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Ex-Veco executive turns down appointment to Anchorage School Board

Lisa Demer

A former Veco Corp. executive tapped Saturday to fill a vacant seat on the Anchorage School Board said Sunday he was declining the appointment because of concerns that controversy over his past would harm the district.

Thomas Corkran, who served as Veco's corporate controller and chief information officer through the company's most notoriously corrupt period and then dismantled it in the aftermath, said in a telephone interview Sunday that he had notified Board President Jeannie Mackie of his decision.

"At this time, I believe putting the Board's interests above my own is most important, and it is apparent that my appointment would be a tremendous distraction to the Board's mission and purpose for the students and teachers of this district," Corkran wrote in an e-mail to Mackie. "For this reason, I respectfully will decline appointment to the Board."

Veco's chief executive, Bill Allen, and vice president, Rick Smith, were at the center of a long-running investigation into Alaska political corruption. Both pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal charges of bribery and conspiracy, became witnesses for the prosecution, and eventually went to prison. Allen was a key witness against then-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, and both testified against state legislators.

Corkran spent the bulk of his professional life -- more than 16 years -- as a Veco executive but the connection received the barest of mentions during Saturday's School Board meeting. He didn't reveal it in either his resume or his official interview, and no board member asked him who he worked for all those years.

He remains president of a Veco spinoff company, MST Ventures, created around the time most of Veco's assets were sold to the Denver-based engineering firm, CH2M Hill. Alaska corporate records show the other board members are Allen's three adult children. And he's manager of another spinoff, Seattle-based AEL LLC, according to Washington state records. He said in a phone interview that he rarely speaks to Allen and never visited him in prison, but does talk to the Allen children about business matters.

Veco sales documents listed him as a "key" Veco employee.

Mackie and another School Board member interviewed Sunday, Kathleen Plunkett, said they were unaware of his long history with Veco until a Daily News reporter told them about it. A Daily News columnist had questioned the appointment in a piece posted online Saturday night.

"I'm not sure if he was an employee or not, what exactly his position is," Plunkett said. "But I knew he was not indicted."

Don Smith, another board member, said he knew Corkran had worked for Veco "prior to all the fun things that happened. My recollection was he never was involved in any of the skullduggery."

In his three-page resume submitted to the School Board, Corkran didn't once name Veco. Yet at the same time, he did name the company he worked for earlier in his career, the Big Eight accounting firm of Touche Ross. He also didn't mention Veco in his three-minute presentation to the board.

A district written statement e-mailed Saturday just after the board picked Corkran described him only as a "self-employed financial consultant."

For years before the company was sold in a major deal negotiated by Corkran in 2007, Veco executives were among the state's most active campaign contributors. The corruption cases revealed that the company had a program of "special bonuses" paid to executives, who then used the money to make campaign contributions.

Veco president Pete Leathard, Smith, Roger Chan, Jamie Slack and Corkran all received the bonuses, Allen told investigators. Corkran said the bonuses were considered taxable income and were legal as far as the IRS was concerned. But state law bars reimbursements for campaign contributions.

Asked whether the public could have trusted him given his high position in a company marred by corruption, Corkran said he knows "the wounds are fresh" and that some people will wrongly blame others for the bad acts of two individuals.

The only Veco executives charged were Allen and Smith.

"There's two people in the company who caused issues and problems of which nobody else at the company was involved in, and that to me is the tragedy in the whole deal," Corkran said in a phone interview. He said he was glad he was able to secure the sale of Veco to CH2M Hill and save thousands of jobs.

During the Saturday meeting, board member Natasha von Imhof spoke in support of Corkran because of his financial expertise and highlighted his role in the complex Veco sale. She mentioned that the district has launched a new budget process, is in negotiations with the teachers' union, and that the sides are far apart.

"We are in a budget freefall right now," von Imhof said. "All of those aspects right now lead me to support Tom Corkran because of his CPA experience and his budget experience at this time, as well as the negotiation that you had with Veco and selling Veco to CH2M Hill."

That at least aired his Veco history, von Imhof said in a phone interview on Sunday. But pressed on his role with the company, Imhof finally said, "It didn't occur to me to ask him."

She and Corkran are Campbell Lake neighbors and family friends whose kids play together, she said in the interview. She called him a brilliant man with integrity and said he would have been a wonderful board member.

Corkran was von Imhof's campaign treasurer during her successful 2012 campaign, and he contributed $500 to her election bid in December 2011, according to Alaska Public Offices Commission records. She didn't disclose that relationship during the board debate over the two finalists and when asked about it, retorted that fellow board member Smith also was a donor .

Mackie said she knew from von Imhof that he had negotiated the Veco sale.

"That is all I knew. I didn't know that he was an executive for Bill Allen or any of that other information," Mackie said.

Mackie said she was disappointed that he had not revealed his role. But board members also didn't probe Corkran during Saturday's interviews, even to ask who he worked for 16 years as "corporate controller" responsible for worldwide accounting, as his resume says. A video of the meeting is posted on the School District Web site.

"I was more focusing on what he had done. I wasn't thinking about who it was for," Mackie said. "That's a lesson learned."

Corkran said his approach to resume-writing doesn't include listing employers.

"I was not trying to hide Veco," Corkran said in the interview. "And I don't think I did hide Veco."

Anyone could Google him and find out his history, he said.

But had the Veco connection been fully aired, it might have hurt his chances, said both Mackie and Smith, two of his supporters on Saturday.

"You're affiliated with those terrible, terrible people," Smith said. "Therefore, somehow, you must be one of them. That probably would have sunk him."

Corkran was one of more than 40 people who sought to fill a post that opened up when Gretchen Guess resigned to move to Florida, and he was one of 31 candidates still in the running as of Saturday. By early afternoon, the decision was down to two, Corkran and Kameron Perez-Verdia.

The board initially split 3-to-3 between those two. Plunkett then changed her vote.

Mackie said she checked with Perez-Verdia, and he told her is still interested in serving. She and von Imhof said they support him in the job. The School Board is meeting Monday and will have to vote anew on the appointment. If board members approve Perez-Verdia, he would be sworn in at the Monday meeting, she said.

"It's just been a tough month," Mackie said. The former school Superintendent Jim Browder, who only was hired July 1, suddenly announced to staff on March 1 that he was leaving. He was already interviewing for jobs elsewhere.

The board doesn't need any more controversies to overshadow its work, Mackie said.

"I think he did the right thing," she said of Corkran's decision.

 

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.

 

 

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