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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Arctic Power fires two in Anchorage

Arctic Power, the leading group lobbying for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, on Monday fired its executive director and a project manager in its Anchorage office, the Anchorage Daily News reports today (signup required).

The move comes after unusual criticism of the group's spending when the state Legislature recently approved $1.3 million in additional taxpayer support, on top of a total of $10 million taxpayers have given to Arctic Power over the past 13 years. This, in fact, represents the lion's share of all funding Arctic Power has received.

The lobby's executive committee met Monday and trimmed the Anchorage office's monthly overhead from $31,500 to $7,500, said Al Adams, a former state senator who chairs Arctic Power's board. The jobs of Arctic Power's executive director Kevin Hand and project manager Adrian Herrera were cut during a session closed to the public. The only person remaining in the Anchorage office is Elaine Royal, who handles membership and finance.

A handful of lawmakers recently questioned Arctic Power's spending habits and whether the Anchorage office was necessary, given that most of the persuading that needs to happen takes place in D.C. This prompted some intervention by the office of Gov. Frank Murkowski.

"We have urged them to find every way to cut their costs and focus their efforts on D.C.," said Becky Hultberg, Murkowski's spokeswoman.

Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, said Arctic Power has "gotten habituated to a lot of cash" but operates without much accountability. He said Hand was virtually inaccessible and rarely responded to his calls or letters. Hand was paid a healthy $7,500 a month.

The lobby's board also formed a new oversight committee to provide better control of spending. "Even they recognize this was an organization that may be fairly inefficient, given the incredible amount of money they received," said another critic, Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer. "If they can do it all now with a third of the staff and they're dismissing people, I wish they had done this a long time ago."

The timing is certainly interesting, especially considering the new state funding for Arctic Power was still approved by an overwhelming margin.

There is nothing about the changes on Arctic Power's websites. Instead, the latest news at is this unusual advice to save money on gas: Get a new credit card and use it just for fuel. Hmm... I guess they really have become addicted to the state's largesse.

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