Alaska News

North Slope Borough mayor's office dispensed over $800K in gifts, violated donation policy

North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower's office has dispensed more than $800,000 in gifts of public funds to local organizations, sports teams and individuals since she took office in 2011, according to borough documents.

The documents cover only one borough account from which donations were made. Still, they include more than $100,000 for private club basketball teams not associated with popular public high school sports. One $10,000 contribution went to a team that served food at a bill signing last year attended by then-Gov. Sean Parnell.

Another $1,400 gift of public funds sent a mother and her young daughter to a "baby regalia" contest at the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Fairbanks in 2014 -- a donation that Brower acknowledged in an email was "out of line," but granted nonetheless because "this young baby can't speak for herself."

Then there were at least 15 $500 contributions to children, or their parents, to support trips to sports camps and academic programs -- including at least nine donations to officials in Brower's administration.

At least 15 donations appeared to violate a borough policy governing donations and contributions, which caps payments at $500 for children and $5,000 for sports groups. A spokeswoman for Brower defended the discrepancies by saying that because the donation policy was set by the mayor, she can violate it when she chooses.

"If she sees fit, she can go beyond it," the spokeswoman, Kristine Hilderbrand, said.

The disclosures of the donations were made by the borough in response to a July 24 public records request from Alaska Dispatch News. They come as a law firm appointed by the borough Assembly investigates borough payments for baked goods, crafts and other items to members of Brower's family.


Two of Brower's daughters were among previously reported recipients of borough money based on an earlier public records request by Alaska Dispatch News and other media outlets.

Brower herself requested the Assembly-directed investigation. She has said the purchases were approved by her staff without her knowledge.

The most recent disclosures follow previous reports that the borough also spent $8,400 to fly five of Brower's grandchildren to California for a basketball camp with superstar Michael Jordan last year.

The new records account for payments from Brower's central office since late 2011, and they don't include all donations made by the borough.

This year's budget for Brower's office includes more than $700,000 for "mini-grants," $350,000 for "miscellaneous contributions," and a $250,000 "mayor's discretionary fund." Details of expenditures from all those accounts were not sought in the current public records request.

The full budget for the borough, with its population of 9,700, is $403 million. By comparison, Anchorage's budget, for a city of 300,000, is $472 million.

Ten companies in the oil and gas industry made up 93 percent of the North Slope Borough's total tax levy in 2014, with producers BP and ConocoPhillips responsible for a combined 67 percent. The borough levies property taxes on Prudhoe Bay, though its revenues are limited by state law.

Anchorage last year gave $1.4 million to nonprofits, primarily to arts organizations and those that serve low-income residents. The municipality does not make donations to individuals, said Larry Baker, who was a top adviser to former Mayor Dan Sullivan and is a former Anchorage Assembly chairman.

In a prepared statement, Hilderbrand, the spokeswoman for Brower, quoted from a North Slope Borough policy and said the funding "helps raise the quality of cultural, community, school, sports, academic and youth events sponsored by local organizations."

"Contributions also provide needed assistance to individuals representing their North Slope community in these types of events," the statement said.

Brower has been mayor since late 2011 and was re-elected last year. Her husband is Eugene Brower, who was the borough mayor in the 1980s before pleading guilty to tax evasion in a bribery and kickback scandal that saw two of his advisers sent to prison.

The new records provided by the borough include a ledger with 294 payments from the donation account plus another 830 pages showing copies of checks, requests for contributions and some receipts.

Hilderbrand said donation recipients don't need to provide receipts showing how they spent the public money. But she cited a provision in the borough donation policy that requires recipients to file a "brief report" with the mayor's office following the completion of an event.

The policy, which says it was originally issued in 2003 and updated in April 2014, contains a list of restrictions that appear to have been repeatedly disregarded in the past year.

One part of the policy says donations will not be given to individuals for out-of-state travel, scholarships, training or general assistance.

Another says cash contributions to groups involved in youth sports or activities shouldn't be more than $5,000 a year, $500 for children participating in events or camps, or $500 for individuals taking part in cultural events like the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics.

Many of the donations to groups in the ledger were exactly $5,000 -- to various sports teams, to the 2014 Arctic Winter Games in Fairbanks, and to a Rotary Club. And there were dozens of $500 donations to individuals.


But other contributions far exceeded those. The top recipient was the Barrow Booster Club, which received $162,000 in 12 installments over three years. The money appeared to be primarily for sports camps -- with payments for coaching, food, equipment and clothing.

The booster club, also known as the Barrow Whaler Athletic Foundation, lists Seeseei Pili as its president and Noe Texeira as its treasurer in its most recent corporate filing with the state.

Pili, a longtime volleyball coach in Barrow, is listed as a division manager in the borough planning department. Texeira is listed as an assistant to Brower.

Team Barrow Girls, a club basketball program, received $93,000 in four different installments from 2011 to 2014 -- $25,500 of which was supposed to help pay for a four-week trip to Washington and Oregon last year for four different basketball camps, according to the records.

The records also showed an additional $25,500 payment to the team for the same camp, which was not reflected on the ledger.

Jerry Lowery, the Team Barrow Girls coach, also appears to be a high-level borough official. He is listed as a division manager in the public works department.

The records provided by the borough include a handwritten note, signed by "Kathy," on one of Lowery's requests, which says: "Jerry, Approved one time for full amount. NSB will follow donations policy going forward."

Another $10,000 went to the Utqiagvik Basketball Club, which has a team coached by Roland Hepa. Hepa is listed as a borough project administrator and is married to the borough's director of wildlife management.


That donation, in July 2014, came after Brower sent an email to two of her staff members saying that the basketball team would be serving food at Parnell's bill signing the next month, according to the records.

"In addition to their fine gallantry and exemplary (sic), the NSB Mayor's (sic) recognizes the Utkiagvik Warrior Team and therefore donates $10,000 to the team," the email said, giving an alternative spelling for Utqiagvik.

The records also show more than 15 $500 donations to individuals for out-of-state travel to basketball camps and academic programs -- including at least nine payments that went to support the children of borough department heads and employees.

Another recipient got $5,000 last year to sponsor his team's entry in the Iron Dog snowmachine race, while one got $1,500 to participate in the Run for Women in Anchorage.

There were also three payments to participants in the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics that exceeded the donation policy's $500 limit.

The mayoral donations are a long-standing practice in the North Slope Borough, predating Brower's election, said Randy Hoffbeck, who worked for the borough for years as its chief financial officer, its director of administration and finance, and briefly as Brower's chief of staff until he retired in 2012.

He's now the state revenue commissioner.

The donations, Hoffbeck said, were seen as a way of pushing money into the local economy, and the cash was included in the budget approved by the Assembly.

"The idea of giving out money into the community is seen as part of why those resources are there," Hoffbeck said in a phone interview. "There is some method to the madness."

The donation program, he added, was well-known to borough residents, with an understanding that the mayor's office was a "resource for donations."

In Anchorage, an applicant for a grant must be a nonprofit with federal tax-exempt status, and faces a deadline after it receives money to report how it was spent, according to an application on the municipality's website.

Recipients last year included the Iditarod, which got $15,000 from general Anchorage government and $5,000 from the city utility, Municipal Light & Power.

The Anchorage Park Foundation got $120,000 from the city. Anchorage Education Matters, the organization that emerged after a conference convened by Sullivan, the former mayor, got $55,000.

Nathaniel Herz

Anchorage-based independent journalist Nathaniel Herz has been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. Read his newsletter, Northern Journal, at