Alaska Digest

Posted: Monday, July 09, 2007

Fairbanks post office tries realignment

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FAIRBANKS - When staffing shortages led to gaps in service at Fairbanks area post offices, managers and union leaders took action.

In a move that departs from typical postal procedure, they audited their own facilities, leading to a realignment of jobs that will add more window clerks and eventually shorten lines.

"What's happening this weekend is we're moving those people into their new jobs," said Denise Hernandez, president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 1416 in Fairbanks, last week.

The changes have raised objections from some senior employees.

Local postal leaders said they have not been allowed to replace employees lost to relocation or retirement. The realignment aims to fix that by combining and shifting job duties.

After months of examining operations around the borough, a team of two union leaders and two postal managers changed the basic duties of 63 positions and reassigned employees based on seniority.

The redefined positions will not affect mail carriers but changed job descriptions for about 85 percent of the postal employees working in back rooms and front counters of post office branches and stations.

Alaska corruption trial sent to jury

ANCHORAGE - Attorneys in the federal corruption trial of former state Rep. Tom Anderson presented their closing arguments Friday and handed the case to the jury.

Prosecutors continued to press their contention that Anderson was hard-up for cash and was willing to do whatever he could to dig himself out - even selling his powers as a lawmaker, while Anderson's counsel pursued an entrapment defense, saying Anderson would have helped his associates regardless of whether he got money from them.

Defense attorney Paul Stockler said Anderson helped private prison company Cornell Industries, Inc. for free from the outset of the investigation and it was only after former Corrections Commissioner Frank Prewitt - a key government witness who is under investigation himself - began recording their conversations that evidence of wrongdoing surfaced.

Prosecutor Nicholas A. Marsh, a trial attorney in the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, said Anderson took and failed to report to the Alaska Public Offices Commission $12,828 in bribes he thought were coming from Cornell but were actually supplied by the FBI.

Anderson, who did not testify during the two-week trial, is charged with seven counts of extortion, bribery and money laundering.

The jury is set to resume deliberations today.

Ag Board seeks disaster declaration

ANCHORAGE - Members of the Board of Agriculture and Conservation hope a declaration of an imminent agriculture disaster will free up federal funds to help the struggling, state-owned Matanuska Maid dairy and the farmers who rely on it.

State officials are studying whether that's possible.

The dairy, taken over by the state in the mid-1980s after it went bankrupt, has seen losses totaling more than $700,000 since 2005 and the board has been pressing to find a long-term financial fix.

Dick LeFebvre, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Natural Resources, said staff members are researching whether an agriculture disaster declaration would meet requirements of state law. The Natural Resources Department and the Department of Law must sign off on the request.

LeFebvre said the type of declaration the board is seeking may not free federal funds, loans or grants.

Ag Board chairwoman Kristan Cole, citing state studies, said that if the dairy goes under, it could mean losses of $30 million to $50 million to dairy farms, feed shops, grain growers and equipment suppliers.

A pressing problem for the dairy, Cole said, has been a demand from key suppliers, including the trucking company that delivers its milk, that Mat Maid guarantee payment.

While the board is working on a long-term solution for the dairy, she also hopes residents will do their part by buying Mat Maid products.

"I hope they all understand," she said. "The truth is that while the state is the sole shareholder (of Mat Maid), what that really means is we the citizens of Alaska own the creamery."

Ex-trooper describes scene in old murder

FAIRBANKS - A former Alaska State Trooper described how he stopped at a convenience store nearly 12 years ago to buy a newspaper and instead discovered the body of a young clerk behind the counter, shot twice in the head.

Richard Quinn of North Pole testified Friday in the trial of Marvin Wright, 38, accused of killing 19-year-old Trish Warren on Sept. 5, 1995. Wright is charged with first- and second-degree murder, robbery and evidence tampering.

Wright formerly went by the name Reuben Smitheal. His street name was "Peanut" or "Nut." Prosecutor Corinne Vorenkamp said a need for drugs led Wright to shoot Warren and rob the store.

Defense attorney Robert Noreen will try to show that Warren's own stormy past led to her death. Warren was a high school dropout and mother of two separated from her husband. She was juggling a failing marriage, money problems and two suitors when she was killed.

The prosecution case relies on statements from a drug user who reportedly accompanied Wright to the truck stop, Wright's former girlfriend and cell mates to whom Wright bragged about the killing, the prosecutor said.

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