The new head of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities comes from Big Lake, displacing a Juneau local who was scrutinized because of a proposed road that would have ended on his family's property.
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Leo von Scheben, cofounder of Anchorage-based engineering firm USKH Inc., replaces John MacKinnon, who was appointed acting commissioner in early December.
Announcing the appointment Friday, Gov. Sarah Palin called von Scheben "the best of the best."
"Leo is a visionary with a great private-sector perspective. He will make sensible decisions on infrastructure projects in Alaska. Under Leo's leadership and skill, the Department of Transportation will become a re-energized strategic arm of State Government," she said.
"I am excited and honored to be part this team that is leading the charge to bring teamwork back to the DOT," von Scheben said.
"I look forward to working with the private sector and to improving communications within the department. My focus in business has been and will always be teamwork. This philosophy will follow me to the DOT as we offer customer service, employee satisfaction and quality projects."
Unlike MacKinnon, whose family history in Juneau extends back to the nineteenth century, von Scheben is a relative unknown to many in Southeast.
Von Scheben received a master's degree in business administration from the University of Alaska Anchorage.
"I think the real key is not where they live, but how well they are going to perform," said former department Commissioner Dick Knapp. "There has to be a degree of mutual trust between the governor and her appointees. I think the proof is in the pudding and we will see how it works out."
MacKinnon, who had applied for the commissioner post, came under public scrutiny recently when the department attempted to hire a contractor to build a one-lane road north of town as part of the Lynn Canal Highway project.
The road would have ended at his family property, which is being leased to the Kensington Mine. MacKinnon had recused himself from deliberations on the road.
Palin later canceled the project, citing a "questionable" bidding process.
"I think John would have been an excellent commissioner. And quite frankly, I don't think that he had done anything that was untoward that should have compromised his position," Knapp said. "But unfortunately, other people don't share that (view.)"
"The state will lose a valuable asset if he leaves the department."
MacKinnon could stay in the department. He was formerly deputy commissioner of highways and public facilities.
The transportation department maintains and operates state highways, the Alaska Marine Highway System, airports, public facilities, ports and harbors.
Brittany Retherford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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