Gov. Sean Parnell has named a new chair for his Alaska Rural Action Subcabinet as his administration steps up efforts to deal with challenges facing Alaska's predominately Native rural communities.
The new chair is the Commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, Susan Bell of Juneau.
Bell became Commissioner of the DCCED last month.
Bell has been a Southeast Alaska resident since 1987, but was born in Nome and is a shareholder of the Bering Straits Native Corp., the Nome-based regional corporation, and the Sitnasuak Native Corp., the Nome-based village corporation. In Juneau she also worked for Goldbelt, Inc.
Bell said the rural subcabinet, first created by former Gov. Sarah Palin in 2008, is to focus state efforts on the problems besetting rural areas, including high energy and transportation costs, combined with struggling economies.
"The governor definitely has a strong commitment to Alaska as a whole, but understands rural Alaska has some unique challenges," she said.
The subcabinet's other members include key commissioners with departments heavily involved in rural issues, as well as the director of the governor's Washington, D.C. office.
The administrative order naming Bell's position as the subcabinet's chair also added the governor's rural affairs advisor, John Moller, to the subcabinet.
Moller said he's been working with the group, but will now be a formal member.
"My interaction (with the subcabinet) was unofficial in the past, I guess it's now official," he said.
Moller, also of Juneau, was born in Dutch Harbor and has been in the fishing industry in Western Alaska and Southeast.
Bell is a good choice to lead the subcabinet, Moller said.
The group is now drafting a report making recommendations for state responses to rural issues, and she'll be well positioned to both develop and implement those recommendations.
"I think a lot of those issues fall under the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, but it's broader than that and I think the rural subcabinet is a good vehicle to be active in addressing those," he said.
Bell said because of her newness to both the commissioner and the subcabinet position she couldn't say much about the draft report yet.
"I would imagine there would be action items for state departments, or legislative action items like funding or statute changes," she said.
"It's a pretty tall order in terms of identifying the challenges that are faced by rural Alaska in the central things like energy costs, transportation infrastructure, workforce development, training and coordination," she said.
The report could recommend action items such as funding or statute changes, as well as providing advice to the governor and full cabinet about other problems found or changes to be made.
The previous chair of the subcabinet had been the Attorney General, a position which has seen substantial turnover and controversy during the nearly 20 months the subcabinet has been in existence.
The first chair, Attorney General Talis Colberg, resigned under fire from the Legislature following the Troopergate investigation. Then there was the abortive appointment of the controversial Wayne Anthony Ross, who was rejected by the Legislature.
The current Attorney General, Dan Sullivan, moved to Alaska last summer to take the job. Sullivan will remain a member of the subcabinet.
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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