Former Mat-Su Assembly member gets ethics code exemption to work road contracts

PALMER — A former Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly member could benefit from road contracts he says he gave advice on after receiving an exemption from a law specifically designed to block such conflicts.

Big Lake resident Clayton “Mokie” Tew owns a road construction company and served on the Assembly representing an area that includes Big Lake from 2020 until November 2023, when he lost his reelection bid.

His company has had compliance issues in the past and was blocked from holding new borough contracts for several years until late 2019.

Borough officials say Tew was not involved in rewriting or reformatting borough road maintenance contracts during a major overhaul before he left office last year. But Tew said in an interview last week that he did talk to public works officials about contracts, though he said the level of his involvement was not inappropriate.

Now, under a narrow exception to borough code the Assembly approved last week, Tew will be able to help win some of those contracts for a company co-owned by his son, Clayton “Ben” Tew Jr.

The measure was approved by the Assembly 4-3 with Tim Hale, whose district includes Butte, Stephanie Nowers, whose district includes Palmer, and Bill Gamble, whose district includes Big Lake, opposed.

In early March, Battleground, LLC, co-owned by Ben Tew and his wife Whitney Tew, filed as the low bidder on a road maintenance contract for the area that includes Big Lake, with Mokie Tew listed as an employee.


Borough officials rejected that bid late last month because it violated a borough ethics law that prohibits former elected officials from holding or working on any borough contract for one year after leaving office, they said. That law is designed to block elected officials from working on contracts in which they might have a conflict of interest because of their influence while in office, officials said.

Battleground, which has no history of performing major road contracts, included Mokie Tew on its employee roster to demonstrate they have the necessary experience, said Russ Krafft, the borough’s purchasing officer. The company has previously held a series of small road construction, reclamation, and plowing contracts valued at under $50,000, Krafft said.

The exemption approved last week by the Assembly specifically limits Mokie Tew to borough contracts held by Battleground.

Assembly member Ron Bernier, who represents Upper Susitna Valley communities, initially proposed a broader exemption that would have given Tew the ability to work on any borough contracts within a year of leaving the Assembly.

The exemption was narrowed to cover Battleground only by an amendment proposed by Nowers. The Assembly passed that limit 5-2.

Bernier in an interview this week said he offered the change as way to increase competition for borough contracts and lower prices by allowing Battleground to bid.

Mat-Su Borough road maintenance is divided among 16 road service area contracts, with work funded through property taxes. Nine of those contracts have gone to bid since February after a major overhaul early this year sparked by disputes over whether contractors can charge the borough for overages due to extra work created by snow pushed onto roads from private properties.

Mokie Tew co-owns road construction company Tew’s Inc. with his wife, Roberta Tew. In 2016, the company lost a major contract to maintain roads around Big Lake after failing to perform required work. All told, Tew’s Inc. logged 85 negative actions from 2001 to 2015, ranging from deficient plowing to failing to respond to icy roads, according to borough public works documents. It also received safety and wage citations from the state.

The new measure allowing Battleground to employ Mokie Tew on borough contracts is effective for all bids filed after the April 2 Assembly vote.

Battleground is currently listed as the low bidder on a road maintenance contract for an area of Wasilla bordered by Trunk Road and the Palmer-Wasilla Highway. Bids for that contract closed Friday. Battleground filed a bid for $570,000, while the next lowest bidder, Alaska Resource Group LLC, filed a bid for $874,000.

Tew is not the first Assembly member to receive an employment waiver before the end of the one-year ban.

In 2020, Assembly member Tim Hale, whose district includes Butte, was granted a waiver to work as a line and grade technician through an engineers’ union that supplies employees to local contractors. In 2022, former Assembly member Tam Boeve, who represented the Upper Susitna Valley, got a waiver to work as executive director for Valley Community for Recycling Solutions, which manages recycling services for the borough under a no-fee partnership.

[Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the borough code exemption allowing Clayton “Mokie” Tew to work on Mat Su borough contracts held by Battleground, LLC passed unanimously. It passed in a 4-3 vote.]

Amy Bushatz

Amy Bushatz is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su covering Valley news for the ADN.