Trustees settle dispute, clearing way for $23 million Fairbanks foundation

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- The trustees of the Bill Stroecker Foundation have resolved their differences over settling the estate of the late Fairbanks banker, clearing the way for one of the largest Alaska foundations to become fully operational.

The foundation is expected to receive almost $23 million from Stroecker’s estate and will soon be distributing more than $1 million a year to charities.

Stroecker was a prominent Fairbanks banker and community leader for decades. He set up a foundation in his will, leaving most of his estate to charity. He named more than four dozen organizations as potential beneficiaries but left the final decisions to the trustees. However, the seven-member board set up in the will has been divided over several key questions about settling his estate.

In early June, three members of the board filed a court action seeking an independent review of how the estate spent about $750,000 on attorneys’ fees and a variety of other settlement costs.

The settlement reached Tuesday after a mediation session with retired Fairbanks judge Winston Burbank includes several stipulations. The parties agreed to work together, follow a confidentiality provision, hire a third party for $20,000 to oversee the transfer of tangible assets to the foundation and take other steps.

The agreement stipulates that the three trustees who brought the complaint -- Cory Borgeson, Richard Heieren and Jerry Walker -- did not have legal standing to bring the dispute to court and they withdrew their objections to settling the estate.

Fairbanks lawyer Richard Hompesch and the Alaska Trust Co. have served as “personal representatives” of the estate. They also serve on the foundation board and, along with two other trustees, were part of a four-member majority that objected to the move by the three-member minority for a review of the costs.

The agreement caps Hompesch’s attorney’s fees and costs at $452,717. When prior payments are deducted, the unpaid amount totals $224,334. The agreement says the fees and costs paid to the Alaska Trust Co. may be reviewed in private by Fairbanks Superior Court Judge Michael MacDonald.

The estate agreed to pay legal fees of $10,000 to Bill Satterberg, who represented Hompesch and the Alaska Trust Co. in the dispute; $6,000 to Borgeson; and an additional $15,000 to Hompesch.

The agreement also says that if a trustee seeks to remove the Alaska Trust Co., under terms of Stroecker’s will, Hompesch will not have a conflict of interest in voting on the matter as a foundation trustee.

The parties agreed “that in the future they will be working together as trustees of the foundation.”

“Therefore they agree to ‘bury the proverbial hatchet' and to work with each other in a polite, respectful and businesslike manner,” according to the settlement.

Stroecker, who died in 2010, listed 50 groups, many of them in Fairbanks, as the kind that he wanted to support.

Under IRS rules, the tax-exempt foundation will have to distribute at least 5 percent of its endowment each year, more than $1 million.

Borgeson said the trustees want to start moving forward with the work of the foundation and that was the intent of the settlement.

At the conclusion of a brief hearing Thursday, Judge MacDonald said, "Mr. Stroecker was a wise man to pick the folks he picked to be his trustees."

Dermot Cole can be reached at dermot(at)alaskadispatch.com.