Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- William Holmes, 35, doing life without parole in California, has not been a free man since his arrest and conviction for a double murder in 2002. Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, black glasses, handcuffs and legcuffs, the California convict testified in Fairbanks Superior Court on Monday, opening the latest chapter in one of the most controversial crimes in the history of Fairbanks . About 40 people attended the opening session of what is expected to be a month-long hearing in which four men convicted of the 1997 murder of John Hartman are to argue that their guilty verdicts should be set aside and they should be declared innocent and set free. The hearing is not a trial, but an evidentiary hearing, state prosecutors say. The attorneys for the Fairbanks Four -- Marvin...Dermot Cole
State Rep. Tammie Wilson, who is running for mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, has long opposed the way the borough operates programs to fight air pollution. So much that she inserted $1.3 million into the state budget in 2011-2012 to run a competing anti-pollution venture apart from the borough. The idea was to place experimental devices on 25 outdoor wood boilers, conduct research and set up a "heating appliance upgrade and replacement program." The experimental devices did not work as planned. It's not clear how much of the money was spent on how many homes and businesses by the private company hired to manage the project. That company was owned by a former campaign aide and former member of Wilson’s staff who was working for her at the time the first grant won state approval...Dermot Cole
FAIRBANKS -- It's not that September snowfall is unheard of in Fairbanks, it's just that it usually arrives in small doses and fades fast. Not this year. More than a foot of heavy, wet snow fell in the hills north of Fairbanks Tuesday. Unlike the fluffy material that falls in cold weather and scatters like dust, this was more like cold oatmeal. It coated and stuck to tree branches like glue. Before long, millions of trees swayed in the slight breeze, unsteady as novices on ice skates. All day long I could hear the crack of birch and aspen limbs that refused to put up with it anymore, stressed beyond the breaking point. Those that I saw fell harmlessly, but we live in a part of Alaska where there are always healthy-looking trees with shallow roots just waiting for the slightest...Dermot Cole
It is easy enough to interpret the decision by Shell to pull the plug on its offshore drilling project as the end product of federal overreach. That's how the Alaska Congressional delegation put it in their predictable statements blaming the Obama administration for Shell's pullout, downplaying other challenges. Those include an expensive well that only produced "indications" of oil and gas, a worldwide campaign pressuring the company to abandon Arctic drilling, the link to climate change and the continuing costs of operating in extreme conditions at a time of weak oil prices. Sen. Lisa Murkowski lamented the "burdensome and often contradictory regulatory environment," while Sen. Dan Sullivan spoke of "unprecedented regulatory hurdles and delays" and Rep. Don Young said the administration...Dermot Cole
It's great that legislators and legislative staff members attended a Seattle conference to improve state government. It's just too bad that some of them came back with hotel bills of $400 or $500 a night. They should have seen the light and called Tom Bodett at Motel 6. He could have helped them get a clean, comfortable room with cable TV. It seems to me there are three valuable lessons for all state employees to draw from the Seattle spree. First, this is the time to economize. It's absurd to spend $400 a night on a hotel unless you are picking up the tab. Second, assume that the housing option you choose on your next junket will end up in the newspaper. If it does, it might embarrass you or it might attract no attention, depending upon the choice you make. Realize that the public will...Dermot Cole
The news coverage of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend announcement Monday included claims in some quarters that the amount is “the highest in Alaska history.” All things being equal, it could be true. But all things aren't equal, and it isn't. If you plug inflation in the calculation -- and you can't provide an accurate picture without doing so -- the first dividend in 1982 , $1,000, was worth more than the $2,072 this year. The same applies to the checks in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2008. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says $1,000 in 1982 equates to $2,470 in buying power today. Put another way, the 2015 dividend would have been worth $839 in 1982. That's what a cumulative rate of 147 percent inflation over 33 years will do to you. In 1982, the average price for a Ford was $9,600 and...Dermot Cole
When Alaska voters created the Permanent Fund in 1976, no one expected that one day the fund would bankroll the most expensive program in state government. Out of long habit, we don’t recognize the Permanent Fund dividend as state spending, but understanding the dimensions of Alaska’s fiscal challenge means we can no longer afford that luxury. The Legislature appropriated $1.4 billion this year for dividends, more than it appropriated for public schools. As we await the announcement by Gov. Bill Walker Monday of the dividend amount, likely to be in the $2,000 range, it’s worth recounting exactly how the fund came into existence and why. No matter how often people may say it, it's not the "Permanent Dividend Fund." The funding that pays the dividend -- about half of the five-year average...Dermot Cole
During World War II, the Alaska territorial government found itself unable to pay its bills, even though it had a growing surplus set aside in an exclusive fund for road construction at a time when no one was building roads. “Now, I know we can't legally borrow money but the fact of the matter is that we did,” Juneau attorney Mildred Hermann, a delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention, said in Fairbanks during a 1955 debate at the University of Alaska about that financial pinch. She said the territory was forced into borrowing because of inflexible budget rules. She wanted to avoid duplicating that problem once a government was established in the new state. She said the "real evil" in setting funds aside for a single purpose is that it "so often leaves the general fund short of...Dermot Cole
In documents rich with fuzzy phrases about spending cuts, Alaska business groups say we need to set priorities and make state government more efficient, affordable, transparent and sustainable. It's as predictable as the lines of a play, but the groups need to change the script, put their expertise to work and offer some real guidance instead. The latest letters and statements from the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce , the Alaska Bankers Association, the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. and the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce are united in calling for spending reductions, but Sherlock Holmes would have trouble finding clues about what they have in mind. This is the biggest deficiency in their collective advice and it's understandable. If one of these groups had said, "Let's cut $400...Dermot Cole
FAIRBANKS -- The appetite for bluster and superlatives displayed by TV star and presidential candidate Donald Trump must be genetic. His grandfather, Frederick Trump, joined the Klondike gold rush stampede and operated a series of restaurants and hotels, invariably boosting them as the “newest, neatest and best equipped north of Vancouver.” Trump, who came to the United States from Germany as a 16-year-old in 1885, learned the business basics in Seattle in the 1890s and changed his name from Friedrich to Frederick. As far as I can tell, he was known as Fred, not "The Fred." “A quick study, Trump headed for a prime location, the city’s red-light district, known as the Lava Beds,” writes biographer Gwenda Blair . “There he leased a tiny storefront restaurant named the Poodle Dog, which had...Dermot Cole