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KNBA News - Legislative Information Office lawsuit stirs accusations of waste, government corruption

By Zachariah Hughes, APRN – Anchorage

The State court heard oral arguments yesterday [Wed., Dec. 16, 2015] in a case involving the contentious lease of the Legislative Information Office in downtown Anchorage. The case's plaintiff, Jim Gottstein, owns the building next to the LIO and alleges financial improprieties in the lease agreement between law-markers and the property's landlord, which could invalidate the space's 10-year lease. Gottstein also argues that as a whistleblower, he should be compensated 10 percent of what's saved if the lease is terminated.

Attorneys for the legislature and the building landlord don't dispute  that there were financial overages associated with the LIO building.  But they say the case is not a referendum on impropriety in the building's development and lease. Instead, attorney Kevin Cuddy told the judge that the claims were invalid, because Gottstein knew about the financial excesses but waited more than a year to file his claim.

"And instead of taking appropriate action, raising these questions to Legislative Affairs Agency when something could be done,” said Cuddy, “ he decided to get a few dollars on his own and try and get some payments for construction and related work, and then sue the Legislative Affairs Agency and the other defendants."

The lawsuit is separate from ongoing Legislative decisions about whether to relocate from the LIO to the state-owned Atwood building a few blocks away, but both touch on accusations of wasted money and government corruption. The Legislative Council is scheduled to meet Saturday to take up the issue.

Superior Court Judge Patrick McKay is considering the case and weighing next steps. He said more than once that the topic of the LIO building is a moving target, with the Saturday meeting of the Legislative Council likely to affect the status of the law-suit.

Difference between cost of current lease and of a state-owned building is substantial

By KTUU - Anchorage

KTUU reports staying in the six-story building on 4th Avenue would cost the state almost $48 million over the next decade. Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican and former Legislative Council chair, brokered that deal with developer Mark Pfeffer. In comparison, it would cost about $6.6 million for a 10-year lease in the Atwood building. Those figures are from a report commissioned by the council's current chair, Kodiak Republican Sen. Gary Stevens.

The Legislative Council is scheduled to meet in the LIO Saturday to take up the matter.

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Feds extend health care enrollment period

By Annie Feidt, APRN - Anchorage

The federal government has extended an important deadline for people who need individual health insurance in 2016. High demand on healthcare.gov prompted officials to extend the deadline for coverage. Health insurance shoppers now have until 11 p.m. December 17th to buy a health plan that begins the first day of the new year.

The open enrollment period lasts until the end of January, but customers who buy plans after December 17th will have to wait until later in January or February for their coverage to begin.

Most Alaskans who buy insurance on healthcare.gov are eligible for hundreds of dollars in monthly subsidies to help pay premium costs.

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Fairbanks Four fundraiser set for Sunday in Anchorage

By Joaqlin Estus, KNBA - Anchorage

Two local Athabascan men are holding an Anchorage fundraiser Sunday for the Fairbanks Four, four men who have been serving time for the 1997 death of a teenager but claim they are innocent. Rodney McCord says money from the event will go to a Fairbanks Four Committee that’s been helping with legal bills and providing other support to the men.

“It’s to help our Native people when they’re in need,” said McCord. “If I was in the same situation, I would want people to have my back.”

Several traditional Native dance groups will perform, as well as blues singer Marc Brown, with a Fairbanks band, The Troublemakers, and rapper Samuel John. The entertainment is free. “Indian tacos,” that is, tacos made using fried bread, will be on sale for ten dollars. And, McCord says, people can bid on Native arts and crafts in a silent auction.

“Oh, it’s going to be a lot of fun, a lot of fun,” said McCord. “Anything that has to do with culture, it’s good for the soul.”

The Anchorage fundraiser for the Fairbanks Four will be held Sunday from 11:30 a.m to 6 p.m. at the Cook Inlet Tribal Council building on San Jeronimo Drive near DeBarr and Bragaw.

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