State, mining firm sue to recover legal fees
ANCHORAGE — The state of Alaska and developers of the proposed Pebble Mine are seeking $1 million in attorney fees from mine foes who unsuccessfully sued over the public’s right to know about mine exploration work.
The lawsuit was filed in July 2009 by individuals, including former state Sen. Vic Fischer and former first lady Bella Hammond. Plaintiffs also included Bristol Bay-area tribal entities and their sister village corporations.
They claimed the state Department of Natural Resources erred by issuing temporary permits for exploration to the Pebble Ltd. Partnership and had in effect disposed of state lands without public notice or a finding that it was managing the land for the common good.
Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth rejected the claim after a 10-day trial. In a 154-page ruling, Aarseth said Pebble’s activities were designed for minimal disruption and the land could be restored. An appeal is now before the Alaska Supreme Court.
Under state law, the state and Pebble, which joined the lawsuit to help defend the permit system, can recover fees.
Tribe leader optimistic Walker will OK casino
KENOSHA — The Menominee Nation’s chairman believes his tribe can craft an agreement on an off-reservation casino in Kenosha that Gov. Scott Walker would approve.
The Menominee won federal approval for the casino in August, but Walker has the final say. The governor has said he wouldn’t approve the project unless there was community support, no net increase in gambling and Wisconsin’s other 10 tribes approve the plans. The Ho-Chunk Nation and the Forest County Potawatomi oppose the idea. A 60-day comment period on the casino Walker established expires on Tuesday.
Walker quietly met with leaders from the Menominee, Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk and Oneida tribes behind closed doors on Wednesday. It’s unclear exactly what transpired at the meeting. Department of Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis issued a brief statement Wednesday saying only that Walker reiterated his approval criteria.
Menominee Chairman Craig Corn told the Kenosha News he believes the Menominee and the Potawatomi can work out a deal, but he said another unnamed tribe “is pretty much dug in” against the casino. Corn said Walker laid out a path to approval but didn’t offer any details.
State hires new firm
for inmate health care
ST. PAUL — The Department of Corrections has hired St. Louis-based Centurion Managed Care to manage medical care for the Minnesota’s 9,000 prison inmates.
In a statement, the department said that Centurion is expected to “deliver significant savings to taxpayers while improving the quality of care for offenders incarcerated in the state’s prison system.” The contract with Centurion takes effect Jan. 1 and will cost the state $67.5 million through 2016.
The department severed ties with a national company that was the target of lawsuits and staff complaints over substandard care. A 2012 Star Tribune investigation found that at least nine Minnesota inmates had died since 2000 due to denial or delay of care while Corizon Health was the state’s prison medical contractor.
Since then, the department has paid more than $1.8 million in wrongful death and negligence cases.
‘Loud’ librarian sues over her termination
MONTROSE — A soft voice is the golden rule in libraries. A loud one apparently got a librarian fired.
Susan Harshfield is suing over her dismissal at the Montrose branch of the Genesee District Library, northwest of Flint. She got in trouble in September after summoning police to remove an unruly patron in a dispute over DVDs.
In a termination letter, library officials say the 30-year-old Harshfield spoke “rudely and loudly” to the officer who arrived. Officials say the officer had to force Harshfield to leave the area so he could deal with the situation.
But attorney Tom Pabst told The Flint Journal that Harshfield was illegally punished because she provided a detailed statement to police about the unruly patron. He says she’s a protected whistle-blower.
The library won’t comment.
Ex-British PM speaks at global food forum
DES MOINES — The discussion about hunger and poverty in developing nations turned largely from the controversies of global warming and genetically modified crops and focused on governments and their role in solving social ills.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says all the money in the world cannot help nations unless they have basic capacity in the government to provide electricity, roads and policies that allow farmers to make their own decisions.
He says change is occurring with a new generation of leaders in Africa and elsewhere. They want to learn and incorporate new ideas about how to better grow food.
Blair appeared Thursday with philanthropist Howard Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, at the World Food Prize symposium in Des Moines to discuss ways to end poverty and hunger.
New leader named
to head tax agency
LINCOLN — Gov. Dave Heineman has appointed a state tax official to serve as new tax commissioner.
Heineman announced Thursday that he has chosen Kimberly Conroy, of Papillion, as the new head of the Nebraska Department of Revenue.
Conroy will replace Doug Ewald who is taking a job with an Omaha tax and auditing firm.
Conroy has served as the state’s deputy tax commissioner since September 2008.
Before that, the 53-year-old worked as director of the Revenue Department’s compliance division. She also worked in the tax department at Union Pacific Railroad.
The department oversees state policies and procedures for collecting revenue.
Conroy was to assume her new responsibilities on Saturday. She will receive an annual salary of $135,000.
Rural areas likely
to see slower growth
OMAHA — A new report suggests the economy will continue growing at a slow pace in rural areas of 10 Midwest and Plains states in the months ahead.
The overall index for the report released Thursday rose to 54.3 in October from 52.4 in September. Any score above 50 suggests growth.
Creighton University economist Ernie Goss said the recent decline in crop prices will likely slow economic growth.
The index is based on surveys of rural bankers in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
October’s hiring index for the region jumped to 56.1 from September’s 53.2 in an encouraging signal.
2 tribal officials
KALISPELL — The chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council suspended two councilmen — a state senator who faces a DUI charge and another on allegations of improper conduct on a recent trip to Washington, D.C. — after the business council did not act on his request for a formal vote on the suspensions.
Chairman Willie Sharp Jr., told the Flathead Beacon that he suspended Sen. Shannon Augare, D-Browning, and Leonard Guardipee on Thursday in his role as head of personnel for the tribe.
Augure a letter asking him to step down until his legal matters were sorted out. Augare replied that he would not unless a majority of the council members voted him out.
Augare is charged with misdemeanor counts of drunken driving, reckless driving and obstruction of a peace officer.
He is accused of fleeing a Glacier County sheriff’s deputy who had pulled him over in May. on U.S. Highway 2 on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. His trial is set for Nov. 7.
Sharp said Guardipee was suspended for his actions on a recent tribal business trip. Augare did not return phone messages from the newspaper seeking comment and his attorney’s phone rang unanswered.
CHEYENN — An Albany County school district has sued a Laramie newspaper, asking a judge to rule that the newspaper has no right to inspect records of a recent employee survey.
In its lawsuit the Albany County School District 1 argues the Laramie Boomerang has no right to look at un-redacted records of a survey school district that employees completed this year.
The City of Laramie recently filed a similar lawsuit against the newspaper, asking a judge to rule the newspaper shouldn’t get personnel records concerning the hiring of the city’s recreation manager. That lawsuit also is pending.
Laramie Boomerang publisher Jerry Raehal said the newspaper will “continue to fight for open records whether they sue us or not.”
Bruce Moats, lawyer for the newspaper, said Wednesday that teachers and other district staff didn’t sign their names to the survey at the center of the school district lawsuit. He said the district has refused to disclose un-redacted copies of the survey that show respondents commenting on school district officials or administrators by name.