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5/6/15 - Ethan Berkowitz wins mayor of Anchorage race

By Anne Hillman, KSKA, with contributions from Zachariah Hughes, APRN

Ethan Berkowitz will be Anchorage's next mayor. Unofficial results show him beating Assembly member Amy Demboski 59 to 41 percent.

Berkowitz, a former prosecutor and state legislator, maintained a strong lead the entire night.

"We had a message that was very positive," said Berkowitz. "When you appeal to people's better angels, you're going to get a better response."

Demboski officially conceded around 10 p.m.  Berkowitz will take office on July 1, but he says he's not waiting until then to start working and putting together his transition team.

"I want to make sure that when I get into office, we're going to have a punch list of items that we want to take care of," said Berkowitz. "I think there are a lot of things that we want to do to resolve some of the issues that are confronting Anchorage, and we can do it during the transition."

Out-going mayor Dan Sullivan says he'll help Berkowitz take over the position.

"Every department will prepare a report that highlights the issues they're working on, maybe the challenges they're facing, so he'll be well briefed coming into office," said Sullivan. "The good thing is in the mayor's race there's about a two-month period before the new mayor takes over so it's pretty orderly and generally pretty civil."

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Alaska Department of Law layoffs expected to affect justice in rural Alaska

By Dave Bedinger, KDLG, and Zacharia Hughes

The Department of Law is cutting positions that will change the type of cases the state chooses to pursue in rural districts. As part of an effort to close a six percent budget gap, the Department sent an email to employees that 15 positions will be eliminated, with employment terminating at the end of the month for those laid off.

Rick Svobodny is the state's Deputy Attorney General. He says that between this and last year the full staff reductions are spread equitably across the state, but are most apparent in rural hub communities.

“The cuts are more evident because, for example, in Dillingham, in Kotzebue, in Barrow, we will have gone from four people in the offices to two in the offices,” said Svobodny.

Other communities losing either attorneys, para-legals, or support positions are Sitka, Juneau, Bethel, and the Office of Special Prosecutions in Anchorage.

Ninety-four percent of the Department's budget is for fixed costs like personnel and leases, with the rest going to discretionary necessities like travel related to cases. With less staff, Svobodny says prosecutors will have to be even more selective on what kinds of cases they chose to pursue.

"We are not gonna have as much time to spend on each case, and that does affect each case,” said Svobody. “Now, what it means is that some of the less serious, non-personal crimes are gonna get less attention than they did in the past."

The Department's budget was built on state revenues forecasting oil at well over one-hundred dollars a barrel, and Svobodny expects more cuts in the years ahead.

Critics of the state and federal government's role in rural Alaska say there is already a "law gap," with too few law enforcement officials based in hubs tasked with responding to incidents in smaller communities.

Svobodny says that the reductions will ensure the Department is only pursuing serious charges, and cutting out cases where there are civil alternatives to criminal proceedings.

Six of the eliminated positions will come through attrition. The other nine staff members were informed of the reductions earlier this week [Monday].

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Wildfires in the forecast

The U.S. Forest Service says the cost of fighting wildfires this season could soar to over $1 billion and that the agency may have to borrow money from programs designed to prevent big fires. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska says she visited Fairbanks recently and couldn't remember a beginning of May with no snow on the ground.

  

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