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Story Last modified at 10:14 p.m. on Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Eagle River eyed to fill MTA board vacancy
Resignation leaves seat open

BY ZAZ HOLLANDER
Alaska Star

Despite the fact that Chugiak-Eagle River accounts for nearly a third of Matanuska Telephone Association's members, no locals sit on the cooperative's five-member board.

That could change with the vacancy left by former director Chuck Foster's sudden resignation last month.

MTA officials say they are recruiting here for board candidates. They have 90 days to fill Foster's position.

"We just want to make sure that Eagle River is properly represented," said Earl Lackey, the board's chief governance officer. "They're a major player in our program."

That echoes the sentiments of Foster, who resigned during a mid-January meeting. Foster cited, among other things, concerns over the confidentiality of CEO Greg Berberich's compensation, MTA's unusual governance model as one that gives the board little control over its manager's actions, and a possible violation of by-laws by a former board member.

But Foster also urged MTA to round out the geographic diversity of its board, which currently includes only Palmer and Wasilla residents.

The last board member representing Chugiak-Eagle River – Jason Hamlin, who served from 2004 through 2009 – moved to Washington state. The board conducted a search for a replacement and selected Catherine Fosselman, a former Chugiak resident who now lives in Wasilla.

"The result was that all five directors were from Palmer/Wasilla," Foster wrote in a statement distributed the day he resigned. "Why? Does Eagle River/Chugiak, and those areas north of Wasilla, and up the Glenn Highway not deserve a board member?"

As part of a mission to ferret out local candidates and increase MTA's presence here, MTA and the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce plan to hold a joint session on March 4. MTA board members are also talking with local residents to gauge their interest in the board position.

Still, it can be difficult to lure Chugiak-Eagle River residents to serve on the board of an organization based in Palmer. The last directors ran up big mileage bills making regular drives to the Mat-Su, though officials say board members can participate in some meetings by phone.

Lackey and fellow directors Kim Robinson and Fosselman made it clear they're looking for the best candidate regardless of hometown but would like to see more applicants from outlying areas.

Fosselman, who raised her children in Chugiak, said she also feels like the board represents residents throughout MTA's service area.

"We'd love to have somebody from Eagle River. That would be awesome," she said. "But I guess I would say I don't think Eagle River is not represented. I've spent most of my life living there."

Robinson and Fosselmen said they would like to see the far-flung communities of the Susitna Valley represented.

"It's the best candidate first," Robinson said. "But I would really like to see someone from outside the Palmer-Wasilla area."

The telephone sector of MTA is a nonprofit, classified by the IRS as a 501(c)(12), a tax-exempt status granted cooperative telephone companies.

But the other business sectors run by MTA are for-profit operations selling Internet, wireless, long distance and digital television services.

Eagle River contributes some 12,000 MTA members out of a total of roughly 40,000, according to MTA spokeswoman Carolyn Hanson. Eagle River was also the first place where competitor GCI made inroads back in 2007.

MTA has lost a little more than 20 percent of its lines since GCI entered the local market and over time, as customers disconnect second lines which were used for dial-up, according to an e-mail from Hanson.

The drop is also due to some former land-line customers switching to cell phones, Hanson said. But MTA has also had nearly 1,000 customers come back after switching.

MTA has upgraded systems that serve Eagle River, increasing cell phone coverage and fiber-optic coverage, Lackey said.

The last local candidate before Hamlin was Eric Johnson, who served as a director from 1994 through 2001 and also 1981 through 1991. Tom McMaster served from 1992 through 1995 and Steve Ex from 1996 through 2000.

The board has 90 days from Foster's resignation to fill the position. The board members will review the candidates, interview them, then make a selection, Hanson said.

The successful candidate will serve out the remainder of Foster's term, through June 2012, she added.

Bottom line, several board members agreed, is that the more candidates the board can review, the better.

"Push somebody to run," Fosselman said. "I think for some reason you don't get a lot of volunteers. I don't think people realize it is a way to have a say."

Applications for a seat on the MTA board must be received by Feb. 18. To apply, go to http://mtasolutions.com/images/board/mtaboardapp2011.pdf



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, February 9, 2011.