Palin fires all 7 members of state agriculture board

Dismissals are part of an effort to keep troubled dairy open

Posted: Tuesday, June 19, 2007

ANCHORAGE - All seven members of the Alaska Board of Agriculture and Conservation were dismissed as Gov. Sarah Palin took steps to keep the troubled Matanuska Maid dairy in business.

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The Agriculture Board has authority over the state Creamery Board, which voted last week to shut down the state-owned dairy.

Palin cannot directly replace the Creamery Board or legally intervene in the dairy, said spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton on Sunday. However, she can replace the Agriculture Board and that board has authority to replace the Creamery Board, Stapleton said.

The governor Monday planned to begin announcing replacements for the Agriculture Board, Stapleton said.

The appointments will be made quickly, Stapleton said, "So this board ... can at least start looking at the Creamery Board information and perhaps find some alternative solution. (Palin) recognizes and knows that it may mean that ultimately Mat Maid shuts down. But there's not been enough discussion ... about why all of the sudden doors are closing July 7."

Annual revenue at the dairy has been about $15 million. However, escalating debt led the Creamery Board to vote to close the dairy for good.

Palin last week offered to intervene so that the sudden closure could be avoided. The Creamery Board rejected her offer.

Then, when she showed up wanting a tour of their Anchorage dairy, officials refused to let her in and made her wait in the lobby for an hour. She eventually left for a scheduled meeting.

Four members of the Agriculture Board also serve on the Creamery Board, including Rhonda Boyles, who chaired the Board of Agriculture.

The remaining six Agriculture Board members dismissed Friday by Palin were William Burton, Mac Carter, Edward Kern, Carrol Martin, Paul Shoen and Bruce Willard.

Former Gov. Frank Murkowski appointed members to the Agriculture Board, Stapleton said.

According to state regulations, at least one board member must have a business or finance background. One must be a member of a statewide agricultural promotion organization. A third has to be involved in commercial production agriculture.

The remaining four members are supposed represent agricultural enterprise such as livestock production, grain production or the dairy industry.

Palin wants more information about Mat Maid's status and finances, Stapleton said.

"This board can help with that," she said.

The shutdown would put about 50 Mat Maid employees out of work and leave the half-dozen remaining dairy farms in Alaska with few options for selling their milk.

The dairy began as a farmers cooperative in the 1930s. The state took over the dairy in the mid-1980s after it first went bankrupt.

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