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OPINION: Setting Mayor Brower's record straight

September 15th, 2017 | Charlotte Brower Print this article   Email this article  

My name is Charlotte Brower and I am the former mayor for the North Slope Borough. Since I left office, I have done my best to refrain from comment on matters pertaining to the North Slope Borough. I understand the challenges every mayor faces, and have felt it inappropriate to make any statement that may cause a seated mayor of our community difficulty. This belief makes the writing of this letter difficult, but I believe necessary.

On Aug. 28, Mayor Harry Brower Jr. posted some "achievements" on his Facebook page, in which he made claims and achievements under his administration. As I read through the post, I was horrified to find that Mayor Brower appears to take credit for the achievements of others. Knowing Mayor Harry Brower Jr. for years, I find it hard to believe that he would allow such a thing to happen under his leadership. Below is a point by point discussion of some of the claims laid out in the Facebook post.

• Design/Build RFP for Itinerant Quarters in the villages that returns homes repurposed for borough use to the communities as the first step in addressing the housing shortage.

In Barrow the borough purchased an extended-stay hotel for itinerant use, allowing more housing units to be returned to the community of Barrow to address the housing shortage in that community. The $20.5 million in general obligation bonds that are being used to finance this project were specifically intended to build residential homes across the North Slope, but with a high priority being set on the villages.

Under Mayor Harry Brower Jr., the scope of this project was changed to build or purchase itinerant housing for borough employees who don't live in our communities. Even worse, these employees pay no rent for this lodging.

To justify this change, the staff of Mayor Harry Brower Jr. misled the assembly by telling them that general obligation bonds could not be used to build homes. This is absolutely false as the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, the largest housing corporation in the state, uses the proceeds from general obligation bonds to build homes, as the borough has done so in the past also.

The administration states that by building these expensive itinerant units, they will be able to free up homes occupied for that purpose both in Barrow, and the outlying villages. I challenge the administration to give a full accounting of the leases they plan to abandon, as I know that the borough only leases one home in each village for public works itinerant staff.

Additionally, this statement does not disclose that, under the direction of the chief administrative officer, this administration is currently attempting to finalize the purchase of a single asset at roughly $1 million more than the property appraises at.

This administration is spending vast sums of public funds to build new lodging for their non-resident employees, expecting the actual residents of our communities to be happy with the return of one old unit to the community as a rental! Additionally, by lodging the borough staff in these itinerant houses, this administration is depriving our corporations of vital revenue normally received by lodging borough employees in their hotels.

• First Administration to use a new modifier under the new tax cap formula to increase operating dollars. As the mayor who actually negotiated the change in the operating tax cap legislation, I can tell you that Mayor Harry Brower Jr. is not the first to use a new modifier provided in the formula. After successfully lobbying for the change in this legislation, my administration opted for a new modifier, thereby increasing funds available for operations by 33 percent!

While it is true that Mayor Harry Brower Jr. is first to increase the modifier to 375 percent (an alternative we called the "nuclear option when we designed the bill), the negative impacts of this action have not been disclosed to either the assembly, or the public. By using this option, Mayor Harry Brower Jr.'s administration actually reduced the tax revenue it would receive for this fiscal year by nearly $20 million! The oil and gas industry still paid this $20 million in taxes, and the actions of this administration allowed those funds to go to the State of Alaska, rather than being used for the benefit of our community. Imagine what the borough could have done with this funding: new homes, school improvements, childcare centers to name a few.

• First administration to present a unified "mayor's" budget presentation to the assembly for approval instead requiring separate presentations by department to defend individual budgets. This required the administration to be more informed and to remove "walls" between departments and unify as one budget. Each department was made available to the assembly to answer operational and technical questions. This statement may sound fine, but the reality is that this action led to a loss of transparency during the budget process. In the past, each department director was required to present, and defend their budget during public hearings. While this was a time consuming approach, questions asked by the assembly about service levels and financial decisions allowed the public to understand how public finances were being used, and attempt to assert influence on their public officials if they did not agree.

• First Administration in a decade to budget contributions to the Permanent Fund. While this line is among the smallest lines in the Facebook post, it is the biggest. Immediately after the passage of the new operating tax cap legislation, I directed my staff to develop a budget which not only suspended the use of the Permanent Fund for operations, but also a contribution to the Permanent Fund in the following year!

My staff followed my direction, and in the subsequent year, I proudly asked for, and received the approval of the assembly to make a seven-figure contribution into the Permanent Fund, so that future generations could benefit from the blessing we currently have. You do not have to take my word for this, as this can be easily verified by checking previous budgets.

• First Administration to minimize Anchorage presence by closing Anchorage offices which resulted in a cost savings of over $1 million a year. While this statement is partially true, it is far from the full story. Mayor Harry Brower Jr.'s administration did terminate the lease on the borough's Anchorage office, they did not release all staff working in Anchorage, instead, allowing them to work from their own homes.

This statement also hides the fact that Mayor Harry Brower Jr. actually has a deputy director of finance (the highest paid deputy director on the borough's payroll) working from Anchorage. This statement does not reflect that under the direction of the chief administrative officer, this employee travels to Barrow at least twice monthly, with all airfare, lodging and per diem paid for by the borough. Imagine, the cost of this travel could actually fund an employee within one of our communities. It should be noted that this employee has never lived in Barrow.

• Directed the capital program to implement a master schedule for the entire $300 million portfolio of projects to improve forecasting of employment opportunities, reporting on capital projects and repurposing of unspent capital dollars to meet the needs of our failing infrastructure. What this statement fails to disclose is that this work was actually initiated, and completed by the administration of Mayor Edward S. Itta, with continuous efforts by both his administration and mine to ensure that the borough used the tool to protect our valuable infrastructure.

This statement does not disclose that by using the operating tax cap modifier discussed previously, this administration has dramatically reduced the funds available for the capital projects our community has become so reliant upon.

• Established an assessing function to replace a diminishing state resource in order to take a leading role in assessing the taxable asset values of the Borough's largest taxpayers. Once again, this statement is an absolute false and an attempt to take credit for the work of others.

During my administration, I worked diligently to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the State of Alaska in this area, culminating in the borough obtaining the authority to conduct tax audits on the oil and gas industry. This memorandum of understanding was sought, as the state no longer had the financial resources to perform the function, so there was no assurance that the taxpayers were fully disclosing their assets, resulting in a loss of tax revenue to the borough.

I then directed my staff to budget for a division to perform the function, and begin training staff to do this important work. This was accomplished prior to the end of my administration, which can be easily verified by requesting a copy of previous operating budgets and a copy of the signed memorandum of understanding.

This letter was incredibly difficult to write, and even more difficult to post, but I felt it important to set the record straight. I have known Mayor Harry Brower Jr. for most of my life, and most of you know that he is my brother-in-law.

As I stated earlier, I choose to believe that the mayor is not knowingly allowing these falsehoods and half-truths to be made on his behalf and being manipulated by others, who do not have the best interest of our region at heart.

This borough was formed to allow for self-determination, not so that others can have personal gain in the operations of the North Slope Borough.

Charlotte Brower is the former mayor of the North Slope Borough.

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