Pastor pleads innocent in fatal shootings
PALMER - The Big Lake pastor who shot and killed two men burglarizing his chapel has pleaded innocent to charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
After his arraignment Friday, the judge released Rev. Phillip Mielke, 44, without a cash bond.
The pastor shot and killed 31-year-old Chris Palmer and 23-year-old Frank Jones on April 24. He faces up to 20 years in prison on each of two counts of manslaughter, if convicted, and up to 10 years on each of the other charges.
The meek-looking Mielke, wearing a white sports shirt neatly tucked into belted blue slacks, rarely looked up during the brief hearing Friday.
His lawyers did most of the talking, entering the innocent pleas and asking Superior Court Judge Beverly Cutler to release Mielke without bail.
Mielke has lived in the area since 1989, except for three years in the 1990s he spent in Hong Kong doing missionary work, defense attorney Pamela Sullivan said. He has served as pastor at the Big Lake Community Chapel since about 1998, when his uncle stepped down. He and his wife home-school their children, who range in age from 3 to 10.
"Mr. Mielke does not present a danger to this community," Sullivan told the judge. "The flight risk in this case is absolutely zero, your honor."
Anchorage Assembly to consider stricter signs
ANCHORAGE - The Anchorage Assembly in coming weeks will take up an issue that could change the look of Alaska's largest city.
A move is underway to change Anchorage from a freewheeling, any-sign-goes town to something more attractive, but the change won't come easily.
The central question is how to balance what's fair for a business that needs to advertise and has invested perhaps tens of thousands of dollars in a sign against the desire to remove street-side clutter and beautify the city.
Anchorage's rules for commercial signs are among the loosest of any in the country for cities its size and larger, city consultant David Hartt of Cleveland, Ohio, has said.
Hartt and associate Alan Weinstein wrote the draft ordinance that's under consideration, after meetings with city officials and others.
Under the existing code, commercial signs can rise no higher than 45 feet. The proposed height limit is 25 feet. And the total area of a sign would be regulated for the first time.
Consultants said last year that 38 percent of 246 signs they checked were taller than the proposed limit.
Assembly members also will debate other sign features such as lighting and corporate flags.
An Anchorage Chamber of Commerce committee reviewed the proposal and objected. It said existing signs should be allowed to stay, in fairness to businesses that followed the current law.
"While some say 'Life's not fair,' it's also not fair to change the rules in the middle of the game," chamber board chairman George Vakalis wrote to the city Planning and Zoning Commission. The chamber board has not taken a final position yet, though, he said.
John Todd, president of Glacier Sign and Lighting, said, "I just don't feel that's right" to require people to replace signs that went in legally.
Assemblyman Allan Tesche says businesses have a right to a reasonable financial return on their sign investments but that's all. Signs that don't fit under the new law should be taken down soon to make the city more attractive and improve the quality of life, he said.
"Please find out the shortest legally defensible amortization (grace) period," Tesche asked city officials at an Assembly work session.
Skagway railroad sets passenger record
WHITEHORSE, Yukon - The White Pass and Yukon Route railway carried 4,888 passengers Wednesday, breaking the old one-day record of 4,736, according to the company.
It took five ships from four cruise lines in Skagway, seven train crews, 14 trains and every available diesel locomotive and passenger coach.
The White Pass Yukon Route narrow gauge railway was built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush.
The railway has carried more than 300,000 passengers per year in its last three years.
Group warns against tribes doing work in national parks, refuges
FAIRBANKS - A public employees group says Alaskans should be wary of Bush administration negotiations that could turn over work on national parks and wildlife refuges to Native American tribes.
Grady Hocutt, working on the issue for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that contracting out work on public lands will create conflicts of interest, dilute the focus of federal agencies and threaten jobs held by federal employees.
An Alaska tribal group that wants to expand such contracting thinks arguments against it are misleading, and a legacy of a prejudiced view of tribes.
"It goes back, way back," said Randy Mayo, chairman of the Fort Yukon-based Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments. "This is just a new form of how these agency folks view us - that we're incompetent, that our role is to stand there with our hand out. We put up with it all the time."
A federal law passed by Congress in 1994 requires the Interior Department's land management agencies to review their programs annually to see which could be contracted to tribes. Work that is "inherently federal" can't be contracted, but other programs with "special geographic, historical or cultural significance" to tribes are eligible.
Agency lands in Alaska, which often surround Native communities, are thus prime territory for such agreements, Hocutt said.