Friday, December 30, 2011

What Does "Taking Responsibility" Mean these days? Sheffield Resigns for $60K/year

ADN on line has this headline:
Sheffield resigns as port director
CONTRACT: Ex-governor will earn $60,000 a year as city's liaison on the project.
Anchorage Daily News Published: December 29th, 2011 11:06 PM
Last Modified: December 29th, 2011 11:26 PM

It took long enough to get him out of the Port.  The story tells us:
The cost of the port expansion project, as envisioned by Sheffield, has jumped from $360 million in 2005 to about $1 billion. [Anchorage Mayor] Sullivan has proposed a less ambitious project. The city late this year asked the Legislature for $350 million to continue port construction work.

The port was supposed to be finished in 2011, but the ADN reported last July, that the completion date is now 2021.  That's not a minor adjustment.  Why the delay?  Because Sheffield had championed a controversial, untested piling design which failed.
Some engineers are questioning whether the new dock can even be built as designed. Much of the work done in 2010 involved dismantling construction from just a year earlier. Numerous sheets of steel that were planted in Cook Inlet as part of the dock expansion have been ripped up and now lie stacked in twisted and warped piles at the port.
You can see some of these on a video of a Port tour in a 2009 post.

But according to Sheffield and his supporters, it wasn't his fault.
"The project has faced challenges but we have worked hard over the last two years to get the management and construction back on the correct course," Sheffield said in a written statement . . .

. . . Sheffield supporters say the port construction problems were largely beyond his control, and that a federal agency and a contractor are responsible for quality assurance, not the port director. Former Assemblyman Dan Coffey, whom Sullivan has hired to lobby the Legislature for additional port funds, says he thinks Sheffield "is the face of a mess not of his making."
Yeah, it wasn't me.  Just because I was the port director, you shouldn't blame me.  The Feds should have done it.  Ask the feds who was pushing the controversial pilings. 

Let's see.  This is the former governor who was brought up for impeachment inquiry by the legislature in 1985.  The LA Times reported:
Alaska's impeachment inquiry stems from what might be considered routine patronage politics in some places: the steering of a $9.1-million lease for state offices to a Fairbanks building in which one of Sheffield's supporters and fund-raisers held an interest. . .
. . .The office lease matter took a serious turn on July 1, when the special grand jury investigating it, citing page after page of Sheffield's failed memory in his testimony, declared that the governor is "unfit to fulfill the inherent duties of public office."
'Lack of Candor'
The jurors added that "Sheffield's testimony reflects a lack of candor and a disrespect for the laws of this state."
In the end, he was not impeached.

But here's some more history from a 2007 post I did on Carnival Cruise Lines:
1987 - Sheffield sold Sheffield Enterprises to Holland America [which belongs to Carnival Cruises.] His number two man at Sheffield Enterprises, Al Parish, eventually became a vice president of Holland America.
And from the Alaska Railroad website we get the following:
April 1995
Former Governor Bill Sheffield is appointed to the Board of Directors and elected chairman.
During his tenure, the Anchorage International Airport got a new train depot, that the Railroad says cost $28 million (I think that was just the federal money, others have hinted it was much more) that is now named after Sheffield.  The only passengers who ride on trains from that depot are people who travel to or from the airport to downtown train station (a ten minute taxi ride) which is part of their Alaska cruise ticket.  And the cruises only come up during the summer months.  But us Anchorage folks can rent it out for a party if we want. 

The Alaska Railroad's 1998 Annual Report says about the Depot:

Anchorage International Airport
What It Is: A $28 million project to develop a state-of-the-art rail
station at the Anchorage International Airport. The station will be
the centerpiece of all passenger services development at the
Railroad, connecting Seward, Whittier and Girdwood, making
commuter services to Wasilla and Palmer a more viable option. (p.10)

In the Chairman's message it even gives a time estimate:

And by 2005, we hope to be carrying commuters from the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and Girdwood into Anchorage with safe, cost-effective, environmentally friendly rail transit.(p. 1)
It's the end of 2011 and no one has gone anywhere but downtown from that depot.  But maybe, like the port, the commuter service had to be delayed 10 years.  But don't hold your breath until 2015.

Heads of agencies and governments and corporations frequently tell us that they have the responsibility to make important decisions, but when things go bad, they rarely seem to be held accountable.  How are those bankers doing who made all those bad loans?  Do you think W. is going to apologize any time soon for getting us into Iraq?   The only Alaskan politicians who have been held accountable were convicted by the feds after an FBI investigation.  And the ones who spent the most time in prison were convicted of crimes involving $10,000 or less. 

Mayor Sullivan's been cutting the Municipal budget on the grounds of being fiscally responsible, but this is the end of his third year as mayor.  He's left Sheffield at the port all this time. 

Some folks thought the political corruption cases might change things, and they did for a bit.  They helped get Sarah Palin elected governor, for example.  But just looking at Sheffield's record as Governor, railroad president, and head of the port raise very troubling questions about accountability in this state.  The gift of the railroad depot to the cruise lines all by itself should have been investigated.  It has cronyism written all over it. 

Who's accountable for it never being used for commuter service?  Who still thinks there was ever that intention?

The current ADN story says that no one knew about the resignation and it was announced at a Wednesday night fundraiser for Mayor Sullivan at Sheffield's home.  Sweet deal.  I'll resign and I'll give you a fundraiser, but I want a $60K retainer after I resign.  Or even worse, maybe he didn't have to ask.  

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