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Story Last modified at 10:38 p.m. on Wednesday, March 2, 2011

MTA board picks Eagle River local

Alaska Star

An Eagle River resident will finish out the term of the Matanuska Telephone Association board member who resigned suddenly in January after bashing the way the cooperative was being run.

During its regular meeting Feb. 23, the MTA board selected Larry Wiget of Eagle River to serve the remainder of former director Chuck Foster's term, which expires in June 2012.

Several MTA board members said last month that they hoped to replace Foster with someone from outside the Palmer/Wasilla area, already well-represented on the body, echoing a comment Foster made as part of his resignation. The last local resident to serve left in 2009.

Board members said they also were open to candidates from the Susitna Valley or out the Glenn Highway. The board interviewed six applicants for the vacant seat: three from Chugiak-Eagle River, one each from Sutton, Palmer and Wasilla.

The board wanted to pick the "best-qualified applicant, regardless of where he lived," said MTA spokeswoman Carolyn Hanson.

Wiget said he plans to serve MTA's entire membership, not just the roughly 12,000 Chugiak-Eagle River members out of about 40,000 total.

"While I'm from Eagle River, I think it's important that as a board member I represent all the members of MTA throughout the entire region and do what's best for the entire membership," Wiget said. "I really like the mission statement – to provide state-of-the-art reliable and competitively priced communications for local community, and economic development for all the members."

MTA is moving past the waves created by Foster's Jan. 12 resignation. He cited, among other things, concerns over the confidentiality and amount 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 bylaws by a former board member.

Asked if the issues raised by Foster deserve consideration, Wiget said he "has no background or real knowledge of what went before."

He said, however, that he feels it's important to represent the interests of the membership. He also said that during his interview, other board members expressed a willingness to look at the governance model – called the Carver model – and "make changes; they are open to changes that make the process better if we can identify them."

Wiget, 61, owns Baywind Strategic Communications, a consulting business he's revamping after working for the Anchorage School District for about 20 years and taking some time to travel the world – Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Japan, South America and Turkey.

An Alaska resident for 27 years, Wiget and his wife moved from South Anchorage to Eagle Pointe in January.

The couple actually looked at moving Outside and travelled extensively to find out where they might want to relocate, Wiget said.

They ended up in Eagle River – 20 miles from home.

Wiget said he was "very impressed" with the professionalism and technical support he received from MTA during the move-in. That was a big factor in his decision to apply for the board, he said.

"As a member organization, a co-op, the reality is that when the employees are talking to their customers, they're talking to their owners," Wiget said. "I sensed a lot of commitment on the part of the employees."

One of his first duties as a board member will be a meeting with the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce this week.

Wiget has served on several boards, including KSKA/KAKM and the Alaska Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. He served as vice-chair of the Anchorage Sister Cities Commission and Northwest region vice-president for the National School Public Relations Association.

He worked for the school district for 22 years, moving from library media coordinator to director of government relations and public relations.

The Palmer-based MTA calls itself a member-owned company. MTA's telephone side functions as a cooperative but MTA also operates several for-profit telecommunications sectors facing stiff competition, particularly from GCI.

The company is the second largest private-sector employer in the Mat-Su, with nearly 350 employees, according to information from MTA. Other members of the board are Earl Lackey, chief governance officer; Catherine Fosselman, secretary; Al Strawn, director; and Kim Robinson, director.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.