Friday, December 05, 2008

Bethel Update

My dear friend Joan, who gets periodic mention here on the blog, spent Thanksgiving week in Anchorage seeing friends and was able to make a quick trip down to Kenai for an overnight to visit with Dutch and me. We were delighted that she was able to come; Dutch hasn’t seen her since August, and I haven’t seen her since I left Bethel at the end of September. The visit gave us time to catch up on Bethel news.

For much of November I was watching my two weather feeds on Bethel and Kenai; Bethel was in the zero to 25 below range (usually closer to the colder end) while Kenai stayed in the zero to 25 above range. For nearly two weeks, Bethel did not warm up to 10 below, which is pretty harsh cold for November. Joan said that quite a few people were having problems with their houses freezing up, even the experienced folks who know how to prevent it. Two weeks of cold that severe will challenge the best of technology.

She pointed out, though, that it was great for the river. An extended hard cold early in the season thickens the surface ice on the river quickly, which makes for much safer traveling. Especially if there has not been a heavy dump of snow just before the cold hits; snow insulates the ground so that freezing takes longer. The ideal is a hard cold snap before there is any snow; the ground and the river get a good head start on freezing solid. Snow after that makes everything nice.

Every year there are several (or more) deaths by drowning on the Kuskokwim River from people traveling on snowmachines that break through thin ice. These tragedies often occur early in the season, when people anxious to travel do so before the river ice is thick enough. This year’s early cold will help to prevent such accidents.

Most people in Bethel are just grousing about the harsh cold; two weeks of 25 below zero is really tough. Everything about living your life is just harder in that kind of cold. It is so like Joan to focus on the positive aspect of it.

She also told us that the outcome of the City Council election in October has had a hugely positive effect on the general feeling of the people of Bethel. (I wrote several posts this past year on the outrageous and despicable behavior of four of the seven City Council members; the last one has links to the previous ones.) The Block of Four (a.k.a. the Four Thugs, the Four Malicious Idiots) lost two of their members and, thereby, their dominance of the City Council. Tundy Rodgers (the Blustering Bloviator) and Willy Keppel (the Newly Appointed (last December) Council Member) both ran, but barely got a handful of votes each.

Tundy’s defeat is a huge statement from the people of Bethel. They are just tired of his pomposity. He sat on Council for something like eighteen years, and all he ever did was roar with negativity. I could not find a single person in Bethel who could name one thing Tundy did in those eighteen years that was positive for the Council or the town. And Willy? Jeez, what a loser. Dutch and I heard from numerous people about him showing up rip roarin’ drunk to a Council meeting; everyone knew he was drunk, but the Mayor (Eric Middlebrook) did not ask him to leave or indicate that there was any problem with Willy participating fully in Council business despite his inebriation. Yes, Eric, this was another example of your incompetence and spinelessness.

Another happy outcome of the October election was that Middlebrook was soundly routed in his bid for Mary Sattler Nelson’s seat in the state legislature. He would have been a disaster in Juneau; he has no political savvy at all. Mary threw her support to Bob Herron, who won handily.

And the really good thing that happened in this wake-up call to Bethel is that really good people stepped up and ran for Council. There are three new Council members, as two positions were up for re-election, and one seat had been recently vacated by Yolanda Jorgenson, the Jolly Restaurateur, who moved away. The new Council members are Beverly Hoffman (mentioned in my bird watching post), Joe Klejka (physician and father of Jessica, who won the Jr. Iditarod this year), and La Mont Albertson (director of the adult learning center, and a man Dutch likes and respects individually).

These three join the four remaining from the previous Council: two sad remnants of the Block of Four (now essentially castrated), Eric Middlebrook and Raymond Williams—for whom the nickname “Thor” is ironic, since he has at times been compared to a box of hammers; and two of the three “white hats” who tried to stand for honesty and decency against the Block of Four, Dan Leinberger, who I never gave a handle to, and Tiffany Zulkowski, the Voice of Youth. And to top the good stuff off, the new Council elected Tiffany as Mayor at their very first meeting! Dutch and I did a spirited little happy dance when we heard that news! And sent her a card of congratulations on her victory. Good has triumphed over evil in this case.

The issue of the recall petitions on Middlebrook and Williams died without ever coming to the people, despite plenty of signatures, due to what I believe was the completely unethical behavior of the City Clerk, Lori Strickler. She gave out wrong instructions on how the petitions should be turned in, and then declared them all invalid because they were turned in according to her instructions. We called in the ACLU, who told her to give them back and allow the signature collectors to turn them in correctly (i.e., all at once), but she refused and then lied and said she never gave us wrong instructions. I fully believe Middlebrook "encouraged" her to find a way to make the petitions go away, and fearing for her job, she did.

The other loose end to this ragged story concerns the former City Attorney, Sharon Sigmon, whose wrongful termination by the Council last January marked the beginning of this year-long debacle of corruption. She quickly obtained another job, but there has been no news of her lawsuit against the City Council and the individual members (Williams and Middlebrook) who treated her so despicably after the meeting at which she was terminated. Separate from the Council’s action, those two should be sued for defamation of character by action for the way they called in a uniformed police officer and hustled her out of the building like she might steal the pencil erasers. She wasn’t even allowed to retrieve personal items from her office. I’m still hoping she’ll sue the britches off ‘em, and win big time.

Joan says that overall, it is like a cleansing wind has swept through Bethel. People are no longer ashamed of their elected representatives, and are hopeful once again about moving forward. Middlebrook and Williams have one more year on Council before they must stand for re-election; without their corrupt cronies they can do far less damage, and my bet is that come October next, they will be left standing when the next Council is seated.



Blogger Christina LMT said...

Yay! I love (mostly) happy endings!

Thank you for the update.

Friday, December 05, 2008 8:27:00 PM  

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