Dermot Cole

The center of the legal effort to exonerate the men known as the Fairbanks Four rests on the claim that two of the “real killers” of young John Hartman have confessed. One of the men is William Holmes, 35, a former drug dealer now serving a double life sentence in California for murder. The other man is Jason Wallace, 34, serving 70 years in the Spring Creek jail for killing a 25-year-old woman with a hammer, and other crimes. As teenagers in Fairbanks, they were friends. As young men in their early 20s, they committed murder. It was part of a scheme to eliminate rivals and gain more control over the cocaine trade. Wallace later become the star witness against Holmes, so they don't have much good to say about each other. Both men are locked up and neither one is on trial in the landmark...Dermot Cole
In the early days of the Alaska oil boom, as the late Rep. Hugh Malone of Kenai once said, Alaska legislators found it easy to agree on appropriations. ''There was a sense that there was enough money to do everything,'' said Malone, an early champion of the Permanent Fund who later served as revenue commissioner. ''You didn't have to fight with anybody -- you just said yes." Malone knew there would never be enough money to do everything, though that illusion has been a recurrent theme in Alaska politics every time that oil prices have spiked, only to be followed by a fall. This time the cycle looks different. Oil production is down by 50 percent over the last 15 years, while oil production taxes are down by 95 percent since 2012, mainly because of the oil-price collapse. Alaska can either...Dermot Cole
The attorney wanted to know whether his client had a clear memory of exactly what he did and where he went in Fairbanks on Oct. 10-11, 1997. “It’s pretty clear,” said Marvin Roberts, testifying in Fairbanks Superior Court Monday. Attorney Bill Oberly asked why he could be so sure. “I’ve had about 18 years to think about it,” said Roberts. Until his release to a halfway house this past summer, Roberts had spent those 18 years behind bars, maintaining all the while that he is not a killer. The exchange took place Monday as an extraordinary court hearing entered its fourth week in Fairbanks , a closely watched proceeding that has raised troubling questions about justice in Alaska. Supporters of Roberts and the three other men known as the "Fairbanks Four" have crowded into the fifth-floor...Dermot Cole
This isn't Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average, but we've lived with the idea that most of the kids in Alaska are at least proficient on standardized tests. Not anymore. In what amounts to a startling change for Alaska public schools, new standardized tests taken by 70,000 students last spring present a far more pessimistic portrait about student achievement than we've seen in the past. The tests, taken by students in grades 3 through 10, are more difficult and the scores are lower. To the extent that this tells families their kids need to work harder and that teachers and schools need to demand more, it's a good thing. A more realistic definition of "proficiency" is long overdue. This is not so much an indictment of the public schools, as a recognition that a more...Dermot Cole
Revenues from the Alaska oil production tax have dropped 95 percent in the last three years, from $6 billion to about $300 million. With that collapse, brought on primarily by the reduction in oil prices to $50 per barrel, the state has to look to its largest renewable resource to pay some of its bills: investment earnings. This is more of a necessity than an option. As a first step, Gov. Bill Walker's administration is about to release plans to rebalance the state's financial portfolio and draw on Alaska Permanent Fund earnings . It will also require rebalancing Alaskans' attitudes about the purpose of the Permanent Fund, which will include its use to help support government operations. Why? Because the state is now spending $3 billion a year from its savings accounts, putting its...Dermot Cole
Some leading legislators remain in denial, but the state has no real choice but to enact a new plan to pay for government in 2016. The reasons are simple enough -- failing to develop a course forward will mean a decline in the state bond rating, greater damage to the Alaska economy and a shrunken state savings account that could vanish by 2018. Legislators who want to talk only about cutting the budget by more than $700 million -- on top of the $800 million or so cut this year -- aren’t facing up to the overwhelming scope of the problem or how this could put the state on even shakier ground. Cutting a few million here and there won’t be hard, but legislators can’t or won’t identify departments, programs, projects and services they want to stop that will add up to hundreds of millions in...Dermot Cole
Angela Rodell, who served as revenue commissioner under former Gov. Sean Parnell, takes over leadership of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. at a crucial point in its history -- one in which its operations will no longer be regarded as a curious appendage of state government designed simply to deliver dividend checks. The fund, established by a constitutional amendment 39 years ago, has grown to $52 billion under a system that has allowed it to be insulated from most of the annual budget discussions that dominate Alaska politics. That has changed over the past year with the collapse in oil prices and state oil revenue. The six-member Permanent Fund Board of Trustees last week named Rodell the fund's executive director, replacing the late Mike Burns, a veteran banker who guided the fund for...Dermot Cole
The topic was Medicaid expansion, but House Speaker Mike Chenault sounded like the late Yogi Berra in an interview with Anchorage NBC affiliate KTUU: "There's more information that people are looking for and there's not enough certainty one way or the other to either go forward with the lawsuit or to dismiss the lawsuit." And if you come to a legal fork in the road, take it. Better yet, just drop it. Somehow, it was no surprise that the Legislative Council emerged from a secret meeting in late September and refused to shut down its court fight against the Walker administration over whether the governor can approve Medicaid expansion this year. After all, the council members had decided during the summer it was smart strategy to pay the lawyers in advance. That might have something to do...Dermot Cole
In 2005, Rep. Don Young included a down payment on the Knik Arm Crossing in a federal highway bill. When the bill emerged in its final form, the bridge had his name on it. Sec. 4411 of the bill said , "The Knik Arm bridge in Alaska to be planned, designed, and constructed pursuant to section 117 of title 23, United States Code, as high priority project number 2465 under section 1702 of this Act, is designated as Don Young's Way.'" Some critics lambasted the $230 million earmark as an example of Young's appetite for pork, but the name had been bestowed by Sen. Ted Stevens. “I didn’t name that bridge,” Young told reporters. But, he added, “I certainly wasn’t going to turn it down.” "Names are strange things," he said. "After you're gone, you don't remember the name. But it'll be a legacy...Dermot Cole
FAIRBANKS -- Something’s wrong with the gasoline price signs in Fairbanks. Instead of prices close to those in Anchorage, the signs are showing a 60-cent premium in Fairbanks. The powers that be at our premier gasoline dealers -- Fred Meyer, Safeway, Sam’s Club, Tesoro, etc. -- might want to check their numbers. Perhaps it’s a math mistake or an electronic glitch from the power outage last week. More likely it just proves the adage that gas prices never drop as fast as they rise. Until one of the big retailers drops the price, the others are not going to move. There is nothing illegal about keeping prices high -- or cutting them -- unless the companies communicate with each other. Of all the daily pricing decisions store owners and managers make, this one has the highest local profile...Dermot Cole