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Sen. Kookesh dinged with ethics violations

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Posted: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 4:21 pm | Updated: 1:16 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

Updated 3/9/10: Correction: The Associated Press reported erroneously that Mayor Millie Schoonover indicated she and other city council members at a meeting didn't see Kookesh's comments as a threat. Schoonover said some council members at the meeting didn't see the comments as threats, not all council members.

JUNEAU, Alaska - State Sen. Albert Kookesh has twice violated ethics laws by implying that funding Craig's capital budget projects could hinge on the city's support of a land swap for a Native corporation of which he is board chairman, a legislative committee said Tuesday.

The violations stem from comments the Angoon Democrat made at a Jan. 7 Craig City Council meeting. The ethics committee found Kookesh inappropriately implied he would trade his influence on state-funded Craig projects for a vote from city council that would benefit Sealaska Corp. in a land deal.

Kookesh is chairman of the Native corporation's board.

He said Tuesday he wasn't making a threat - real or implied - but realizes and accepts his words could have been interpreted that way. He won't challenge the decision.

"I just want to put this behind me," Kookesh said.

The ethics committee ordered Kookesh to write letters of public apology to Craig.

Kookesh said he's still on good terms with city officials and that the complainant, whom he identified as a former mayor and former opponent for his seat in the Legislature, may have had ulterior motives. Kookesh wouldn't name the complainant, and ethics committee administrator Joyce Anderson said confidentiality rules don't allow her to, either.

Craig Mayor Millie Schoonover, a Sealaska shareholder, said the incident was blown out of proportion and that she and the other council members at the meeting didn't take the comment as a threat.

"The whole ordeal is absolutely ludicrous. I was just appalled," she said. "To see something like this tarnish his reputation disheartens me."

Meeting minutes quote Kookesh: "I'm the state senator who represents Craig, I'm not a vindictive person, I see you're going to have your 2010 capital projects on the table here tonight, and who's it going to go to? It's going to go to me and to (Sen.) Bill Thomas who is also a Sealaska board member. We have to be good neighbors. There are times you're going to need my help and Bill Thomas' help and this is the time we need yours."

Kookesh's statement came during a much longer speech where he stressed cooperation, negotiation and mutual dependence among the city, Prince of Wales Island and Sealaska.

The council was considering action to oppose a bill in Congress that would cede tens of thousands of acres of the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska to Sealaska, which is attempting to claim 85,000 acres of land owed to it under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

The city council later softened its position, but still voted against Sealaska's favor.

Alan Stein, former president of a Prince of Wales Island association that opposed the federal legislation in question, said it's "deplorable that Sen. Kookesh got off with a mere slap on the wrist."

A third allegation before the ethics committee dealing with comments Kookesh made at a Sitka Assembly meeting Feb. 26 was dismissed.

Sealaska officials could not immediately be reached, though CEO Chris McNeil Jr. defended Kookesh in a January statement. McNeil said Kookesh's words to the city council came in a "brief, unguarded moment" and that after 38 years trying to resolve the federal government's unsettled obligations under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, it's become an emotional issue and made patience hard to come by.

This isn't Kookesh's first policy issue of overlapping local, state and federal significance he's taken heat for. State troopers wrote Kookesh a $500 citation in July for fishing over the limit of his subsistence license. He's requested a trial to draw attention to the mishmash of state and federal regulations governing subsistence in Alaska.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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