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Northwest Digest

Posted: Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Fairbanks police budget lowest in state

FAIRBANKS - The Fairbanks Police Department is lagging behind other Alaska law enforcement agencies in money spent on training for officers and dispatchers, according to a survey.

Fairbanks has the lowest training budget per capita among six departments, including Juneau, North Pole, the North Slope Borough, Homer and Wasilla, according to the informal poll conducted last week by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The comparison comes as Fairbanks Police Chief Dan Hoffman is asking area residents and businesses to help fund training programs, saying the city's annual contribution is not enough.

Fairbanks police spent $63,750 to train its 41 sworn officers and 14 dispatchers this year. That comes out to $1,159.09 per person.

Juneau, with a similarly sized department, spent twice as much as Fairbanks - $125,400 or $2,322.22 for every dispatcher or sworn officer. The North Slope Borough Police Department, also about the same size as the Fairbanks department, spent an estimated $92,500 or $1,968.08 per employee for training.

Even the tiny North Pole Police Department spent more to train its officers. The department's training budget this year was $21,500, which came out to $2,150 for each of its nine sworn officers and a civilian employee. Of that amount, $5,000 came from a one-time grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security, said North Pole Police Chief Paul Lindhag.

"You want the best-qualified people out on the street as you can get," Lindhag said. "You do the best that you can do with the money you have."

Medical center talks at impasse

SEATTLE - The president of a union representing more than 4,200 Swedish Medical Center workers traded harsh letters with the hospital system's chief executive Monday, as the company announced it has no intention of negotiating further after the union rejected a "best and final" contract offer.

"Is this the way Swedish management wants to treat our members ... by valuing and respecting their opinion only when they agree with you," wrote Diane Sosne, president of Service Employees International Union District 1199NW. "You have angered and disappointed so many of your frontline staff."

"I feel that but for the intimidation, coercion and other improper conduct by your union, that our employees would have ratified the contract offer," CEO Richard Peterson shot back.

The letters illustrated how acrimonious the labor situation has become at the Northwest's largest hospital system, though both sides said they hope to avoid a strike.

The union voted last week on the contract offer from Swedish, and results announced Sunday showed that 80 percent of the 1,900 members who voted - that's 62 percent turnout - voted against it. Union leaders had recommended a "no" vote on the proposal, which would phase out a traditional defined-benefit pension plan with a 401(k)-type retirement investment system and for the first time require workers to pay part of their health insurance premiums, 7 percent starting in 2007.

The offer also would have granted wage increases in 2006 and '07, with top-scale nurse pay reaching $44 per hour, "allowing Swedish registered nurses to remain the highest paid in the area," the company said.

Jury throws out whistleblower claims

SEATTLE - A federal jury has rejected claims brought by two men who said they were punished after complaining about what they saw as wasteful spending in the Washington state ferry system.

The jury returned the verdict late Friday, following a two-week trial and a day of deliberation.

Bob Newmon, of Quilcene, an engine oiler aboard the ferry Walla Walla, and Lance Musselman, of Mountlake Terrace, an engine oiler aboard the Quinault, were seeking $1.9 million. Newmon said he was suspended without pay for two weeks in 2002 and Musselman said he was fired because they complained about the spending.

Musselman was so upset over losing his job and then his home that he eventually shot himself in the forehead. He survived because the gun malfunctioned and the bullet did not pierce his skull.

The two alleged that they were the victims of an old boys network within Washington State Ferries, in which senior managers were awarded high-paying "special projects" beyond their regular duties, and punished those who criticized their practices.

Washington seeks biodiesel industry

SEATTLE - The dream is homegrown diesel, and Gov. Christine Gregoire is leading the effort to find out how Washington state can make it come true.

What will it take? Significant acreage in canola, an edible oilseed that grows well in the region but so far is used mostly as a rotator crop to break up the disease cycle in wheat fields. Most biodiesel comes from soybeans, which, unlike canola, must be irrigated in most of the state's farmland.

"There's only about 10,000 acres planted now in our state," said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, who's leading the effort in the Legislature. "It takes 44,000 acres of canola to get you 5 million gallons of biodiesel."

The state uses a billion gallons of diesel a year, worth between $2 billion and $3 billion. Replacing 20 percent of that fuel with biodiesel - the most common blend - would require 200 million gallons of pure vegetable fuel.

And at nearly $3 a gallon.

But there are obstacles. Washington has plenty of small refineries, but before it can be refined into fuel, canola seed must be crushed and its oil extracted. At this point, the nearest crusher is in Great Falls, Mont.

Four agricultural cooperatives - with 1,000 farmer members in Whitman and Spokane counties - are working on a plan to build a crusher and biodiesel production facility, Armstrong said.

Estimates of Washington's oilseed capacity range from 1 million to 2 million acres.



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