Dawson City, Yukon Friday, January 16, 2004

John "Mitch" Mitchell receives his decoration from Colonel Norris Pettis. Photo by Dan Davidson

Feature Stories

Dawson Ranger Sergeant Decorated by Northern Area Commander
Dawson Artist Calls for Community Action
Minister Threatens to Dissolve Dawson's Council
Minister's Analysis Termed "Bizarre" by Former Supervisor
RCMP/Ranger Rescue Effort Not Needed After All
School Concerts and Christmas Poems to Mark the Season
They Are a Great, Great Group
Analysis: Dawson's Cable TV and Internet Not Improper

Welcome to the January 16, 2004 edition of the online Klondike Sun, which reproduces a selection of the photographs and articles from the January 1136 hard copy edition.

We are behind with this issue due to technical problems deriving from a change in software by Microsoft. We had to figure out a way around a glitch. Also, of course, we take an issue off after the mid-December issue each year.

The hard copy also contains Doug Urquhart's famous "Paws" cartoon strip, our homegrown crossword puzzle, and obviously, all the other material you won't find here.

We encourage viewers of this website to consider subscribing to the Sun. It would help us financially and you would get to see everything closer to when it's actually news. The only thing you would not get is the colour photo at the beginning of the on-line issues. We can't afford to print in colour.

Since we went online in March 1996 our counter has crashed a number of times. The first counter logged about 25,000 visitors. The second one, which crashed in late March 2003, logged about 51,000. The current counter went online in April 2003 and was sitting at 21,569 on February 4, 2003.

Dawson Ranger Sergeant Decorated by Northern Area Commander

by Dan Davidson

Ranger Sergeant John "Mitch" Mitchell, faced another of his great fears on the evening of January 7, and flinched only a little while getting the recognition he was due.

Colonel Norris Pettis, the Commander of Canadian Forces Northern Area, stopped off in Dawson on his whirlwind tour of the Yukon that day, and part of his purpose in being here was to add another decoration to Mitchell's collection.

"The Rangers." Pettis explained while Mitch fidgeted in his chair, "are an element of the Reserves, and the Reserves are part of the Canadian Forces.

"In the Canadian Forces, when you have demonstrated loyal service ... over a long period of time you're recognized by being awarded a Canadian Decoration. You have to have served 12 years in order to do that.

"You get a bar to go with that decoration after 22 years, and they give you another bar after 32 years - and then they tell you you're too old to serve any more and ask you politely to leave."

"Just so you know," the colonel told the Rangers, "I just qualified for my second bar, so I'm on the way out."

"I'd like to recognize Ranger Sergeant John Mitchell. It's your turn, John. Please come forward." And the moment Mitch had been dreading had arrived at last.

"I'd like to present this to you, on behalf of the Chief of Defence Staff, and thank you for all your good work.

"This is the Canadian Forces Decoration. I'm going to pin it on you, I hope, without wounding you."

Of course, that was the least of Mitch's worries. For him, the gravest danger was having to stand up in front his troops looking embarrassed and then managing to get back to his seat without having to say anything. Mitch doesn't mind giving orders, but when it comes to talking about himself or accepting praise, he'd rather build a house.


Dawson Artist Calls for Community Action

by Dan Davidson

John Steins was boiling mad when he arrived at the December 16 meeting of Dawson's council. The Dawson print maker had been listening to the broadcast at home and decided to rush across town to speak in delegations, addressing his remarks to the community at large at a the regularly televised meeting.

"It's a very serious issue here," he said, referring to the appointment of a more assertive municipal supervisor for the city's finances.

"We all exercised our democratic rights to elect you guys to make decisions, not some jerk from the past.

"I know he's Andre Carrel. I know he was here years ago. I've heard the whole history, but the whole thing just makes me furious. It's political and that's all it is, okay?"

"I think you should write a letter to the minister," said counsellor Byrun Shandler. "We tell it to him, but he needs to hear it. We think that we have given good government, and we've abided by the direction under the previous government and a year under this government. Under the previous financial supervisor (referring to Ken Hodgins, who was removed from the position in early October) we worked well with him."

He indicated that council was trying to work with the new supervisor, but was finding it difficult.

"What," asked Steins, "could be the consequences if council didn't abide by the act?" The question referred to the Municipal Act, from which the supervisor derives his authority.

Mayor Glen Everitt responded that the territorial government could suspend and remove the council and put the city under a trusteeship, as was done in 1981 for a brief period.

"Not to say," the mayor said darkly, "that that's not what they're going to do any way." He said rumours to that effect have been reaching the town from Whitehorse.

"All I have to say," Steins said, "is that I think all Dawsonites should be concerned that due democratic process has been removed from city council. It's an outrage.

"As a citizen I am really distressed by this whole thing. I believe in democracy. I believe in consensus. I believe in allowing people to make mistakes, as we all do,, and we all need to work together."

He conceded that he, like many citizens, was guilty of "a certain level of apathy" once the elections were over. But he said the time for that has passed.

"I think we all really need to rally together and fight this thing. I don't want to be governed by someone who doesn't live in the territory, even. Don't want him to dictate what's good for me.

"We didn't elect him or anybody like that. I elected you guys to represent me and act in my best interests, and I'm very, very upset about what appears, on the surface, at least, a political strategy or move. To accomplish what I don't know.

"But I won't tolerate that. I will fight it."

"You're speaking to the converted, you know," said Shandler.

"I know," said Steins from the visitor's podium, "but I want the people to hear."

The town meeting scheduled for the evening of December 17 to discuss the supervisor and next year's budget was moved to Dec. 22 when it was found. late in the day, that it was in conflict with a community dinner planned by the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in.

As for Steins, he spent a good deal of Wednesday composing what he says is a very strongly worded protest letter, and he's hoping other people will do the same.


Minister Threatens to Dissolve Dawson's Council

by Dan Davidson

The Minister of Community Services had grim news for Dawson voters on December 30. Photo by Dan Davidson

Dawson's city council could not have been happy with Minister of Community Services Glen Hart at the close of last night's public meeting at the YOOP Hall. The Minister indicated that, in his opinion, the council did not have an adequate handle on its financial affairs, that it had not been cooperating with his appointed supervisor, Andre Carrel, and that there was as very real possibility that the town's government could end up in the hands of a trustee sometime in the spring, depending on Carrel's final report at the end of his contract.

The meeting, which began at 6:30, was attended by around 30 people, though some others must have been watching at home as the phone kept ringing to complain about the sound quality.

Mayor Glen Everitt spent the first forty minutes of the meeting outlining the situation as the town sees it at the present time.

In his view, supervisor was appointed to help the town maintain its long term viability and, while council resents having to go through the extended planning process again after having done it for two years with an earlier supervisor, Everitt says they have accepted the situation and communication is improving.

As evidence of this he pointed to two versions of a draft 4 year financial plan in which the budget lines for the current year, 2003, are exactly the same. Carrel's draft three looks exactly like council's draft one as far as 2003 is concerned. Earlier, he was short on the revenue side by over $700,00.00, an error probably based on the fact that the territorial government issues its block funding allocations differently than it did when he was Dawson's city manager over 20 years ago.

Everitt conceded that the wildest card in the financial deck is the outcome of the city's arbitration case with its contractor, TSL, over problems at the recreation centre.

He covered various increases in taxes and service fees that will be part of the provisional budget which will be passed on December 31. In the case of tax increases, these will be offset for residential owners by an increase in the municipal grant, a system of balancing subsidies that were put in place in the early 1980s and have been moved up and down over the years to keep the actual tax payments fairly stable.

Water rates are going up, as has been predicted each year since the mid-1980's.

There were a lot of questions from the audience, but most of those issues paled into insignificance when Glen Hart took the microphone at the end of the evening.

Dawson was, he said, in "serious financial difficulties". As a result the two levels of government "are working hard to ensure the short and long-term financial viability of Dawson City."

He cited the section of the Municipal Act which allows the "Minister of Community Services to order a financial program for the municipality, if the government believes the municipality to be in serious financial trouble."

In his opinion Dawson was in a healthy financial position in 1998, before it began its current round of municipal infrastructure expansion, including the renovation and relocation of the city hall/fire hall complex, the building of a new swimming pool, and the building of a new recreation complex. Added to this was the burden of the need to plan for a secondary sewage treatment plant.

Most of these projects went over budget to some degree, "and may potentially cost several million more dollars."

He pointed out that Dawson's debt is currently $4.3 million, a number in excess of the limit set by the Municipal Act, though he did concede that such an extension was authorized by a previous minister and government in 2000.

"Today," he said, "Dawson has $50,000 in its reserves and Council has had to carry over bills for $650,000 to the next year, as there are no funds left in this year's budget.

"In late November I instructed the supervisor to ensure that Dawson had sufficient funds to pay outstanding bills to local contractors to the end of the year."

The $200,000 needed to do this was advanced out of the $930,000 remaining in the debenture agreement between the town and the YTG.

That left $730,000 remaining in the debenture fund. Hart wanted that kept in reserve to cover a worst case judgment against the town in the arbitration hearings.

He indicated clearly that he was expecting the town council to cooperate fully with the supervisor in coming up with a mutually agreeable plan to deal with the crisis at hand.

"The seriousness of Dawson's financial situation should not be underestimated. The situation is escalating, gets more precarious with each passing day. If Dawson's council doesn't adopt a more prudent financial approach and demonstrate a willingness to cooperate fully, the appointment of a trustee will be an inevitable consequence."

An open letter to the community, handed around by his aide as the meeting broke up, concluded with these words:

"My Cabinet colleagues and I will study all options provided by the Municipal Act to resolve the current financial situation."

Mayor Everitt indicated later that he took this to be a very definite indication that cabinet would consider placing the town under the administration of a trustee, as has happened 23 years earlier.

To the audience, he simply said, "I'm not going to respond now because that would be petty.

"When we talked earlier about differences of opinions - there's two sides. Well, you've just heard the other side."


Minister's Analysis Termed "Bizarre" by Former Supervisor

by Dan Davidson

In Minister of Community Services Glen Hart's speech in Dawson on December 31 it was clear that the disposition of the $930,000 remaining in the debenture Dawson City had negotiated with the previous Liberal government was a key element in his decision making.

It seemed to be the trigger which pushed him into taking a sterner line with the town's council and instructing the new municipal supervisor, Andre Carrel, to take a firmer hand with the town.

On the other hand, the former supervisor, Ken Hodgins, says that Hart's reconstruction of these events is "the most bizarre thing I've ever heard."

Hart said that Hodgins was instructed in February 2003 to obtain from Dawson City a letter of assurance "that the financial plan incorporates reasonable assumptions regarding the contingent liability and the likely legal fees and disbursements" connected with the arbitration case between the City of Dawson and the recreation centre contractor, TSL.

Hart says that Mayor Everitt responded in a letter which stated that the "contingency plan to deal with the legal fees and any award of judge and arbitrator were to come out of the remaining recreation debenture funds."

That would have been the $930,000.

Hodgins denied emphatically that Everitt provided any such assurances, saying there was no need to, because it was already planned for.

At that time, the arbitration hearings were scheduled for June and were supposed to have taken only about two weeks.

"There was no set aside fund earmarked as a contingency," Hodgins said. Dealing with the debenture repayment and arbitration costs were simply a part of the seven year financial plan he and town had spent nearly two years working on.

"It was integral to the plan as part of the town's resources. The entire debenture was factored into it."

Hart continued his reconstruction by indicating that the new supervisor, Andre Carrel (Hodgins was dismissed in early October 2003) sent a memo to Dawson Council asking for confirmation of the Mayor's advice.

"Dawson Council did not respond."

Shortly after this, Hart refused to release the $930,000 remaining in the debenture, which the town had factored into its 2003 budget when they worked in out with Hodgins. It had been determined a year earlier that Dawson would need the money then to cover bills related to capital projects, including the planning for the secondary sewage treatment plant.

When Dawson protested this move and explained what it as going to use the money for, Hart took it that the council had committed the same funds to two different contingencies, an interpretation which convinced him the town did not have control of its finances.

Not at all, said Hodgins, who maintains still that the Seven Year Plan was a solid document and that, after a lean year or two (but not with deficits), Dawson would have been in fine financial shape by the year 2007.

Withholding the $930,000, said Hodgins, left the town with a year end budgetary shortfall that was unnecessary. He says he could easily have explained all this to his successor in the supervisor's role, and had, in fact, been asked to make himself available to Carrel for this purpose, but the B.C. based consultant has never contacted him.


RCMP/Ranger Rescue Effort Not Needed After All

(January 8, 2004) It appears a 21-year-old woman who was thought to be suffering from serious frostbite didn't need to be rescued after all.

t around 10:00 Wednesday morning, two Dawson City RCMP officers and three members of the Klondike Search and Rescue Association left Dawson on what they thought would be a rescue trip.

They had received a report that the young woman had been left alone at a bush cabin at Sixtymile and was suffering from frostbite to her fingers and toes, Dawson RCMP Const. Ryan Hack said in an interview this morning.

Hopping on snowmobiles, the team faced temperatures as low as -42 C in the would-be rescue effort.

They found the young woman to be suffering from very minor frostbite in the cabin. She didn't need medical attention and actually asked to stay in the cabin, owned by dog mushers.

The rescue team returned to Dawson by 7 p.m., Hack said.


School Concerts and Christmas Poems to Mark the Season

by Dan Davidson

Moosehide residents step dance into the season in the Grade 3 Christmas play. Photo by Dan Davidson

About the only way to ruin a Christmas Concert is to make it too long. There were no worries on that front at this year's offering by the Grades K-3 classes at the Robert Service School. The four classes said and sang it all in about fifty-five minutes.

The students in Grades 4 to 6 had offered their seasonal cheer two weeks earlier in the presentation of musical, "The Legend of Polar Mountain". The school's band classes had provided ensembles for those two performances, and sounded off on their own on December 16.

Each of those evenings ran under an hour, but if everything had been lumped together the total package might well have exceeded two and a half hours. As all parents and teachers know - that's too long to sit on chairs in a gymnasium.

Kindergarten led the way on December 19, with a recitation called "The New Christmas Tree."

Grade 1 followed with a Yukonized version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas", in which spruce beetles, porcupines, caribou and moose took the places of the more traditional gifts in the song.

Grade 2 came up with the story of how the animals in the forest managed to salvage a Christmas experience for the poor Grizzly Bear who, try as he might, always managed to sleep though the real thing.

The most complicated skit was the Grade 3 offering, which attempted to portray a Moosehide Christmas as it might have been a century ago. After all the preparations, disaster strikes when all the food is eaten or destroyed by marauding animals. The villagers find some cheer anyway and the little play ends with a lively stepdance, assisted by fiddler Willie Gordon.

Putting all of this together for the night before the last day of school is often a little difficult, especially so when some families leave a day or two early to begin a longer holiday, but the packed gym audience showed a real appreciation for the evening's efforts.


They Are a Great, Great Group

by Palma Berger

David Fraser shows of his artistic variety during the Arts of Employment evening. Photo by Palma Berger

Employment students. There are a couple more than last year's; so extra space, teachers and organization were needed to accommodate them.

The students have come from other parts of the Territory while seven have come from Dawson. Four of the Dawson ones are members of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in band here.

This is the third year of this course offering and it has been growing in popularity each year.

Past students have gone on to art colleges or gained employment in art related fields. The standard of their work is high. .One of last year's students had one of her photographs purchased by the Bank of Montreal for their Art Collection.

The courses that are offered are diverse and cover many fields. Right now they are in the middle of the five week photography course, which will be followed by two weeks of learning the joys of the digital camera. There are nine weeks of Art Foundation; three weeks of Design and Colour; eleven weeks of Photoshop, Illustrator and Quark. ("This has really helped me in setting up the newspaper, the Klondike Sun", says Kerry Barber.) The course on film making will be coincide with the Short Film Festival.

The final part of the course will be a field trip to Whitehorse to introduce them to people actually working in the cultural industries.

It is an intensive and challenging course; to date all have met the challenge.

There was a showing of their art work, drawing, painting, photoshop as samples in KIAC a few weeks ago. Many astonished themselves as well as the visitors with the high caliber of the work produced.

What do the students think of this course? But what do I know. I am just an outsider, let one of the students tell it like it really is. Florian Boulais says, "The Arts for Employment program started three months ago. So far this course has overreached all my expectations. Every effort has been made to provide the environment necessary for us students, to absorb the big amount of information this course provides.

I think that the best asset of this course is a motivated and competent crew of teachers and administrators who are able to do the best out of the small means they have.

I came over from France two years ago. I was working there as a jet engine mechanic. Fed up with this stress and over-technical environment, I decided to see if something else wouldn't work better for me.

Taking this course is for me an opening to a new way of life. I'm investing a lot of my energy and time in this course; and I have to say it's been very rewarding. I wish everybody could take that kind of course. It is not only introducing me to the world of Art, it brings me a better understanding of myself and other people. Things which are ultimately a very important part of the quality of life."


Analysis: Dawson's Cable TV and Internet Not Improper

by Dan Davidson

Any informed Dawsonite listening to Community Services Minister Glen Hart's stern lecture on fiscal responsibility on December 30 would have been surprised to hear him point to the financing and operation of Dawson's cable internet and television system as an example of the town's poor management of funds.

The subject came up for discussion at the January 6 meeting of Dawson's council.

According to Mayor Glen Everitt, comparisons between the text of Hart's speech and the letter which he circulated to residents would only have confused matters more. Both mentioned the internet/television system, but criticized it for mutually exclusive reasons.

The letter says it violates a funding agreement with the territorial government, while the speech says that the monthly payments of $10,000 violate the bylaw which authorized the borrowing which financed the project.

The letter is most easily dealt with. It links the system to the Capital Funding Agreement which provided the money for the recreation centre development. This is strange, because the decision to string fibre optic cable though the town in order to provide first, an improved television service and second, high speed internet access, was taken and acted upon before there was a capital funding agreement.

A walk through several years worth of news items related to this subject reveals the following.

While the territorial government of that day (NDP, as it happens) was happy to enter into a multi-million dollar grant scheme called Connect Yukon with NorthwesTel to link the territory to high-speed internet, Dawson had to get a loan from the CIBC to install its system. This happened some time before the Connect Yukon program was hatched, and put the town in the forefront of those communities trying to make the most of the digital revolution.

First came television, however. The history of Dawson's involvement with community distribution of television signals is convoluted. By the mid-1980s the town had a variety of on-air signals being broadcast "free of charge" to anyone within range of the transmitter, but "free of charge" meant that the cost was being covered out of general revenue, and not by any user fee. At one point a community group had paid for and donated transmission equipment, but the signals were either pirated, or swiped by an ingenious ruse that had the town paying a bill in Alaska for signals being viewed in Dawson.

Eventually Time/Warner caught up with the trick and shut down the movie channel in question with the flick of a switch, forcing the administration to move to legitimate transmission, licensed and approved by the CRTC. The initial cost of this, in the mid-1990s, ran to about $20,000.

The Fire Chief at that time was a technically minded fellow named Pat Cayen, and he spent a good portion of his time just keeping that system running. Everitt recalled him finding replacements for obsolete equipment; completing circuits with bits of wire, sticking things back together with bubble gum and banging circuit boards that weren't working.

By the late 1990s the cost of running this system had jumped to $80,000 annually and a lot of the time the reception was still poor.

When the plan to replace the wireless transmission with leased equipment and a cable distribution system was put to the community, it was explained that it would take a loan of just over $1,000,000.00 to do the job, and that the installation of cable television would be the first phase of a plan that would also bring in high-speed internet.

A community survey approved the plan and installation went on for many months after that. If ever something in the community was done by the will of the people, it was that project, said councillor Byrun Shandler.

At the present time the list of subscribers to the system is well ahead of projections, according to councillor Joanne Van Nostrand and city manager Scott Coulson, in spite of the competition from NorthwesTel. Revenue from the Dawson system reached $237,000 last year, while expenses were $180,000.00. On a day to day basis the system is more than covering its costs.

It would be turning an annual profit if not for the cost of repaying the CIBC loan, which it was always understood would be partially subsidized from the town's general revenues until it was paid off, which it should be in 2009.

So. Mr. Hart is correct when he says that the town is subsidizing its cable and internet service, but this is not a new thing. It's been happening in one way or another for over 20 years, through several administrations. What is in place now is a system where the users are paying for their service, and where there will be no subsidy at all once the loan is paid off.

These fees actually became an issue during the 1999 municipal election, where the opposing mayoralty candidate likened the fees to a tax increase. A public still close to the memory of the actual event rejected that argument.


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