a reserve officer in 1993 after retiring from the military. He did a stint as a dispatcher in 1994 and in 1995 became a patrol officer, working his way up to lieutenant in 2005.

But it’s not about his accomplishments, Remaley said. It’s about the team – a team that takes its oath to serve seriously. As an example, he pointed to a robbery that happened in the early morning hours at McDonald’s in late May. All three suspects were in jail that evening, Remaley said. 

Remaley wouldn’t hand over a recent photo to accompany this post – he said he’s not photogenic and plans to be very involved in the community, so if residents don’t know him by now, they will soon. We happened to stumble on a slightly dated photo of him floating around online, however, and couldn’t resist posting it.

Congratulations, Chief Remaley, and good luck!  

-- Rindi White

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Colony Days 2012

Favorite Colony Days memory? Watching the parade with my youngest child.
Least favorite Colony Days memory? Watching the parade with my youngest child.
There’s something about outdoor community festivals that brings out the best and worst in small children. After so many years as a parent, I finally have a game plan down. And in honor of Palmer’s biggest community festival this weekend, here are a few tips to surviving all the fun:
1.      Park close to the action. The fewer blocks you have to walk towing a screaming toddler, the better. The parking lots behind Valley Hotel are always a great bet.

2.      Go early to avoid long lines. The petting zoo opens at 11 a.m. on Friday and is a really popular stop for the under-six crowd.  Not to mention the bounce house, the hay rides on Saturday…you get the idea.  And FYI: South Alaska Street fills quickly on Saturday before the parade.  Go early. Bring a chair and a bag for all the candy.

3.      Plan your route.  Decide what’s not to be missed – the reindeer petting, or mannequin head bowling or face painting, all on Saturday? – and prioritize with a nice mix of adult and child-friendly activities.

4.      Pay it forward. Someday your child will be in activities that cost a lot of money, and you’ll be delighted when the community contributes. For example,  Palmer wrestling is sponsoring kids’ games in conjunction with Usibelli coal mine this year.  The Palmer Food Bank is also collecting donations at Just Sew all weekend.

5.      Cute photo op: The Lady Bug Lady is hosting an art project – painting rocks like lady bugs! – followed by a mass release of lady bugs into the garden next to the Palmer Visitor Center at 2 p.m. Saturday.

6.      Look for free stuff.  The congregation of St. John Lutheran Church is hosting a community picnic, complete with hot dogs and drinks, from noon-3 p.m. Saturday.  Stick around until 2 p.m. to delight your child with falling moose poop, as the Kiwanis hosts their Moose Poop Palooza drop at  2 p.m. There’s also free face painting offered by Church on the Rock, and free music concerts all day Saturday.

7.      Save the best for last. My youngest is obsessed with trains. It’s the only time he’ll stand in one spot for longer than 15 seconds. That miniature train setup at the Palmer depot is a great motivator when his behavior slides south.  For race car fans, there’s the pinewood derby race hosted by Cub Scout Pack 354 at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Mat-Su Borough gym.

8.      Leave while everyone is still happy. Colony Days lasts all weekend. If naptime interferes before you see it all, no worries. Just come back tomorrow.