Section 1: Developing ideas for how to re-work settlement of the Mental Health Trust lawsuit, and involvement of Anchorage attorney, Julian Mason.
Section 2: Involvement of stakeholders in making decisions and negotiating details of the Mental Health Trust lands aspect of the settlement.
Section 3: How the Mental Health Trust Authority obtained its current office in Anchorage.
Section 4: Continuation of how the Mental Health Trust Authority obtained its current office in Anchorage, and disparate stakeholders working together to negotiate a settlement.
Section 5: Assessment, valuation and selection of the land for settlement of the Mental Health Trust lawsuit, and back and forth negotiating with the State of Alaska.
Section 6: Negotiating options for management of the Mental Health Trust lands and assets as part of the settlement, and developing the idea of the Mental Health Trust Authority framework.
Section 7: Integrating the Mental Health Trust Authority with the state’s existing mental health programs to produce a comprehensive mental health plan, and negotiating with the state legislature and administration over management of the programs and budgets.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So you guys were back in the game?
JEFF JESSEE: We were back in the game. And now we were in the front of the pack as opposed to the back of the pack. And so we started fleshing out some of these ideas that we had about how to maximize the benefit to the beneficiaries regardless of whether we ended up with a hundred percent recovery on the asset side. And a story I tell about that is that the issue was control; who was going to control the assets in the trust. Was it going to be the legislature or could we find some way of developing a substitute trustee that could have more control over whatever assets we got. And the story I tell, it's a true story, my daughter was just a little over 2, and a very bright child, and I took her to Carrs, and I showed her $20. And she knew $20 was a lot of money. And I said, Morgan, you can have this $20, but here's the deal. We're going to go through the store and I'm going to pick out $20 worth of things that I think would be really good for you, or you can have $2, but you can get anything you want with your $2. And at a little over 2, she asked me one question, anything? And I said, anything. And she had those $2, and we left with the biggest package of Skittles I've ever seen in my life. And at just over 2, she knew that $2 you controlled was way better than $20 that somebody else controlled. And that actually formed the basis for our approach to settlement, that it would be way worth it to give ground on the asset side if we could construct a framework in which a trustee would truly act with an undivided duty of loyalty to the beneficiaries. And so we took the beginning framework of the Trust Authority that Jim and David had worked on and put teeth into it, and -- and worked on that side of the equation, but the asset side was still tricky. You know, we couldn't just write off half a million acres. And then Harry did something that turned out to be, well, I think without a doubt, one of the best things that he did toward settlement is he hired an attorney named Julian Mason of Ashburn & Mason in Anchorage. And Julian was a very -- is and was a very well-known and respected attorney who had settled, negotiated and settled on behalf of the state some of the big oil tax royalty cases in the past, and definitely a heavy hitter. And so Harry brought Julian in, and said, here, I need you to work on settling this case with these guys. And Julian is one of the most incredible people I've ever met. First of all, he's just flat out brilliant. I mean, he's just brilliant. Second, he's totally unassuming and exceedingly polite and kind, and you know, even though I was still way out of my league, you know, Julian was -- always treated me with great respect. Section 2:
And Julian -- it doesn't seem like much now, but Julian had this sort of basic way of going about being a catalyst for settlement. He took a legal pad and he turned it sideways and he made a bunch of columns, and then he listed each of the stakeholder or interest groups or antagonists in this whole drama in each of the columns, and then he went around and interviewed them all. And said, well, what do you need out of a settlement for this to be a success for you? And you know, of course, the coal miners needed their leases cleared and the ability to lease additional coal lands. Local governments that had selected good trust land wanted good title to the lands that they had selected. Of course, the moms and pops, the people that had gotten little parcels needed to have their title cleared. The environmentalists were concerned about any additional environmental degradation or development of pristine areas, and they didn't want to see that happen. And of course, Philip and I needed to see that there was a way for the assets to be used on behalf of the beneficiaries. And so after he had sort of filled out this chart, he got us all together in a room and said, well, I guess this is how it has to work. There has to be some replacement land but not too much and not the wrong kind, and all of the existing leases and ownership has to be cleared of title, and you know, kind of goes down the list, and there has to be a trustee, a substitute trustee, and you know, let's get busy. And so we started negotiating with all of these folks, which was really the first time that the stakeholders had been that intimately involved in the negotiation process.
And so we sat down and we got to, well, let's say timber. We knew what -- we were losing a lot of timber, a lot of the big trees in Haines and areas like that, so we needed to get some timber back. You know, and of course, half of the land we could still get back. So we started with a half a million, we needed about another half a million acres of replacement land.
And so okay. The environmentalists came in and said, well, we don't want you to have any pristine timber, you know, old growth or, you know, stuff that hasn't been logged, so if you're going to get timber, get it where timber is already being harvested, Icy Cape, Thorne Bay. Well, that was good for us. You know, those areas already had log transfer facilities, they had roads. If you're going to go into the timber business, it's better to get timber lands near other timber activities. And so we were able to get some timber back. When it came to local governments, they wanted their selections honored, so they were told they had to kick something in. And so basically, each community said, all right, all right, you know, we don't want to give you this original trust land because, you know, we have something going on here, but here's this other piece of municipal land, we'll give you this. Section 3:
And in fact, there's a sidebar story, that's how the trust ended up with our office in Anchorage, by mistake, as it turned out. I don't know if you want to hear that story.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, sure. Sure.
JEFF JESSEE: Oh, this is a great story. So we're looking at all these maps, and there's this parcel in Anchorage that starts at Northern Lights and Bragaw, and there's a big empty lot, and then there's the Trust Authority building. Well, the Trust Authority building was originally built in the '80s by a consortium of five nonprofits: Campfire, Youth and Parent Network, a couple of other organizations. And again, in the roaring '80s, they had gone to Juneau and talked the legislature into giving them several million dollars to build this building for them to have their programs in; and then got the Municipality of Anchorage to give them a dollar a year lease for 25 years on this parcel, which included not only where the building was built, but also this vacant lot on the corner, which is a very valuable piece of property.
And so when -- and Jim was helping us with the land selections, you know, because, you know, now, we had sort of made up. BILL SCHNEIDER: Jim Gottstein?
JEFF JESSEE: Jim Gottstein. And so we looked at that parcel. And at first we were sort of saying, well, no, let's not take this because the -- you know, these nonprofits, you know, have this building, and the parcel wasn't subdivided. And we don't have time to subdivide it. You know, so, nah, let's not take it because, you know, they own the building and that won't work. Well, but then Anchorage didn't really want to give us anything else, and so we ended up coming back to it. And -- finally we decided that, well, no, why don't we go ahead and take it. We won't get the part the building's on, but later, you know, we'll subdivide it and then we'll have the corner parcel. And so we said, all right, all right, we'll take it. So it goes on the list. Well, long after the settlement was done, and the Trust Land Office came into existence, somebody went, at the Land Office, and read the lease that the municipality had given the Family Resource Center. And it turns out that under the terms of the lease, at the expiration of the lease, all the improvements returned to the ownership of the landowner, which apparently is a fairly common lease term. Well, that would have been okay if the muni still owned it because they would have given the Family Resource Center another dollar a year lease on the building and the land, but we were going to own it. And we couldn't do that because we had to get fair market value. Section 4:
Well, the problem was that, over the years, some of these agencies had either gone out of business or had moved to bigger quarters, and the survivors in the building, rather than bringing other agencies in to use that space since it was so cheap because all they were paying were operations and maintenance, they had just expanded. And so Campfire, for example, had a huge percentage of this building occupied. Well, they were going to have to pay fair market rent. Well, they couldn't afford it.
And they were very unhappy. In fact, I remember when the Land Office called and told me that, hey, by the way, you know, we're going to get ownership of this building. I remember going, oh, no. This is going to be a mess, a big mess. And it was. And because they thought they -- they had no idea this lease read like this; those agencies thought they owned the building. Well, they didn't own anything. And so we tried to help them as best we could and -- and it took a couple of years for them to kind of get used to the idea, but eventually -- and we helped them financially -- they had to move. And so we ended up with this building. The state -- we were in the Atwood Building in downtown Anchorage, and the state's a terrible landlord. And so finally, we decided that, rather than keep fighting the state for more space in the Atwood Building, we would just go to our building. So we accidently ended up with the Trust Authority Building. But that was an example of how we cobbled together all this replacement land. In fact, this group became known as the Unholy Alliance because you had the miners and the developers sitting down with Cliff Eames from the Center For the Environment and, you know, and then once we had kind of negotiated this package, then we were all selling it in the legislature. Section 5:
BILL SCHNEIDER: But you didn't have a background in lands. How did you do the assessment planning?
JEFF JESSEE: Well, that was really Jim's job, Jim Gottstein.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
JEFF JESSEE: And he had a former Division of Lands director, Tom Hawkins, who had worked for Jim for a number of years on the land side of the settlement. And so they had a whole Land Office. And so we worked with them very collaboratively, and they pored over the different proposals for this parcel or that parcel, and checked out the record of title and uses and existing obligations and made sure that, you know, it was worth taking. Now, the -- the problem was, of course, we weren't getting back land of nearly the value of our original trust land, and as you know, in a rather controversial process, the total land million acres, original million acres had been valued at 2.2 billion. And so we weren't getting that value back, and so the idea was, well, we needed to get some cash in addition to the replacement land to help make up this difference. And I always thought that in these billion dollar cases and you were talking about hundreds of millions of dollars that that must be arrived at in some very scientific, thoughtful, data-driven sort of process. No. We said 400 million, the state said 50 million. We said 300 million, they said not a penny more than 100 million. We said 250 million or we're out of here. You know. They said 150 million is our last best offer. Everybody went away mad. We came back together a week later, I don't even know who it was, somebody said 200 million, and the other side said deal. Section 6:
And so now we have our million acres of replacement land. Well, a million acres total, half original and half replacement, and $200 million.
Now the question was, well, how was it going to be managed. And, well, we had this Trust Authority concept, but there wasn't an actual Trust Authority. And the legislature was pretty uncomfortable turning over management of these assets to an unknown, unproven entity, as were others.
I mean, the development community wasn't crazy about some new land manager springing up out of nowhere. And of course, $200 million in cash is a lot of money. And so the idea was, well, all right. What we'll do is the cash will be managed by the Permanent Fund Corporation. It will be like a mutual fund, it will be managed as part of their portfolio, and we'll pay our share of expenses and get our share of their profit or, most recently, loss. The land we managed by a separate unit within DNR called the Trust Land Office. They'll have their own set of regulations because you can't manage trust lands under the type of public interest balancing that DNR has to do for public lands, general public lands. And the trust will pay for the Land Office to manage the land. And then, of course, the key to all this was that the Trust Authority had to have the ability to oversee the management of these assets and to spend the income without a legislative appropriation, which was huge, and engendered a fair amount of resistance in the legislature because, after all, that's why they are there is to spend the money. And so this delegation was difficult for them to accept as part of the settlement.
But at this point, people were pretty desperate to resolve this case. And once the asset side had kind of gotten resolved, the land was an arrangement that everyone could live with because it wasn't contingent on something happening later. We had the list of every single parcel. So everybody knew what was going to go back into the trust and what wasn't. The cash was manageable as an appropriation. And so eventually, the legislature agreed to this overall framework. The one -- one of the exceptions was Senator Tim Kelly who passed away not too long ago, called me into his office one day as we were nearing the final phases of getting the settlement approved, and he says, I'm putting an amendment in here. And I said, well, what did you have in mind, Senator?
He says, well, yeah, I understand that this Trust Authority is going to spend this money on the mental health program, but you know -- without a legislative appropriation, but that's not going to work for their administrative budget. We're not giving some bureaucracy the ability to spend unlimited amounts of money on themselves before -- without any supervision or oversight. So I'm putting an amendment in here that the Trust Authority's administrative budget does require legislative approval. And at the time, I remember calling it the Briar Patch Amendment because that made a lot of sense to me. You never want a bureaucracy that can pay itself first. Now, had I known I would become the CEO, I might have been a little more concerned about this amendment, but it -- it made total sense. In fact, it still does today. And so with a few modifications like that, we were able to -- to get the settlement approved. And passed by the legislature. We had not yet gotten Court approval. Section 7:
BILL SCHNEIDER: What about the connection between Health and Social Services and the Mental Health Trust? Was there a provision in there for Mental Health -- Mental Health and Health and Social Services to work in conjunction, together?
JEFF JESSEE: In a couple of significant ways. One was that there was one thing Jim and David brought up in the course of the -- what I called the circle-the-wagons-and-shoot-inward phase when we were arguing over whom the beneficiaries were going to be, and that was that the state had fragmented these beneficiary groups and put them in different departments, in different divisions, and there were separate plans. And going back even to the Enabling Act language, the intent was to have a comprehensive and integrated mental health program. And so we wanted to go back to that concept. And so we did that in a couple of ways. One was we required Health and Social Services to develop a comprehensive integrated mental health program plan in conjunction with the Trust Authority. Now, that word "conjunction with" was critical because we had to find a word that basically no one really knew what it meant, but it conveyed some kind of a partnership. BILL SCHNEIDER: Tell us a story of how that word got used -- developed.
JEFF JESSEE: Well, for a while, they were saying, well, the Department of Health and Social Services is going to develop this plan. Well, that was unacceptable to us because the bureaucracy would serve its own interests over that of the beneficiaries and we weren't interested in that. Then we went through a phase where the Trust Authority was going to develop the plan. Well, that was unacceptable to Health and Social Services because, you know, they weren't willing to have some outside entity drive the department's priorities. And so we started saying, well, all right, it has to be some kind of a partnership, but someone needs to be in charge. And so we tried a whole bunch of different words. And I remember sitting down one day and writing out, well, in cooperation with, you know, with advice from, consultation with. I mean, went through all these things, and then finally we got to this "conjunction." And we said, well, what does that mean to do something in conjunction with someone? And everyone said, well, I don't know what that means. And we said, well, that's good because you didn't want to be nailed down very tightly to this. So that was the first thing planned. The other thing was the budget was all over the place. And so there was nowhere that you could get a look at the entire mental health budget at once. It was broken up into these little pieces and parts. And so we came up with the idea of a separate appropriation bill just for the mental health program. And there were two ideas behind that. One was it would give people a chance to see the entire mental health budget in one bill, both trust funding and general funds, and it would elevate -- in our hopes, it would elevate mental health to a status more like education and transportation and public safety. You know, it would be a big piece of the budget scenario and would be easier to advocate for. And so we created this separate appropriation bill with the planning process. And then we threw one more little wrinkle in there. And that was that the trustees would recommend to the Governor and the legislature not only what trust funds they could spend but also what they should spend out of the general fund because one thing the settlement made clear is that the settlement didn't obviate the state's responsibility to provide for the mental health program of the state. For one thing, we knew this trust with reduced assets was not going to generate enough money to fund all these services. And so we were very specific in the settlement that the trustees would make this recommendation, and that if the Governor or the legislature failed to follow those recommendations, then they would write the trustees a letter and explain why they didn't. And that has worked sometimes better and sometimes not over the years. It is an opportunity to have policy dialogue between the legislative and executive branch and the trust. You know, particularly in the case of the administration, the executive branch, they are often, and particularly under the current administration, pretty articulate and able to explain what their thinking is. The legislative letters tend to be a little less -- I don't know if I want to say coherent, but you know, I mean, that's a budget that was put together by 60 people, so there were probably 60 reasons why they did one thing over another thing. Now, there's no consequence for anything, I mean, and frankly, most of the reasons come down to we didn't have enough money, but anyway, it was a -- an attempt to -- to get that dialogue going back and forth between these branches of government and the trust. And as it turned out, the strategies the trustees used for administering the trust generated a lot of that policy discussion in any event.
Jeff Jessee was interviewed by Bill Schneider with videography by Deborah Lawton and Aaron Elterman of KUAC radio/tv, Fairbanks on November 30, 2009 in a recording studio at KUAC radio/tv on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. Karen Brewster was also present during the interview. Jeff Jessee is the Chief Executive Officer of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority based in Anchorage, Alaska. He talks about being a young lawyer working for the Disability Law Center and how he got involved with the Mental Health Trust lawsuit, the different perspectives of the lawyers for the various beneficiary groups, working on the political side trying to get the Alaska State Legislature to accept the settlement terms, and being chosen to lead the Mental Health Trust Authority. Jeff provides a detailed discussion of the progression of events throughout the lawsuit and settlement period.
Part two of this interview.Jeff Jessee was also interviewed by Bill Schneider and Karen Brewster on December 1, 2010 in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Click to section:
Section 1: Personal background, childhood, parental influence, and education.
Section 2: Attending law school and specializing in juvenile justice.
Section 3: Coming to Fairbanks, Alaska in 1980 as a lawyer with the VISTA program, and moving on into other legal issues.
Section 4: Working for the Disability Law Center in Fairbanks in the 1980s and hearing about the Mental Health Trust lawsuit.
Section 5: Getting involved in the Mental Health Trust class-action lawsuit on behalf of the developmentally disabled.
Section 6: Roles of the different attorneys involved in the Mental Health Trust lawsuit and the legal arguments used to attain settlement.
Section 7: Negotiation over final settlement of the Mental Health Trust lawsuit, and concern about the results benefiting the beneficiaries.
Section 8: Negotiations over settlement of the Mental Health Trust lawsuit in terms of land value issues, and rejection of the initial settlement proposal.
Section 9: The court and State of Alaska’s response to the initial settlement of the Mental Health Trust lawsuit, and talking with Harry Noah of the Department of Natural Resources to work out a new settlement plan.
BILL SCHNEIDER: All righty. Well, today is November 30th, 2009. I'm Bill Schneider; Karen Brewster is here, and Deb Lawton and her assistant, and we have the pleasure of doing an interview with Jeff Jessee. And we've been waiting to do this until we knew more. So thank you for taking the time to -- to do it today. And I appreciate it.
JEFF JESSEE: My pleasure. BILL SCHNEIDER: I want to back up to your childhood, where you grew up, and a little bit about your parents and some of the early influences on your life.
JEFF JESSEE: Well, I grew up, I'm born and raised in Sacramento, California. Both of my parents were from Colorado, and came out to Sacramento pretty much near the beginning of the Second World War. And my mother was one of the very first women to get a scholarship to the University of Colorado, and worked as a civilian for the Air Force in early computer technology. In fact, one of her first computer projects was a main frame that took up an entire building and had elevated refrigerated rooms. And my father was an equipment designer, an inventor for the military, and designed grappling hooks that would grab spy satellites, parachutes in midair, and reel them in so they could get the pictures off of them before they hit the water. So that was interesting growing up in Sacramento. Probably the biggest influence on my life was -- well, two. One is I was the youngest of four boys, and my next oldest brother is nine years older than I am, and so I was kind of a surprise. And they were hoping I'd be a girl. They didn't get lucky in that regard, so I was raised kind of as an only child. I was born with a cleft palate, which I think has had a lot of influence on the course of my life. I was not understandable to order a meal in a restaurant until I was 12 or 13. So if you didn't know me, I was pretty difficult to understand for a long time. So I got teased a lot as a kid. And ended up graduating from high school a year early and went to school in Sacramento. And it's sort of an interesting story of how I became a lawyer. I was originally a chemistry major. I loved chemistry. And in 1972, Dow Chemical came to Sac State and took several of us in the honors chemistry program down to their plant in the Bay area to show us, you know, what our future held if we worked for Dow Chemical. And they had two big projects. One, our tour guide said, well, we realize you guys probably won't like this too much, it was making a stickier napalm. Napalm was bouncing off of people, so they were trying to fix that.
And the other was product development, and it was a fruit-flavored feminine deodorant spray, which apparently never really made it to market. So I went back to Sac State and talked to my advisor and said exactly what am I going to do with this chemistry degree? And he says, well, it's product development or teach, you know, that's pretty much it. So the next semester as a sophomore, I discovered as I signed up for most of my classes I had almost all Tuesday-Thursday classes. I needed one more class from 11:15 to 1:00 on Tuesday-Thursday, and I'd have a four-day weekend. So I went through the entire catalog, and the only class I found was in evidence. And I liked Perry Mason, so I thought, well, this will be good. So I signed up and I go in, and there's this woman lawyer teaching it, and she says, well, how many seniors are in here? And almost everybody raises their hand. And she said, well, how many juniors. Well, two or three raised their hands, and she said, yeah, I know you guys. And we don't have any sophomores, do we? And I raised my hand. And she said, well, I'll see you after class. So I went in and she said, you're dropping this class. And I said, well, how come? She said, well, this is the criminal justice major, this is the seminal course in this major, and as you can see, virtually no one takes it until they are a senior, and juniors if I know them. And you're not going to make it through this class. Well, I couldn't exactly say I need a Tuesday-Thursday 11:15 to 1:00, so I said, well, I'm a pretty good student, I think I could do this. And she says, well, look. The midterm is 40 percent of the grade, and it's after the add-drop deadline, so when you fail the midterm, don't come in here and ask me to let you out of this class. And so I studied the heck out of that class, and she and I were always -- it was sort of a Socratic Method, and we were always arguing back and forth in class. And midterm came and she handed them out and she handed me mine, and I looked at it and I got an 86. And I thought, well, that's not too bad. And she says, well, want to see you after class. So I went in and she says, did you look at your midterm? I said, well, yeah, I got an 86, I thought that was pretty good. She said, yeah, the next highest grade was a 74. And so she says, so what are you doing with the rest of your life? I said, well, funny you should ask because the chemistry thing is not really working for me. And she says, well, would you like to be a lawyer? You'd make a great lawyer, we'll change your major, we'll get you through here, I'll get you into law school, you'd make a great lawyer. And so that's how I ended up getting into the law was trying to get a four-day weekend. Section 2:
So I graduated from Sac State and went to UC Davis, right outside of Sacramento. Martin Luther King, Jr., Hall. Interesting experience. White males were the smallest demographic group in the school. It was set up as a University of California's Affirmative Action law school. My class was more than 50 percent minority and more than 50 percent women. So I went to law school for three years there. And was going to go into juvenile justice, and started out as a juvenile public defender and found that to be very frustrating. Pretty much you were grinding the wheels of the juvenile justice system. Kids would come in and virtually all of them had family issues that had led them to, you know, have lots of issues and problems and troubles, and you couldn't really do much for them because you didn't have the time. You had so many cases and clients that you're just moving them through.
There were a couple that we were successful at sort of getting back on track. I had a 14-year-old girl who was a burglary mastermind. She was gifted and she had recruited the smaller kids in her affluent suburb to steal, you know, burglarize houses. And so she burglarized a whole bunch of houses with these kids, and made the newspaper because it was a big, you know, rash of these high-end burglaries.
And they discovered her when her father went under the house to try to fix his antenna to watch the football game and found it stuffed with all this loot. Cause she had no idea how to fence it. And she had kept everything under the house. And so when I compared the inventory of the police reports to her inventory, they didn't match because a third of the victims had falsified their insurance claims. So we turned her state's evidence, and she walked on the burglary charge and got into a gifted program and ended up doing quite well. Section 3:
But I wasn't cut out for that work. And joined VISTA in 1980. And they didn't get a lot of lawyers, so they asked me where I wanted to go. And I said, well, how about Alaska? I had done a lot of backpacking in the Sierras and knew Alaska was a place I always wanted to see but probably couldn't do it in two weeks. And so they had a job up here in Fairbanks and I knew nothing about Fairbanks. Didn't even do much research about Fairbanks. I got to Anchorage and the VISTA organizer asked me to pick out a parka, and they had a big row of parkas, so I picked one out. And then he handed me an extra, extra large, and I said, what's this for? And he says, well, you're going to Fairbanks, you wear this one over that one. I went, uh-oh. Tell me more about Fairbanks. So I came up to Fairbanks in 1980 and worked for -- at the time it was called Protection and Advocacy For the Developmentally Disabled. And eventually that became now Disability Law Center.
And at the time, there was myself, a VISTA lawyer; a three-quarter time MSW, who was the director; and an alcoholic Ceta secretary, the old Ceta employment program. And we were it. Protection Advocacy Agency. And I worked part-time with Alaska Legal Services so I could get waived into the bar. And so then I basically did your basic disability practice, Social Security, landlord tenant; Special Education was a big topic at the time. And did that until I got involved in the Mental Health Lands Trust case. BILL SCHNEIDER: Let's stay with the VISTA work for a second. What was the organization in Fairbanks at that time, informal organization of parents with children of -- with disabilities?
JEFF JESSEE: Well, of course, there was FRA, and there were a number of parents kind of connected through that. So most of the parents and families were connected through their service provider. And so that was the group that I had the most contact with. BILL SCHNEIDER: Was Margaret Lowe working at that time in Fairbanks, or had she moved?
JEFF JESSEE: I don't think Margaret was in Fairbanks back then. I think she had already gone. Section 4:
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. So then what happened after that?
JEFF JESSEE: Well, I worked up here for a couple of years, and then the agency got some state money. This was the roaring '80s, so there was plenty of money to be had in Juneau. So we were able to get a state grant. And that meant a real job as opposed to VISTA. And by the way, I don't think I've ever had more disposable income than when I was with VISTA making almost nothing. I was sleeping on the floor of my office, so I didn't have any rent; and I figured out that you could pretty much go to every conference and convention that came to town and get food for nothing, so I was fat city. I was buying canoes and tents and flying out to the Bush to do rivers and camp, and it was -- it was a nice time. So anyway, I did that for, well, almost 15 years. And then about 10 years in, I started hearing about this Mental Health Lands Trust case. And I didn't know very much about it other than it was a big deal. And so I'd see articles about it every once in awhile. And -- but in the late '80s, mid to late '80s, the two attorneys that represented the class at the time, Jim Gottstein and David Walker, had decided that the state had taken several groups of beneficiaries out of the trust over the years. The developmentally disabled had a separate program; the people with Alzheimer's or other dementias were actually in a different department, they were in the Department of Administration back then. You know, the -- people with alcoholism had their own division within state government. And Jim and David were promoting the concept that only the mentally ill remained as beneficiaries of the trust.
And at the time, the executive director of the Governor's Council on Disabilities and Special Education, Dot Truran who was from Fairbanks, came over and met with me and said, well, you have to intervene in this lawsuit and protect the interests of the developmentally disabled because the current lawyers are about to get them thrown out of the case. Well, on a good day I could find the courthouse. I mean, my practice was not a litigation-oriented practice, it was primarily negotiation. Unlike traditional lawsuit -- or legal work, you know, it wasn't a case where you sued somebody and you got a money judgment and the check changed hands and then everyone went away. My clients all had ongoing relationships with the other side. You know, either it was Special Ed and it was the school, or landlord-tenant and it was the landlord, and so there was a premium on negotiating some kind of a win-win scenario.
So despite having practiced law for 10 years, I'd only filed three or four lawsuits of any kind. And so here Dot was telling me that I was supposed to intervene in this billion dollar legal case. So I went over to the law library, and I knew the librarian a little bit, and I said, well, do you have any books on class actions? And she says, oh, yeah, yeah, we've got some stuff. So we started back. And she says, so are you thinking of filing a class action? I mean, she knew where I worked. I said, no, but I'm going to have to get involved in this Mental Health Lands Trust case. And she just laughed. She says, I'm sorry, I don't mean to laugh, but that's pretty different than the work that you do. I go, yeah. I'm not sure how this is going to work out.
And so I got a bunch of books and went back to my office and started looking at all the rules about class actions and intervening, and it was -- just seemed totally ridiculous that I would be able to do this. Section 5:
And then I heard through kind of the grapevine that an organization out in the Valley, Mat-Su Valley, Nugen's Ranch, that provided services for people that were alcoholics, was also thinking of intervening. And they had a private attorney who had done some work for them, sort of just organizational legal work, and he was thinking about filing an intervention on behalf of the alcoholics. And his name was Philip Volland. And, well, I knew the name Philip Volland because I had heard a little bit about the Cleary class-action suit involving the Department of Corrections where Philip had successfully sued the state over conditions in the prison system and been successful in getting a master to oversee some pretty significant changes in the Department of Corrections. And so I thought, well, you know, I should call this other lawyer up and, you know, find out what he's thinking. So I call up Philip and I said, you know, my name is Jeff Jessee, I work for this little nonprofit, and I gather you've heard what I've heard, that the attorneys in this case are trying to limit the beneficiaries. And Philip said, yeah, I'm thinking of intervening, he says, but I'm not really comfortable with the beneficiaries because I don't know much about mental health services and those things. And I said, well, I do, but I couldn't litigate my way out of a paper bag. And Philip said, well, I think we're going to make a good team. I'll handle the litigation and you work on the program side of it. And so Philip and I filed our interventions and were successful at intervening because the Court, obviously, rightfully so in our opinion, found that, no, the trust was created for all the types of people that went to Morningside, and that the state could not remove people from the trust; they could add but they couldn't remove anyone from the trust. And at that point, we were in. Section 6:
BILL SCHNEIDER: And Gottstein was still active in promoting the other beneficiaries?
JEFF JESSEE: Oh, yeah. And that's kind of how it broke out is -- is Philip represented the alcoholics, I was representing people with developmental disabilities, and Jim was focused more on people with mental illness. And then David Walker was still sort of the class attorney, he had inherited the case a couple steps removed from Steve Cowper. And so he had kind of the overarching umbrella responsibility for the class as a whole.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And how did all of you interact? JEFF JESSEE: Well, not very pleasantly from time to time. My very first meeting with Jim and David was Philip and I had flown down to Juneau and met them in David's office. And Phillip's position was that either they changed course or he would seek to have them removed as attorneys for the class. And that tends to make for an uncomfortable afternoon. And over the next years, working on the case, our relationship ebbed and flowed, based upon how negotiations were going with the legislature, you know, what was happening in terms of mental health services.
Jim and David, in our view, tended to view the case primarily as an asset issue. In other words, the state had taken this land and they needed to pay for it or give it back. Jim was interested in some of the program issues, but the prime focus they had was on the assets. And most of the settlement frameworks that were developed over the next 7 or 8 years were driven primarily by the asset side, and their belief that their duty to the class and the beneficiaries was to get full value back for what had been taken out of the trust. Philip and I came over time to have a little bit different slant. We were more concerned about whether any assets that were recovered in the litigation could be brought to bear beneficially for the beneficiaries. And the big fly in the ointment on that was that under the Enabling Act, the legislature was trustee. And neither Philip nor I felt that in the long run, any legislature, not picking on our particular group, was really suitable for that role. You know, legislatures have a larger public trust responsibility, and asking them to restrict their duty of loyalty to a select group around a particular set of assets seemed inherently flawed. And so over time, we looked for opportunity to shift the emphasis in the litigation from primarily asset based to primarily what we would consider program based. And that opportunity didn't arise until the last major settlement negotiated by Jim and David was rejected by the Court. Section 7:
BILL SCHNEIDER: Tell us about that rejection.
JEFF JESSEE: Well, the -- Jim and David had tried a lot of different settlement scenarios, and finally when Charlie Cole and Harold Heinze -- Charlie was the Attorney General, and Harold was the Commissioner of DNR -- started a phase of negotiation with Jim and David that worked like this. There were about 5,000 parcels that had been taken out of the trust that we couldn't get back without major disruption to the individuals who built houses on them or the eagles that were living in it or Usibelli who was mining in it, and so the concept made sense at one level. What we would do is we would take each of these 5,000 parcels, and the plaintiffs would identify another parcel of state land that was as much like that original parcel as you could find, and then we would exchange them. And -- and in the end, we might have more or less than a million acres, but in theory, we would have a land base that would generate as much revenue as the original million acres. And I had originally signed on to this settlement, and it was actually Jim, David, and myself that signed on to it; Philip never did. And I, at the time, felt that this would pretty much destroy any opportunity to benefit the beneficiaries because it was clear at that point in the litigation that the mental health program cost the state roughly $120 million. This is in the early '90s. And that the state could use the income from this resulting land base to cover some of those expenses. So unless the land produced more than $120 million, it wouldn't result in any net gain. Let's say the land optimistically made 20 million or 30 million. Well, the state would just spend that 30 or 40 million and then only have to put in 80 or 90 million of general funds. And I remember sitting in the room when we signed this settlement agreement, and I mean, everybody was there, all the AG lawyers and the commissioner and Charlie and Jim and David and the Governor's office and the leaders of the legislature. And I had to leave because I was tearing up. Because as far as I could tell, this just was the end of the trust as far as doing anything for the beneficiaries.
On the surface, it was eminently fair. I mean, if we got back what we lost, how could anyone, you know, really complain. So it was a difficult time. Section 8:
But then the devil was in the details. And it kind of worked like this. Let's say you have a parcel X, and you identify, which the plaintiffs did, another parcel Y that looked like X. Well, now, it's going to take awhile to sort of do an assessment of are they really similar, do they have similar revenue-generating abilities, and you know, is it a little too much land, a little -- not enough land to be equal in value. Well, now, while you're having that discussion, you can't let people keep fooling with this nominated replacement land.
Well, if you remember, there was a land freeze on the original million acres. You know, nobody could do anything with it because it was subject to this litigation. Well, now, the million-acre land freeze got bigger, not smaller, because now all the nominated parcels were out of play. Oh, it got worse. Because now, whenever anyone found a piece of general state land that might have a value, well, Jim would nominate it and it would be frozen. So a million-acre land freeze had almost overnight become a hundred-million-acre land freeze, for all practical purposes. And the final sort of insult was when Jim ran out of other state parcels that looked like original trust lands and nominated the Cook Inlet oil and gas field, which was not something that Charlie Cole and Harold Heinze had contemplated. And I would say tensions rose between Charlie and Harold and Jim and David over how this was working out or not. Well, people got concerned that this settlement was not a settlement; that the situation had actually gotten much worse as opposed to have gotten better. But Charlie Cole was determined that he had given his word and that, by gosh, you know, he would persevere. And even though there were issues with the plaintiffs' attorneys, he was going to stay the course; and kept telling Governor Hickel, no, no, we've got to stay the course; no matter what people are telling you, we've got to stay the course. Well, about this time I went back to Philip and said, okay, you were right, this is not working. This is not going to work. We've exchanged one piece of litigation for 5,000 litigations that is a good thing if you're collecting attorney's fees, but not such a good thing if you're a beneficiary looking for services. And so I pulled out of the settlement and sent Charlie a letter and said that, you know, I appreciated his attempt at trying to resolve this but I didn't see how this was going to work, and so I was withdrawing my support from the settlement and would be opposing the settlement in Court. And I have to say, Charlie Cole, you know, handled that with such sensitivity. You know, I expected him to be very angry at me, and certainly, he wasn't happy with me, but Charlie was very good about saying, Jeff, you know, you have to do what you have to do. He says, now we're going to succeed in this settlement, but you know, I understand why, you know, you're doing what you're doing. I don't agree with you. But -- and of course, things kept getting worse and worse. And in fact, I remember that as Philip and I would come up with alternative ideas for how to resolve this, I would go to Charlie's office in Juneau and I would sit in this -- on this wooden bench outside his office, and I did this probably four or five times, and I would have a -- a -- one of those flip charts and an easel, and Charlie would come by and he'd say, oh, you're here with another idea. I said, yep, I got another idea. And he'd say, come on in.
And I'd go into his office and set up my easel and get out my flip chart and I described the latest brainstorm that Philip and I had about how we could settle this case and, you know, actually get over the hump if Charlie would just abandon this land exchange idea. And he always treated me very courteously and tolerantly, and then he'd say, but I'm not getting off of this settlement, we're going to succeed in court. And thanks for coming in. And I'd thank him, shake his hand, gather up my easel and flip chart, and off I'd go. Section 9:
But eventually, we ended up in court. And by that point in time, it was evident to many people, certainly the development community and others, legislators, that this approach to settlement was not going to succeed. And eventually, the Court rejected it, as well, basically on those grounds that one piece of litigation had now multiplied into 5,000 pieces of litigation with no clear idea of how in the end this is going to benefit the beneficiaries anyway. Now, towards the end of that process, as Charlie was continuing to tell the Governor, this is going to work, this is going to work, Harold Heinze was terminated as Commissioner of DNR. And Harry Noah came in as Commissioner. And Harry immediately recognized, as well, that this settlement was not going to work, but it was Charlie's settlement. And so Harry, I think, was pretty clear with the Governor that he didn't think it was going to work, but the Governor was willing to keep going with Charlie because Charlie was his Attorney General, and so the Governor kept saying, yeah, we're going to persevere here and, you know, Charlie tells me this is going to work. And there was a lot of pressure on the Governor. I mean, by this point, the coal miners and other development people were on the Governor's case about this because their business was being negatively impacted substantially. In fact, there's a great story that Bob Stiles who worked on developing a coal mine across the inlet from Anchorage told about a friend of his from Montana that called him up one day and -- and said, you know, I was just in Salt Lake City talking to some Korean power companies, and the first thing they asked me is do you have mental health coal in Montana? And I had to assure them that, no, no, we had no mental health coal in Montana. And that's how bad this had gotten. It had now an international reputation that we didn't want to have anything to do with mental health coal. So Harry saw this -- Harry Noah saw this as an issue and was telling the Governor that this needed to be settled another way. Well, when the Court rejected the settlement, Harry called Philip and I up and said, your turn, basically. These other guys have had this case for a long time and it hasn't settled, and I want to sit down with you two and talk about how we might settle this. And of course, we were more than willing to sit down with him. And apparently, he sent Charlie an e-mail that said, I'm meeting with these other plaintiffs' attorneys in a few days to talk about settlement, you're welcome to attend. That didn't go over well. And there was plenty of rumors about just how unwell it went. But be that as it may, at the end of the day, Charlie was gone as Attorney General, and Harry was in charge of trying to settle this thing.
Nelson Page was interviewed by Bill Schneider and Karen Brewster with videography by Deborah Lawton and Aaron Elterman of KUAC radio/tv, Fairbanks on June 10, 2009 at the Marriot Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska. He is a lawyer with Burr, Pease and Kurtz in Anchorage, Alaska. He was an original member of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority Board of Trustees serving until 2008, and was the board's first chairman. In this interview, Nelson talks about the legal aspects of the mental health trust lawsuit, land selection and settlement, his work with the Disability Law Center, the establishment and functioning of the Mental Health Trust Authority Board of Trustees, and his personal connection with disability services through raising foster children.
Click to section:
Section 1: Personal background and his involvement in the development of a medical foster care program.
Section 2: Fighting for special education services in the schools, and joining the Alaska Mental Health Board.
Section 3: Learning about the poor quality of mental health and developmental disability services in Alaska, and effect of the mental health trust litigation.
Section 4: Settlement of the mental health trust litigation, and development of the Mental Health Trust Authority.
Section 5: Settlement of the mental health trust litigation that led to creation of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and its management structure.
Section 6: Establishment of the Mental Health Authority and the Trust Land Office.
Section 7: Creating the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority Board of Trustees and figuring out how the organization would operate.
Section 8: Imaginative thinking that went into creating and funding new programs.
Section 9: Managing the Mental Health Trust funds.
Section 10: Composition of the Mental Health Trust Authority Board of Trustees, public perception of the Trust, and generating revenue from Trust lands.
Section 11: Using experiences with his foster son to help build rural programs within the Mental Health Trust Authority.
Section 12: Role of the Disability Law Center in the mental health trust litigation, and personal experience with Ella Craig, who was a social worker for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Anchorage.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Today is June 10th, 2009. I'm Bill Schneider and Karen Brewster's here, too, to help with the interview. And we have the pleasure today of doing an interview with Nelson Page. So I appreciate you taking the time to do this. And Deb Lawton and the crew from KUAC are helping out and giving us some really good quality video. So we appreciate that, too.
Let's start, Nelson, with your talking a little bit about your background, where you were brought up, and something about your parents. NELSON PAGE: Sure. I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. My parents both came from New England, and I had -- my father is a physician, my mother has worked within the home, raising the family. I have two siblings, my brother is an electrician in Portland still, my sister is a nurse practitioner here in Anchorage. And I came here, I'm an attorney, I came here after law school. My story is kind of like many Alaskans, I had an opportunity to -- to come up here for a one-year clerkship after graduating from law school. I had a job lined up with a very nice firm in Portland, and within three months of coming here, I picked up the phone and told the law firm in Portland that I was not planning on coming back. And that was 30 plus years ago now. I'm currently in private practice. I do civil trial work as a lawyer, and have been in private practice all that time with the same law firm.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And what was attractive about staying here?
NELSON PAGE: I loved two things. Of course, I loved Alaska as a place to live, and I loved the professional challenge. I think early on in my clerkship with the Alaska Supreme Court, I recall hearing a First Amendment case, and the First Amendment case had to do with someone who had defaced Alaska license plates. He had been drawing pants on the grizzly bear that was on the Alaska license plate. And the issue was whether or not his drawing pants on the grizzly bear was an expression of speech. What struck me, as I sat listening to the argument was that the lawyer who was arguing the case was about a year older than I was. And had I gone back to practice in Portland and had I gone back to the firm that I was going to be working for, it probably would have been 10 or 15 years before I would have found myself in front of the Supreme Court arguing a case. And I thought, you know, that's something I ought to take advantage of while I'm here. I can do more here faster and have more responsibility. And I just thought that was a wonderful thing.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And has that proven to be the case? NELSON PAGE: Oh, yeah. I -- I've had a wonderful career here and been able to do things. It's been different -- of course, I'm sure my life would have been different had I gone back down to Portland, but it's been different in a good way. I've had the opportunity to lead a life that's had a full and very rich range of experiences both professionally and personally. BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. Well, how did you get involved with the Trust?
NELSON PAGE: Well, my initial involvement with Trust beneficiaries came back in 1982. My wife was working as a nurse in the Providence Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and she was telling me things that were just amazing about how kids with -- who had been born prematurely or who had severe developmental disabilities were being treated and cared for. And specifically there was one child that she was caring for who was a Native Eskimo, had been born early, had gone to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Providence and had been there for months. And he was too sick, he was on oxygen, he had a number of medications, he was very fragile, he was too sick to go back to his family in the village. But after awhile, he wasn't too sick to be out of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. And I think they charged somewhere between 3 and $5,000 a day now for a child to be in the intensive care unit there. The state was picking up that cost.
And what was preventing the child from getting out of that hospital setting, out of the setting that was just full of alarms and bells and nurses and sick people and into a setting where he could begin to be a child was that there was no developmental or medical foster care program for the State of Alaska. And so my wife and I, with the help of Ella Craig from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other people, put together just out of thin air a program of a medical foster care placement for this child. It required, of course, enhanced payment for -- for the foster parents, it required a setup so that the kid's medical needs could be met and he could receive the kind of monitoring that he needed while he was fragile, but it had never happened before, and when that child got out of the intensive care unit and went into our home as a foster child, that saved the state hundreds of thousands of dollars, just on that one kid. That was a real eye opener for me about the idea that you don't have to do very much, sometimes big changes can be made with just incremental adjustments to what's already being done. Section 2:
I was very involved in raising our foster child. And I think that involvement became -- part of that involvement was to go work with the Disability Law Center on some of the issues that arose as our foster child started getting into the school system, started getting into needing other social services. I think what happened was that I became -- I got -- came to the attention of David Maltman and Jeff Jessee, and they, oh, boy, in the mid, late '80s, asked me if I would be willing to serve as a member of the Alaska Mental Health Board.
At the time, the Mental Health Board was the only state fund -- state sponsored group that was dealing with mental illness and so forth. Well, David was the executive director of the Disability Law Center at the time, and had been for a while. Jeff was one of the staff attorneys. And I met Jeff because he represented our foster son in a challenge to the school district. What we were finding as we were trying to care for and get services for our foster son was that the system really wasn't set up to deal with anything that was outside of the norm. And of course, when you're dealing with children with intense developmental disability needs, or mental health needs, autism, everything about them is outside of the norm. And you needed -- in order for this child to -- to -- to have a good and prosperous young childhood out of the hospital, he needed intensive Special Education services, he needed to have a very thoughtful medication schedule, he needed to have engaged and committed friends and parents who would be able to -- to introduce him back into his Yup'ik Eskimo culture. All of those things were things that we were dealing with as brand new first-time issues.
And the development -- the Disability Law Center, and Jeff Jessee in particular with Dave Maltman's support, had provided us with assistance in working our way through with some of these brand new things that we were finding out about. And so when they asked me to be on the Mental Health Board, I was, of course, happy to -- to, in my -- the way I thought about it, return the favor. And on the Mental Health Board I was introduced to a lot of the players who were then or in the future after that became very involved in creating the Mental Health Trust. I -- when I got on the board, Jim Gottstein and David Walker, the attorneys who were representing parties in the Mental Health Trust litigation, would give briefings to the board. At the time, the board included John Malone, that's where I met John, and I believe several other people who were eventually involved in -- in creating the Mental Health Trust. Section 3:
What I was learning from the Mental Health Board was just a broader picture of the same thing I had learned as a foster parent, which was that mental health services, services for people with developmental disabilities, services for people with Alzheimer's were really not very well coordinated and not very well thought out in the State of Alaska. And this, again, is in the mid to late 1980s. Funding was inconsistent, there was no real imagination being applied to what people needed and how to provide the services that they needed. The -- basically, it depended on whether there was an administration and a Commissioner of Health and Social Services who had an interest in the issue or not, and you know, every couple of years that would change. And again, applying what I had learned from my own experience, it seemed to me that it really didn't require a whole lot of imagination, just a little bit of imagination to really make big differences. I'll never forget a briefing that the Mental Health Board got from Dave Sperbeck, who is a clinical psychologist and was involved with -- was working with the state, and he gave a briefing regarding mental health services for the mentally ill within the Department of Corrections. I was appalled. It was shocking to me, it was Medieval what he was describing. There was no mental health service for people within the Department of Corrections.
And of course, that is probably the single largest population of people with mental illness in state custody in the entire state of Alaska. And they were simply being warehoused in solitary confinement with occasional visits by a psychologist. No intensive treatment, no intensive understanding of what their needs were or why their situation was what it was. I couldn't believe it at the time, and I'm happy to say that the Mental Health Trust came into existence and began to -- to start actually influencing policy, we were able to have a significant impact on -- on that, as an example. The litigation that created the Mental Health Trust had been ongoing when I got on the Mental Health Board for several years. And the lawyers, Gottstein and Walker in particular, and then Phillip Volland, who represented those -- I believe it was people with -- I think it was seniors with Phillip, and Jeff Jessee represented -- got involved in the lawsuit for people with developmental disabilities. They were doing a masterful job of holding the state's feet to the fire.
The -- Gottstein had filed a lawsuit and had obtained from this Alaska Supreme Court an injunction in which the Supreme Court basically said, yes, these people have rights. And the state has an obligation to provide treatment for them. And more importantly, the Trust, which had originally been set up in the 1950s, has obligations to these people. The state as trustee has not met those obligations, and therefore, as with every other trustee who doesn't meet their fiduciary obligations to the beneficiaries, the state has to make good. And that was the ruling that Jim had -- had gotten from the Alaska Supreme Court. Well, the implications for the state were huge. Jim, I think, properly took the position that the state had an obligation to pump millions of dollars into providing services that had never been provided before to the beneficiaries of this Trust. He was taking the position that all of the assets of the Trust, which the state had treated as though they were simply there to be spent without any consideration of their obligations, all of those assets were subject to a claim by the trustees. Now, these assets included oil fields in Cook Inlet, coal fields in Beluga, land within the Municipality of Anchorage. The original trustees, the ones who set up the Trust and selected the land back in the 1950s, had done a marvelous job, a very astute job of picking land to be included in the Trust. They created donuts around communities like Ketchikan, thinking, of course, accurately, that the communities would grow and they would bump up against Mental Health Trust land and that land would become much more valuable. Section 4:
Well, in the 20 or 30 years since that time, the state, as trustee, had simply ignored that. And now the Alaska Supreme Court was saying you can't ignore it, that land all has to be given back. And Gottstein did a marvelous job of saying, no, we're not going -- we're not going to compromise, we are not going to change that ruling, we are going to require you to do what you were supposed to have done 20 years ago.
The state was in a terrible bind. And over about three or four years after I got involved in the Mental Health Board, the state tried a number of ways to get out from underneath this bind. There were settlement proposals that involved the state guaranteeing a percentage of state revenues would be spent on mental health programs. That turned out to be, you know, the state just couldn't swallow that. They couldn't probably legally and they couldn't as a matter of policy bind themselves for future generations to spend X percent of state revenue on mental health programs. There were proposals to determine what the value of these Trust lands had been, which turned out to be billions of dollars. And -- and then they were going to pay a percentage of that. And that, again, ran into problems. There were any number of proposals that the lawyers for the beneficiaries simply said, no, that's not good enough. And as the state got more and more desperate, things got more and more complicated. And the lawyers who were involved in it for the beneficiaries got more and more imaginative about how to meet their needs. What they were unwilling to do was leave it up to the state, which had already proven that it was not a very good trustee, they were not willing to leave it up to the state to make discretionary decisions about how much money was going to be spent on the -- on the beneficiaries, or whether any money would be spent at all. And what they were unwilling to do was give up this lever that they had in the form of this hold over state property and this hold over state natural resources until they got something that was worthwhile. I believe that Governor Hickel attempted a settlement. I remember attending a signing ceremony back in the early 1990s where Governor Hickel said we've finally reached a settlement of this problem, but basically, the settlement fell apart, once again, because the state insisted on having control over programs and how the money was to be spent. And the beneficiaries at this point, after 20 years of having promises that were never kept, weren't willing to do that.
What ultimately happened was that the lawyers for the beneficiaries, and I give Phillip Volland and Jeff Jessee a lot of credit for their willingness to work this tension between what the beneficiaries wanted and what the state wanted and what the state felt it could provide, they -- they came up with an idea that after a number of -- of different evolutionary stages turned into the Mental Health Trust. And the brilliant thing that they did was gather together the various interest groups beyond just the beneficiaries, they dealt with mining interests, they dealt with some of the natural resource -- other natural resource development interests. They worked with the state. And they came up with eventually what became the Trust. The concept was the beneficiaries need independent control over their assets. So we'll have a Mental Health Trust Authority. The beneficiaries need to know that the money that is in trust is going to be spent on their behalf.
So initially, the idea was that the Mental Health Trust Authority would simply spend that money and would be in charge of spending it. That evolved because of constitutional issues about who gets to decide how state money gets spent into a system in which the Mental Health Trust Authority has the ability to spend some of its money, and also has the ability to talk to the state, and by statute, it has the ability to -- to talk to the state and it has to be listened to by the state about how the state's money should be spent on mental health and developmental disabilities and Alzheimer's and substance abuse issues Section 5:
The state was concerned that the Trust would get out of control and not be in -- you know, would not be -- would do things that would be just sort of not very prudent.
So the system that was set up was that the trustees would be appointed by the Governor. But then to accommodate the concern of the beneficiaries, the trustees not be just simply another board that has to answer to the Governor and follows the Governor's recommendations or orders, those trustees serve for a five-year term, and a staggered term. So the trustee membership in the board changes over time. And those trustees cannot be removed except for good cause. The legislature wanted to make sure that the Trust would not spend money wildly without any coordination with what the state's programs were. So ultimately, this -- the legislature is required to approve most of the Trust's expenditures, and to the extent that the Trust has money that it spends on its own, the Trust makes reports to both the legislature and the Governor. This was a very carefully crafted series of compromises or changes or imaginative solutions that was intended to address as many of the concerns as possible of all the different sides to the issue.
There was a lot of controversy about this settlement. The many members of the beneficiary community were very suspicious of any system in which the state had a hand in controlling assets of the Trust, or had a hand in determining how the Trust's assets would be used, because, of course, they had this history of the trustee -- of the state being a bad trustee. The state, of course, had a very sort of mirror image concern. As I said, they were concerned about whether or not this Mental Health Trust would just go off in wild directions without trying to coordinate, without having any carefully grounded policy understanding of what needed to be done. The -- probably one of the biggest controversy was what to do with the Trust's assets.
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- commenting on the interest between the Trust and the state is -- that's an interesting concept we haven't fully developed. Maybe you could say more on that.
NELSON PAGE: Well, sure. Probably the place where that was the hardest to reach an agreement on was what to do with the assets themselves. Remember that the original Mental Health Trust was set up by an Act of Congress before Statehood, said that this Trust would have the right to select a million acres of land, and that that land would generate revenue which would then be used to fund the state's mental health program. And this was the original concept, and this was the, as I said, the original people who selected the land for the Trust had done a brilliant job of selecting those lands. And this is the land, this original million acres was the land that was being held hostage through this lawsuit. The state, again, was very concerned to turn over control of a million acres of land and whatever revenue could or had been generated by that land to a body, this Trust Authority, at least in theory at the time, that they couldn't control. There were constitutional issues as well as policy issues for them. So again, a compromise was reached, which I think is a brilliant compromise. The ultimate settlement of the lawsuit was that the Trust would give up its claim to many of the original million acres, which erased the problem of title being clouded or not being able to use the land or having claims that the land had been used, and therefore, there was rent owed or whatever. In exchange, the Trust was allowed to select another set of lands, up to another -- a new million acres. So there was a little bit of land that had been in the original Trust that had not been encumbered, had not been used, and that was to go back to the Trust. Then the Trust was able to select another million acres from available state land, or another set of acres to come up to a million acres from available state land. And would be able to use that as it had originally been intended, to generate revenue on behalf of beneficiaries. Now, everybody understood that being able to select a million acres 30, 40, 50 years after Statehood, 20 years, 30 years after the Native corporations had made their selections, after closure of this Territory and making sure there -- you know, that closing the ability to choose any land that was Federal land, everybody understood that whatever was going to be selected for this new Trust to make up the difference, it wasn't going to be as valuable as the original million acres. So the compromise was that the state would pay cash as an additional part of the settlement. And that cash would be paid into a trust fund. The compromise that was reached over how that Trust was going to be managed was that the beneficiaries agreed that the Trust fund would be managed by and would be held by the Alaska Permanent Fund. And so the state didn't have to worry about -- and the trustees and the Trust didn't have to worry about recreating a whole apparatus for -- for investment guidelines and figuring out how to invest that money, and so forth. It was already there in the form of the Alaska Permanent Fund. Again, the trustees -- the beneficiaries were concerned to make sure that the state wouldn't use that lever to control how the money would get spent. And so again, the statute was crafted very carefully to say that the Trust could direct how the money would be spent, but then they would have to report to the legislature about how they were spending it. And they would have to report to the Governor about how they were spending it. Section 6:
So that took care of the cash part of the problem. Again, that left how were we going to manage the million acres. And again, a compromise. Beneficiaries had already had a track record of the state selling lands not using the land as needed and so forth. State was not willing to have no control whatsoever about how these million acres were going to be used, so we created the -- the land Trust -- the Trust Land Office. And it was by statute that the Trust Land Office would be within the State Government, the Department of Natural Resources.
The head of the Trust Land Office would be a state employee, but the head of the land office would report not to the Commissioner of Natural Resources directly, but directly to the Board of Trustees of this new Mental Health Trust. I think that was an example of creative ambiguity. There has never been so far a situation that I'm aware of in which the trustees have said the land should be used this way and the commissioner of natural resources has said, huh-uh. Because we understand the potential for conflict, at least during my time on the Trust, there was a lot of communication between the Department of Natural Resources and the Trust Land Office. And procedures and policies and personalities were worked out so that the Trust Land Office now has the ability to do things at the direction of the trustees in ways that the state couldn't do with its own land, but which it is enabled to at least know about and agree with. I think what happens now is that if we're going to do something that the state doesn't like, the state tells us and we work it out. But essentially, that compromise allows the Trust and the beneficiaries of the Trust to feel comfortable that the state will not do what it had done in the past and simply ignore the interests of the beneficiaries when trying to create this -- trying to generate revenue. This was very contro -- this whole process that I'm talking about was very controversial. But after 8, 9, 10 years of Gottstein and Walker and Volland and Jessee holding up all kinds of development, and after 10 years of folks who had purchased land from the state or homesteaded land from the state and then learned that their title wasn't good, complaining to their legislators, and after the pressures had gotten to the point where people were saying for heaven's sake, just get this thing solved, that compromise, as I have been describing it at some length, that compromise started to look pretty darn good. And it was under the auspices of Governor Knowles, and with the leadership from the legislature that that compromise eventually came into existence and the Board of Trustees and the Alaska Mental Health Trust came into existence. Now, the -- I've often likened the first few months and years of the Alaska Mental Health Trust to the first few months and years of our country under its new constitution. There was a settlement, a statute, guidelines, as to -- as to, you know, things -- things that the statute said as to how things were going to work, just as there is a Constitution that tells how our Government, our Federal Government is going to work. But putting flesh on those words and actually creating a living, breathing organization required a lot of imagination, a lot of hard work, and if I can say so, a lot of goodwill on the part of all the different parties and interests involved. And I think that we were extraordinarily fortunate that the Trust came into existence under the Knowles administration because my sense was that Governor Knowles and Commissioner Perdue were committed to making this concept work, and they were prepared to act in good faith on the intentions and understandings of the beneficiaries about what the Trust settlement meant, to try and get it to go forward successfully. That was tremendously valuable. Section 7:
The Governor selected a first Board of Trustees that consisted of people who had a broad range of experience. You'll be talking to Tom Hawkins who, of course, had been working very, very diligently on the lawsuit and was very familiar with the natural resources end of things. You interviewed John Malone who had worked for years to advance mental health issues all over the State of Alaska, but particularly outside of the road part of Alaska. There were -- there was, you know, people representing different groups within the beneficiary categories, there were people representing different populations within the State of Alaska.
I -- it is probably the -- the finest thing that I can think of that I was privileged to be selected to be first chair of the Board of Trustees. And I know that John Pugh was a member of that first board. The sense I got, John is a marvelous, marvelous guy, and was a -- an extraordinary strong trustee. I kind of got the sense that John was there to make sure things didn't go off the rails for -- for the administration. John was very close to the Knowles administration, I think. This is all speculation on my part. We've never talked about this. But John was there to make sure that -- that things didn't just get too wild. But they didn't because these trustees had been very carefully selected. The initial months of the Mental Health Trust were very interesting. There was no staff, it was just seven trustees and this statute, plus a lot of money that would -- had been parked in the Permanent Fund racking up interest. We had no idea what we were going to do with it. There was a Trust Land Office person who had been hired, Steve Planchon, but nobody really knew anything about how the flesh was going to be put on the skeleton of this settlement.
We had, again, the continuing assistance of the Disability Law Center. By this time, the executive director was Rick Tessandore. Rick had basically made Jeff Jessee available full time to work on this lawsuit and to work on trying to get a settlement through. And Jeff had been doing a marvelous job for years. When the settlement finally came through, Rick allowed Jeff to continue on basically as our advisor to the Board of Trustees for the first few months. And we had to figure out what we needed to do, who did we need to hire, did we need an executive director, did we need an investment person, it was a blank slate.
And we -- we needed to determine how we were going to decide how money got spent because the Trust had the ability to -- to determine how its Trust assets would be spent? How were we going to do that. How were we going to make sure that there is public input? How are we going to make sure that the needs of the beneficiaries are listened to? And so our process of trial and error began almost immediately. It would never have worked without the support of the administration, the Disability Law Center, and frankly, Jeff. And as we started to sort of get a little bit of traction as to what we were going to do, we concluded that we did need an executive director, now a CEO, we concluded that we did need to have, you know, certain staff positions that needed to be filled out. We started talking about policies and procedures. We started talking about public input and we started having meetings. Section 8:
BILL SCHNEIDER: So we're talking about tweaking the system.
NELSON PAGE: We're talking about tweaking the system. Let me give you an early example.
Harborview in Valdez had been a residential facility for developmentally disabled people within the State of Alaska for years. In fact, my foster son was someone who was a candidate to go to Harborview and be institutionalized. For years, the developmental disability community and the State of Alaska had been trying to find a way to close down Harborview and put all of the people now adults, many of them starting as children who lived at Harborview, into their communities, in -- in placements within homes or houses or families in their communities. The issue was that there's always a period of time when you're creating system change when you have to fund the old system to meet the needs that are presently existing, and at the same time you have to create the new system. There's a call on funding, and legislators are very -- you know, it's difficult to say we're going to spend twice as much for a couple of years and then change the system.
The initial argument was that the Trust should start funding these foster placements and start funding the system for getting folks out of the Harborview. But our thinking was that action is a trap because as soon as we start funding these programs that are going to be expected to be the new way of dealing with severely developmentally disabled people, the legislature is going to close down Harborview, they are going to take that money and spend it on roads, and they are going to -- we're going to be in an uphill fight with the legislature forever for them to take over that responsibility again. So what we came up with was sort of reverse English. We went to the legislature and we said, okay, it's going to cost, pulling a number out of the air, a million dollars a year for the next three years to close down Harborview, and it's going to cost about that much to create these new programs. The Trust will pay for the operations of Harborview, a million dollars in the first year. The deal is that you, the legislature and the Governor, will take the million dollars that you don't have to spend and put it into these new programs. The next year, the Trust will commit to paying three-quarters of that. And the year after that we'll pay half, and in the fourth year, the money goes away and Harborview closes and the state will have created and funded a new program. And in fact, that's exactly what happened. The State of Alaska, at least as when I was a trustee, and I'm sure it's still true, has no institutionalized developmentally disabled individuals, they are all in their communities. And that worked very well for the state. It got them out of the dilemma of how do we pay for two things at once, it worked perfectly for the Trust, because after four years of meeting our commitment, that obligation went away and that money was again available for us to move on and do something else. And we had done that, variations on that theme in a number of different places. Examples are the housing issues. The Trust has worked in conjunction with Alaska Housing Finance to try and create a housing trust which would allow beneficiaries to have access to housing. And the deal is that over a period of -- finite period of time, the Trust will provide the funding necessary or part of the funding necessary to create a housing trust. When the trust is set up and funded -- when that housing trust is set up and funded, the Mental Health Trust will move on to the next priority.
And so that was a way in which we could be implementing change without being locked into having to pay for it forever and then being, basically, calcified into not being able to do anything further. The other thing that we started implementing early on was the understanding that there were needs that didn't really fit into state programs, and individuals who are beneficiaries would come to us and say, you know, I just need a bicycle so I can ride to work. Or they would come to us and they'd say my teeth -- I take these medications, they rot my teeth, I'm in constant pain, but I can't afford dental care. I need $2,000 to get my teeth fixed. And there wasn't a mechanism or certainly no consistent mechanism within the state to do that kind of thing. There was a group that came to us and said, look, we are all mentally ill, we have this vision of a place, basically a clubhouse or a place where we can meet, and where we can provide support for one another, maybe do a little bit of, you know, training, a little bit of a rummage sale kind of a place where people can donate goods and we can raise a little bit of money, but we need a place. We need somebody who will help us find a place and help pay for it. And the Trust was able to assist with that.
The Alano Club, Alcoholics Anonymous, needed a place, and there was an individual who was very heavily involved with Alcoholics Anonymous, and he came to us for assistance in both providing funding to purchase their club and also providing a mechanism by which other funding sources could be brought together under an umbrella to -- to create a package, which would fund the Alano Club. None of these are necessarily things that the state or a legislature is likely to say, okay, we're happy to do. But all of them were things that made a material difference in the lives of our beneficiaries.
Eventually, we worked out a similar compromise with the state that we did for things like dental care and emergency medical care that we did with Harborview. We put in every year a certain amount of money for these small grants, and we asked the state to match it. And the legislature saw that they were getting twice the bang for their buck by appropriating a certain amount of money, we were able to assist our beneficiaries in a way that they couldn't have assistance without us, and the beneficiaries got things that they needed. And so those are examples of the kind of imagination -- imaginative things that we were trying to do. Section 9:
The other place where we were able to be creative was with respect to how to handle our assets. We were fortunate to have had the example of the Alaska Permanent Fund before us, and as, you know, you recall the way the Alaska Permanent Fund works is that a percentage of revenue or income that's generated by the Permanent Fund every year is available either to be sent out in the form of dividends or used by the legislature. That is driven by how much money the Permanent Fund makes from year to year.
That is a way of handling large sums of institutional money that virtually nobody else uses. Instead, what people do is they operate these large funds as an endowment. What that means is that instead of looking at how much you made each year, which can vary wildly from year to year, you look at what the total market value or value of the fund is, and you take a percentage of that, which, using, you know, as many years of historical information as you want, a percentage, which will be sustainable forever. And nobody knew how we were going to decide how much money we could spend. There was talk about whether we would take the entire $200 million in cash, which was the initial investment from the legislature. We were going -- whether we were going to spend some of that down, whether we would just, you know, build a new hospital and spend $100 million of it that way. What we decided was, no, we have an obligation as trustees not just to the current generation of beneficiaries but to all future generations of beneficiaries.
And so we started looking for ways to make sure that this cash endowment plus whatever got added to it from the Trust Land Office and the revenue that it generated, we wanted to make sure that that would be spent fairly both for current generations and for future generations. So we came up with an endowment model, and basically we started out with, I think it was 3 percent of the value of the cash assets of the Permanent Fund is what we would spend as trustees every year. So we were disciplined. We -- we made sure we weren't just going to spend according to need, but also according to what was available now and in the future. We wanted to be conservative to start with because we wanted to make sure that we knew what was going on. That generated, again, to pull a number out of the air, about 8 to $10 million, which the Trust then in its first, say, three or four years in, which is when this went into effect, generated about $10 million, which is what we said we would spend in that particular year. And that's the money that we used to, for example, help fund Harborview, or to pay for some of these special small grants, and so forth. The -- as time has gone by and we have gotten more certain of our model, we have been able to increase the percentage. I don't know what it is now. I believe it was over 4 percent, around 4 percent when I left the Board of Trustees two years ago. The other thing that we wanted to do was avoid what happens, what you see happening with the Permanent Fund with these wild swings from year to year. You know, you have a $2,000 Permanent Fund check one year and a $500 Permanent Fund check the next year. So we, using -- with -- with the assistance of some pretty sharp folks, we created a mechanism to set aside a -- a contingency fund, basically. We built it up over a series of -- a series of years. And using formulas that the Permanent Fund's own advisors suggested to us, we now have basically three different pots of money. There is the money that's invested in the Permanent Fund which is the principal, and that is the amount that was the original 200 million, plus however much it's grown basically because of interest or success in the stock market and so forth. Then there is a fund which is kept with the -- with the Department of Revenue. That fund is designed to be large enough so that in the worst years of the stock market, we will still have enough to be able to tap into it and keep our expenditures on behalf of the beneficiaries from year to year reasonably level. And what we've -- so what we can do is in bad years, we drop that fund down, that part of the money down, that pot of money down so that we can spend more money than we would otherwise be able to, and then in good years we build it back up so that we have that reserve still available to us. BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, let's finish the discussion, then --
NELSON PAGE: Okay.
BILL SCHNEIDER: of the economics.
NELSON PAGE: To close the circle on what I was trying to describe is what we had done is -- is create a financial way of doing things that guarantees a fairly good level of spending every year, but almost as importantly, a fairly predictable and fairly reliable level of spending every year. And that's important. Again, we have -- there's a constant tension getting to how that money gets spent, there's a constant tension between the desire of the state for this Mental Health Trust to step in and take over what we as trustees feel is the state's responsibility, which we aren't going to shoulder, and the Trust's desire to remain that catalyst, that -- that tweaker, that experimenter that comes up with new ideas that nobody else would be able to figure out or fund. And so it's been fairly successful, it's been tested pretty heavily in the last year, and I think it's withstood that test fairly well. Section 10:
BILL SCHNEIDER: It sounds like it depended, too, on strong leadership.
NELSON PAGE: It did. It did. Again, I go back to the original Board of Trustees. One of -- there was an individual, Phil Younker. Phil Younker, Junior, his father then became Phil Younk -- Phil Younker, Senior, then became a trustee after that, but Phil Younker, Junior, is an investment manager in Fairbanks who was one of the first members of the Board of Trustees. And Phil provided tremendous leadership and a really good understanding for most of the other trustees who, frankly, aren't as well versed in these things, and his vision helped create what we hope and think is a sustainable way to run the finances of the corporation, of the Trust. Similarly, when you get to other elements of leadership, Tom Hawkins is a masterful -- has a masterful understanding of natural resources, and not only natural resources, but natural resource development in the State of Alaska. And he worked in conjunction with Steve Planchon at the Trust Land Office, the first director of the Trust Land Office, to essentially turn around the reputation of the Mental Health Trust 180 degrees. Jeff tells the story of talking to some business people about coal development, this is at the time the Trust settlement was being created. There was a Japanese company that wanted to come in and take coal out of the -- out of the coal fields up north of Wasilla. And they were shut down. They couldn't do it because there was this injunction, and Gottstein and Walker and Volland and Jessee were holding the state to the fire, and -- and the state simply couldn't get out from underneath it to release this land so that this Japanese company could do what it wanted to do. And he was talking to this fellow and talking about coal development and the fellow said, well, there's no Trust land involved in this, is there? You've got to stay away from that Trust fund. Well, five years later, five years into the existence of the Trust, the perception was exactly the opposite, which was that the Trust Land Office was a place to go, maybe the first place to go if you wanted to develop natural resources because the Trust Land Office was in the business of generating revenue for its beneficiaries. And subject to the need to make sure that there was going to be something to generate revenue for next generations as well as this generation, subject to that fiduciary limitation, the Trust Land Office was happy to do business.
We sold lots of timber, we sold more timber -- there were several years to begin with in the early years of the Trust when we sold more timber than any other entity in the state. We were -- you know, we owned some commercially developable land, and developers came to us and said we would love to buy this parcel because we want to -- we want to develop it. And Planchon was very good and Hawkins was very good at understanding these things, and putting deals together. And the Trust lands, just prior to settlement, had generated revenue. Again, they were holding -- not firm numbers, but, you know, perhaps under $100,000 in revenue, as remnants of this million acres. There was a period of time when we were generating -- we had doubled that every year for a period of years, and we were generating 1, 2, $3 million worth of revenue from this endowment of land. And it just required some leadership. BILL SCHNEIDER: How would you evaluate your role in the Trust?
NELSON PAGE: Oh, I'm -- I'm very proud of having been the first chair of the Mental Health Trust. I -- my job, I think, was to hold all of these very emotional, high-strung parties who had just come out of a bruising, long, grueling, emotional lawsuit, to hold them all together to assure them and give them a credible assurance that this settlement was a good thing for them and that it was going to really generate tangible benefits. And then my job was to let the very, very fine people who were other trustees who became staff of the Trust, who were beneficiaries and advocates on behalf of the beneficiaries, to let those very fine people create something that is going to last. I have to say, you know, this is probably the thing that I have done that will last beyond my lifetime. Hopefully there will be others, but this one I know is going to be a really important thing, and I'm so proud to have been a part of it.
BILL SCHNEIDER: That's neat. Section 11:
Let me ask you some questions to pick up on some of the things you talked about.
Where is your son now, your foster son? How has that worked out?
NELSON PAGE: Well, he returned to his village in Western Alaska, grew up with his family, and then returned to Anchorage and lives in Anchorage now. So -- and he's been very successful. BILL SCHNEIDER: On his return to the village, was that a program that the Trust helped facilitate?
NELSON PAGE: No, it was a program that we set up and created, my wife and I. Again, there was no way to -- there was no systemic way to help children from rural areas, from Native villages get back into their culture. And my wife deserves a huge amount of credit. She figured out that this was a kid that was not going to thrive very -- be very successful in his village if he didn't like seal oil. So his father, who was a very successful hunter in the village, would bring -- would ship seal oil by mail to us, and we would make sure that that was part of his diet.
Incidentally, seal oil happens to be an extraordinarily highly nutritious, calorie-packed, vitamin-packed nutrient for a little kid who needs to grow. And his parents would send him tapes with Yup'ik stories on them, and he would go to bed listening to those tapes so that when he got back to his village, he wasn't just some child that looked like an Eskimo that was really -- had only the talents and abilities of somebody who was -- lived in a city. And so a lot of time and effort went into that. Again, that experience translated into some of the things that we were able to do with the Mental Health Trust.
One of the programs that the Trust implemented was basically what's called Rural Outreach, and it was a direct result of my having learned so much and my realizing how much I didn't know about what life is like in rural -- rural areas, in Native villages, in places that aren't served by the kinds of things that we're used to in Anchorage. And what the Trust did for years, I don't know if it still does it, but it did for years was pay to bring leaders of our state to different regions of the state off of the road system, and we would bring legislators, or their staff, we would bring administrators, we would bring leaders in the community, set up a region where we would all go at Trust expense and meet with people in that area of the state. And we -- we went to -- we've gone to the North Slope, we've gone to Western Alaska, to the Aleutians, Southeast, you know, we tried to hit all the different areas of the state.
And it was an opportunity for people who may have some responsibility and control over how things work, how programs are implemented in these areas to actually go out and meet the people who are going to be affected by what they are doing. Not to say that many people don't have that understanding, but the fact of the matter is, many people don't. And it was an opportunity for them to get a real on-the-ground feel for what it meant. Just as an example, the Trust has helped build -- has provided funding so that when the Denali Commission builds health systems, it builds clinics in the villages, that there is also space for mental health in the village. And one of the things we learned, we learned it through going out into these communities, is that there really needs to be a separate entrance for the mental health clinic as opposed to the rest of the clinic because there's still a stigma associated in these villages, as there is in all communities, including this one, there's still a stigma attached to needing mental health services. That's the kind of thing that you learn from being on the ground and talking to people about what works and what doesn't. And it's an example, again, of the Trust being able to sort of nudge things in a direction they wouldn't otherwise go. Section 12:
BILL SCHNEIDER: Good. A little bit more on the Disability Law Center. How is that funded?
NELSON PAGE: Every state in the Union has -- is required by Federal law to have a disability advocate center. And I can't tell you for sure exactly what the mix of funding is here in Alaska, but a chunk of it is Federal funding. Some of it may be state funds. We as trustees were able to provide grants to the Disability Law Center so that they could give counseling to our beneficiaries on legal issues. That was a program that we started, and I don't know what's happened to it now, but -- but they have a staff of lawyers and advocates who will help people with disabilities wind their way through the legal system. Example is my own example, Jeff Jessee represented us in our appeal asking for more Special Education services for our foster son when the Anchorage School District determined that he didn't need them. They will assist people who need Social Security disability to apply for and appeal if they are denied their need for benefits. It has been around for a very long time, and again, as I say, it was not -- there are so many people who deserve credit for the success story of the Trust. It wasn't strictly within the boundaries or outlines of the Disability Law Center's responsibility to provide the kind of support that it did with its limited resources in the Mental Health Trust litigation, but Rick Tessandore, the executive director at the time, saw just what the potential was, realized that this was helping people that his job was to help, and made resources available in the form of Jeff as a staff attorney and in the form of other -- in the form of other assistance that just was invaluable in creating this. BILL SCHNEIDER: That's really helpful.
That's -- oh, I guess I should ask you a little bit more about Ella Craig, and then I'll --
NELSON PAGE: Uh-hum. Sure.
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- let Karen ask you some questions. You talked about her involvement with your family. NELSON PAGE: Well, you know, Alaska is one of those places where one of the true joys is that you can meet people who are -- I don't want to use the word "institutions," but forces of nature might well be a good example. And Ella is one of those people. You'll learn about her background and the many, many years, and the many, many wonderful things that she has done in Alaska over the years. When we met her, she was working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. And she understood. She got it right away when we talked about the fact that it was ridiculous for the state to spend a thousand dollars a day at the time to keep this child in an intensive care unit, which is a terrible environment for someone who doesn't need that level of medical care. She understood it right away. And basically, she said this is not -- I'm just not going to allow this to happen. And we had hit our head against brick wall after brick wall trying to find a way to provide enhanced funding for the kind of care that this child was going to need, which was maybe 20 percent or 10 percent of what the -- was costing to keep him in the hospital, but which was nevertheless many dollars more than the foster care system was prepared to pay. And basically, she put her foot down, she said, I don't care. If this is what you need, this is where we're going to get it, and we will make sure that you have the funds necessary so that my wife doesn't have to work, she can spend the time that she needs to with the child, and she can get the services that she needs to keep the kid in our home. I always had the suspicion that there was a storm of bureaucratic nonsense that she just was an umbrella protecting us from during that whole period of time. And she was just one of those people who saw that it was the right thing to do, and she said that's what's going to get done, and she did. And she did it no matter how hard the work -- how hard it was to make it work and no matter what it meant in terms of her own efforts. And that is typical of Ella. Now, I've -- I've worked with Ella in other capacities since then. She left the Bureau of Indian Affairs, she was on the Older Alaskans Commission, and may still be there, I don't -- I'm not sure. But she was very active when I was on the Mental Health Trust with issues relating to older Alaskans and has been a very effective advocate on their behalf. She is a woman pioneer in Alaska, and I believe she's been very effective both as an example as an advocate on behalf of women in the state. You're in for a treat; she's a wonderful lady.
Vern Weiss was interviewed by Bill Schneider with Karen Brewster and Karen Perdue on April 24, 2007 in the Butrovich Building at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He lives in Nenana, but was interviewed while he was in Fairbanks on other business. Karen Perdue, Associate Vice-President for Health Programs for the University of Alaska helped with the interview. As former State Commissioner of Health and Social Services she has personal interest in the Mental Health Trust case and knew Vern. Vern Weiss was the lead name on the 1982 lawsuit filed against the State of Alaska for misuse of the Mental Health Trust. As the parent of a child with mental illness, Vern tells a compelling story of his frustrations with the State's mental health programs and his role in the lawsuit and settlement.
Click to section:
Section 1: Personal background of growing up in Southern Illinois.
Section 2: Four years of service in the Naval Air Force stationed in Hawaii, and different jobs he held during this time.
Section 3: Honorable discharge from the Naval Air Force, his educational background, marriage and raising a family.
Section 4: Finding his way into the Mental Health system because he was seeking services for his mentally impaired child, and involvement with the lawsuit over the Trust lands.
Section 5: His son’s mental disability and experience with Alaska’s mental health system.
Section 6: Difficulties Carl Weiss has had living with mental illness.
Section 7: Struggling with his son’s illness, and trying to get help from the system and the schools.
Section 8: Trying to get professional help for his son and the lack of quality care.
Section 9: How Steve Cowper became involved with the Trust case and the lawsuit Weiss filed against the State of Alaska, and the network of supporters and allies he developed.
Section 10: Getting involved in the mental health system and lawsuit because of a desire for better services for his son, and role in the settlement process.
Section 11: Funding for the Mental Health Trust and management of resources and land.
Section 12: Mental Health Trust Authority board, and mining revenue supporting the Mental Health Trust.
Section 13: Setting up health clinics in railbelt communities of interior Alaska, and opinion about the Mental Health Trust Authority.
Section 14: Effects of the mental health trust lawsuit and opinion about government versus private control of the Trust.
Section 15: Conflict with environmental groups over land selections during the Trust land settlement.
Section 16: Past and present treatment of the mentally ill, and his involvement with the mental health system and organizations.
Section 17: The process of acquiring lands and pushing to settle the Trust lands case by freezing the assets, and his opinion about whether the settlement was a fair deal.
Section 18: Role in the settlement lawsuit as a representative for the public, and people he considers to be heroes of the effort.
Section 19: Other people he worked with during the settlement period, and disagreement with the Alliance for the Mentally Ill in Alaska over issues and lobbying during the settlement.
Section 20: Impact of his involvement with the trust settlement.
Section 21: Conflict with the State Department of Natural Resources over the management of the Trust lands and funds.
Section 22: Update about his son’s life and effect of the Mental Health Trust case.
Section 23: Suspicion about decisions made by the State government over mining contracts.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Today is April 24th, 2007, I'm Bill Schneider. Karen Brewster and Karen Perdue are here, and we have the pleasure today of talking with Vern Weiss. And I appreciate you making time to -- to do this. And I'm sorry about your ankle, I'm sure it hurts, but I'm glad we could catch you. VERN WEISS: Yeah, well, I'm finally glad we caught up. I wasn't sure what day when I talked to you, what we had, I've been busy with other things, kind of got off track.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, that's fine. I'm just glad you can do it now. Let's start by having you talk a little bit about your life very briefly and how you came to Alaska. VERN WEISS: Well, I'm a Korean vet. And I was born and raised in Illinois in the farm country. And my parents were owners of a dry cleaning business, tailoring and shoe repair shop. And there's just two brothers, me and my brother. We -- we grew up on the -- you know, all of us right there in Southern Illinois on the old Lincoln Trail. It goes to Springfield. And we turned part of that property into -- into a state park, they call it Red Hill State Park now. It's about a thousand, 1500 acres. Section 2:
And that's when the Korean War broke out. I was just turning 19. Or I was going on. And they were going to catch me if I didn't go to college, so I -- I volunteered to go into the Naval Air Force. I spent four years in there, and I traveled not too awful much. We -- I got -- I wound up going to Great Lakes for my basic and then I went down to Jacksonville, Florida, for one course there, and it was in aviation maintenance, and then to Memphis, Tennessee, and then out to the Golden Gate, San Francisco. That's the first time I ever saw the Pacific Ocean there when I was 20. Then we went to Hawaii. Seasick. I spent two and a half years in an 800-man squadron. And during that time, I shore patrolled, Hawaiian Services Police. And they had -- they had -- we had to rotate in and out of special duties. I got a good lifeguard job for about four or five months, and that was nice. And then the rest of it is just maintenance. We were around aircraft carriers, like the Oriskany, and the Kearsarge would come into Pearl Harbor. We'd unload the battered airplanes or whatever was tore up and send them to O & R, which is an overhaul and repair service in the Main -- in the Mainland. Section 3:
And during that time, I was interested in all the sports that went on around Hawaii. I surfed and did a little scuba diving. And that was about -- recreation. That was about the extent of it at that time. I got -- 1955 I was stationed in San Diego and I was discharged, honorable discharge. And from then on, I started going to college here and there. And from Utah State to San Mateo College in California, and junior college in Indiana. During that time, I picked up a lot of trade -- several different trades in the construction business, and I started building and working for myself. I finally wound up getting married in Hawaii. And there was three children, three -- the two -- two boys and a girl. The girl lives in Utah, she has three -- I have three grandchildren from her family. And my son, older son has two. He's on the Yukon River here as a captain, and I'm proud to say he was probably one of the best captains that ever hit the river. He -- he made it in three years, after he was 18 years old, he came up here and went one year to school, and he just didn't want it, he wanted that river. And there was nothing I could do. I guess you say you tell them what you want them to do, but you don't -- they are going to do what they want to do, whatever. If it's -- if it's got that much draw to their future. And he's done real well. I've been married to my -- my present wife for over 20 -- around 25 years now. We got married in Hawaii. And I've been up in -- I worked the pipeline. Followed the construction from the Pump Station 1 all the way down to the bridge, Yukon Bridge. Section 4:
And then I bought a business in Nenana and I got into the mental health system through Steve Cowper, Governor Cowper. He -- they found out about us because we had a -- a child that was impaired at birth, and we were trying to get services for him and without too much success at that time. That was the early '80s. The trust -- trust lands were being managed by DNR, and I met the attorneys that were in charge of the -- the class action against the state on the -- on the trust permit on trust lands, and I represented the people versus the state for over 20 years. A long, drawn-out affair. We were in and out of Juneau I don't know how many times. All kinds of environmentalists were tackling this during that time, and everything from the trout fishermen to the Sierra Club. They basically were just holding up our progress in getting the settlement done fairly. And it was -- it was still sort of an open issue whenever we finished up. I think you might agree with that, Karen. Still is, in my mind. So I may have to go back and just shake things up again. Section 5:
BILL SCHNEIDER: Let's back up and would you talk a little bit about your son. Is it Carl?
VERN WEISS: Carl?
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
VERN WEISS: He had oxygen starvation -- starvation, I think. This is the basic original problem that we weren't aware of it, but I did have it recorded in the process of him being delivered. I was in the room whenever they delivered him, and I noticed that the umbilical cord was over the top of his head as he was being delivered. And that -- goodness, 5, 10 minutes maybe, maybe longer. At about two years -- two to three years old, I realized there was something going on and we had to find out what -- what was happening. And we went to the clinics in Seattle and took some EKG's, tests on the brain, and we couldn't really find anything wrong. And it was just from then on, to make a long story short, and what the efforts were to find out really what was happening, we went through just about every evaluation there was in the books. And they never could come up with anything that was -- that fit the -- fit the symptoms except for the oxygen starvation. And it hasn't been put into the records officially for Carl to understand this. We're the only -- I'm the only one who actually would -- could testify to that -- that situation, if he needed to know more about his history. We had to release him out of the API or the mental health system here in Alaska when he was 21. He proved to them that he could survive. And from then on, I've had a couple of rounds where he showed up in Newark, New Jersey. I happened to be in Florida about that time. I was shocked that he was over there. I couldn't find -- I didn't know exactly how he got there. Section 6:
But there was a church group out at this area. I persuaded him to come into their organization, and from there, they went to a church camp in California. And he decided he was going to go for a hitchhike across the country. And pickup trucks and big semis and whatever got him to Newark. And he wound up into staying with a truck driver and the truck driver's mother, and they were -- they were Black -- it was a Black family.
But the driver was a -- he was on drugs. And he got all the -- all of my -- all the money that Carl had on him. And he asked for more. And I said, well, all I'm going to send to you is enough to get you to Seattle, and if you get to Seattle, I'll get a ticket for you to get back home. And somehow they cashed the money. I don't know what they did, but he lost it again.
And I called the -- I called the state agency, Yvonne Jacobson, and talked to her about the situation, and they said, okay, we'll get him. And he was in a clinic. I -- I did find somebody that could understand what was going on, or partially, and finally I said, make sure he's in a hospital and watched, you know, in a secure area. And don't let him get out or escort him to the plane or whatever, but don't let him out of your sight. So he wound up back up here in Anchorage and into the system again. And he was getting Social Security of about 8 or $900 a month. And that's all that he was living on. He wouldn't -- he wouldn't work. He just absolutely would not work. The kid was a -- physically sound as anybody could be, but mentally, just there was no drive to take responsibility and go out and make a living. Section 7:
BILL SCHNEIDER: Before Steve Cowper arrived, what was your experience with the mental health system?
VERN WEISS: We couldn't get any -- any activity or any issues like evaluations and whatever, out of -- through the school system in Nenana. We found his -- his records under the desk of the superintendents, or just laying in files. They weren't -- they were more or less discarded or hid out of sight. And they were just hoping that Carl would just go away.
But there was no way this could happen. The kid was doing all kinds of crazy -- I mean, just all -- all kinds of mischief and everything was going on around him. And he had a -- sort of a -- an attitude that he liked -- he liked anybody that was Black, for some reason, he would -- he liked Black people. And if there was a wrestler or a big tough guy like a gorilla or whatever, and there was a lot of noise from cars that were racing or what, different -- different issues that sort of -- I guess it was -- the aggressive sounds and attitudes that people had that attracted him. He didn't like anything that was mental. He didn't understand jokes, he didn't understand poetry, he didn't understand a whole -- actually, he couldn't -- he couldn't really say what he was doing at the moment was wrong. He didn't know -- he couldn't -- he couldn't analyze anything. The right side of the brain didn't connect with the left side. And then the feedback of what to do with it was never there. So to me the birth problem was mainly the cause. But -- but the schools ignored those kids. They didn't care whether they lived or died at that time. And I went to Healy to question them down there, and the supervisor -- superintendent wouldn't even talk to me when he found out who I was. He just absolutely ignored it. I wanted to put -- I wanted to put a mental health agent into the school there at Healy because I knew there was some problems there, too. And -- and then Nenana, they -- they didn't have anybody until -- who was there. There was a Linda somebody, I think, that had the -- she was an attorney for the children here.
KAREN PURDUE: I don't remember.
VERN WEISS: Real skinny. Yeah.
KAREN PURDUE: I don't remember her name. VERN WEISS: Oh, what was her name. She was a good attorney, but they had attorneys for these children at that age to take care of them and make sure that they was being treated right and -- and going through the programs that they needed to go through. Section 8:
There was several different things that they could -- they could -- they would try to get them involved in such as summer camps and FAA training for -- what was that program that they had for kids.
KAREN PURDUE: Civil Air Patrol?
VERN WEISS: Civil Air Patrol. He tried that, didn't work. He just didn't -- they went up in a glider and I don't know whether he enjoyed it or what, but he never did go back up the second time. BILL SCHNEIDER: So this would have been around what year?
VERN WEISS: 19 -- oh, about in the '80s. Let's see, we started moving into -- well, we brought him to this center right off of -- was it Fahrenkamp?
KAREN BREWSTER: The Fahrenkamp Center?
KAREN PURDUE: Yeah, but I don't think it was there in the early '80s.
VERN WEISS: This -- KAREN PURDUE: Yeah, the Fahrenkamp Center is here.
VERN WEISS: Yeah. They -- they had -- they had classes there. And that's where they got the -- oh, I want to call it where the parents volunteer to take care of kids like him.
KAREN PURDUE: Respite -- respite care. VERN WEISS: Respite care. We had two or three respite care systems going, and none of them worked out. Because he just -- he would backfire on them and just run them silly. So that sometime one guy's wife was just about to have a nervous breakdown for the stunts he was pulling. And there was nothing -- there was nothing that was physically done to him, it was what he was thinking and how he was thinking. Especially when he got curious about certain things sexually and he just flipped everybody out. He didn't know how to ask a question or receive the answer. And he -- all these oddball things, he did -- you just take for granted you could do, you know what -- you know how to handle it, but -- but he didn't -- he could not handle anything that was -- that was, oh, a practical approach on anything other than just going out and kicking a can and hearing it ring. That was about it. Section 9:
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, let's back up a little bit, then. At what point did -- and why did Steve Cowper arrive at your doorstep?
VERN WEISS: Because he found out that we were concerned parents that wanted to see some -- some progress in treatment, and -- and analyzing what the -- was wrong with his mind. And we couldn't -- we couldn't get any satisfactory results from the school system in Nenana. They didn't even know where to send him. And they wouldn't -- they wouldn't give us any information or what to do with him until this -- I think it was -- well, Steve Cowper walked into our office first, and then I saw the attorney the second time. And things started up and then we brought him into the Fahrenkamp Center and left him there for evaluations and schooling, and then let -- we -- we tried the respite care system. It didn't work. It wasn't successful with him.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But what was -- what was in it for Steve? What was -- VERN WEISS: Political reasons. I know that the mental health system was pretty well at the bottom of the barrel for cash to operate, and when we opened the case up officially, the money started coming in, bringing -- you know, bring up the budget -- I'm not sure how much it was increased, probably 50, 75 million. Maybe 100. Somewhere in there that first four or five years. And I think -- my guess right now is probably about 250 million.
KAREN PURDUE: It was probably more than that.
VERN WEISS: Maybe. Well, you're probably closer to it than I am. But anyway, I know they run the rocks. And then there was always fighting over API down there and wondering what to do with that. And they were all -- Juneau was pulling one direction and Anchorage was going another. And I don't think when I left in the '90s they were still settled over API. What did they do with it? KAREN PURDUE: Replaced it.
VERN WEISS: Replaced it? Shut it down?
KAREN PURDUE: Built a new building.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But backing up, had you been outspoken that he would know about you? Or...
VERN WEISS: I think we -- I don't know how that -- I think there was a school nurse or somebody in Nenana that tipped the mental health system off. And then his -- Cowper's connection to the mental health was -- I just don't know how he met up with them. But I know that he was interested in getting this issue out in front of him so that he could be kind of the leader in it and getting the ball rolling, and it was going to help him politically in Juneau, which he was doing a good thing. He wasn't -- he was trying to get something to happen that had -- that should have -- should have been started years and years before that. And I think it was around '84 or '85 that David Walker came into the picture. Jim Gottstein, I think, was already there. John Malone was in the picture, too, out of Bethel. And Vicky. Karen -- Sharon or Karen, Sharon Lobaugh. She was a wife of a veterinarian in Juneau. And what was Pat's last name? Pat --
KAREN PURDUE: Clasby. VERN WEISS: Clasby, yeah. And then there was -- oh, there was just dozens of these guys around, I mean, that had a lot -- the mental health system had -- the board of directors, and I don't think I can remember half of them anymore.
BILL SCHNEIDER: We're picking up the click.
VERN WEISS: Oh, okay. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hang on just a second. Let's just see, how is the sound coming across?
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I can hear the background noise but Vernon is louder than the background.
KAREN PURDUE: Let me go tell her to keep it down over there. We'll get some water, too.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, let's stop for just a minute. This is good.
VERN WEISS: Yeah. This is 25 years ago.
KAREN BREWSTER: It's still running.
BILL SCHNEIDER: You're doing well. You're doing a good job. Well, we can why don't we just say for the purposes of the transcription that we'll pick up on.
Let's go back on. Section 10:
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. We're back on. So your involvement after Steve Cowper took on the case and David Walker became involved, you continued to be involved.
VERN WEISS: Yeah. BILL SCHNEIDER: Let's trace the history of your involvement and -- and tell me why you stayed involved.
VERN WEISS: Well, mainly it was there was there was no real answer to what was wrong with my son. I wanted to pursue that farther. And we had a lot of discussions with Washington D.C., their headquarters back there, but they couldn't come up with much more than what we had right here in Anchorage -- in the state of Alaska. It was all the same scenario, just about. They -- and you wound up listening to everybody, well, this is autism, this is -- oh, let's see. There was this other -- they were -- they were using medications that were just outrageous. I took my -- I brought Carl home one day and he was normally alert and just, you know, watching everything and jabbering everywhere and his lower lip was just drooping down. You could see he wasn't mentally alert and he was like some little drooling baby. And that was -- that wasn't the answer. They said, well, he's really quiet, he's behaving. The reason he's behaving is he's drugged up so bad he can't do anything. Or he couldn't even think to be naughty. But all of us fought our different battles. Karen -- or Sharon Lobaugh, her kid would go crazy in the house and just tear up things. And he loved knives. He had me scared one day, I was down there, and he was up there in the kitchen, he wanted to cook, show me how to cook. And he had all the butcher knives out and everything else. And I was sitting there, boy, getting a little uptight watching that emotion going on, I didn't know whether he was going to decide to dice me up and put me in the skillet or not. But I -- I just, you know, kind of played along with his little game, let him -- let him do his -- or fantasy or whatever you want to call it right there -- right there by himself. Thanked him and I got out of there.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But you stayed involved quite awhile. VERN WEISS: Yeah. I stayed involved then until about 1998, '99.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And tell us about some of the things you did.
VERN WEISS: Well, I -- I was in touch with Gottstein, Jim Gottstein an awful lot and Dave Walker. And we -- we were either going to court in Anchorage or Fairbanks. Megan Green was one of the -- one of the judges up here. She was in on the final closure of the -- of the Mental Health Trust issue, which at that point we decided, well, it's -- at the best, it was a win-win. It wasn't anywhere, in my mind, totally -- totally settled, it was because they split our issues off, a team, Phil Volland, Jeff Jessee, and Usibelli, and who else was involved in that? They went to Juneau. And there was no transparency in their meetings. All we would do is just find out that there was a meeting. So they split -- actually split this issue to get us off and out to where they -- we could say uncle and just stop and forget it. That's about all -- all that happened. Section 11:
Usibelli got their way, they -- I think they wound up there maybe at 10 percent duty they paid on their production, someplace in there, it hadn't changed. We didn't get anything out of any of the oil fields. Fort Knox up here, Jeff Jessee said he was satisfied with the agreement they had, but they signed an -- a contract with Fort Knox that was weak, very, very weak because what they had -- they had the cart before the horse. They -- they let Fort Knox cook their books. They was taking all the gold in. But -- but they wouldn't balance their books out until everything was processed, and they'd sent where -- sent the products -- product out of state and was looking for more gold. By the time they got done with it, there wasn't anything left on the table for mental health. And the last word I got, maybe I'm wrong on this one, but they hadn't collected a darn thing for 10 years.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Are you saying that the money went back into exploration?
VERN WEISS: Back into exploration and mental health did not get anything out of Fort Knox. Have you -- have you been in on any of this issue at all? Well, this is the information that's come -- come to me. And I don't think they are wrong about it. BILL SCHNEIDER: So there were issues about the types of investments and types of settlement.
VERN WEISS: Right. Well, the main issues was just the replacement of the valuable property. We were working with a -- they estimated the trust to be about -- let's see, about 5 to 6 billion -- 5.3 or 6.3 billion dollars was what the value of the original trust was estimated at. And that was all gold, minerals, timber, fisheries, farmlands, and the space that they had in Anchorage, and river estuaries, expansion of the cities, like -- like Fairbanks and Anchorage, they -- they took over a lot of mental health land. And they could never give -- give it back to where it's -- or replace it in any sort of a way. It was just too complicated.
We had to -- we had -- then that forced the attorneys to go looking for something that was equivalent to the loss. And so we wound up with the Goodpaster gold fields. And not too much else other than the Chugach Range up in the -- there by Anchorage. And Inumitsu had an interest in the coal mining out of Palmer up towards Tok, or what is it, going out towards the Copper River. There's a glacier when you leave Palmer on the right-hand side, there's a big gold field -- I mean, a coal field, or up in that area there.
KAREN PURDUE: Uh-hum. Uh-hum. Uh-hum. VERN WEISS: That could be -- I'm not sure. But anyway, Inumitsu was a large -- a real big coal mining firm out of -- out of Japan that wanted to live out -- and at that time we had a lis pendens on every inch of the trust that we could find so that they couldn't sell it or -- or purchase it or anything at that point until we got this grant settled. And that moved it forward for awhile. But then there was a lot of impatience in Juneau and DNR, Usibelli, and there was no more transparency with what Usibelli was doing. And we -- we were trying to keep up with getting a fair shake out of things no matter which way it turned. And it finally wound up in Megan Green's lap here in Fairbanks to make some of the final decisions of how -- how it was going to be managed. Section 12:
I'm not sure, I think the Governor did the appointments on -- on the Trust Authority. There was five guys in there, five of them. Jeff Jessee, John Malone, one guy that knew Max, had about five or six of them. But I don't know who is still on there. I don't know who is left. KAREN PURDUE: John is the original -- he's still a trustee.
VERN WEISS: He's still in there, huh?
KAREN PURDUE: Jeff is the director, executive director. BILL SCHNEIDER: So just for the explanation for the people listening and for ourselves here, on the Usibelli, was -- what was the issue there in terms of had Usibelli purchased land that was originally trust land or was it different?
VERN WEISS: They were mining it.
BILL SCHNEIDER: They were mining it?
VERN WEISS: Yeah. BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. And so a share of that was supposed to go back?
VERN WEISS: Yeah. I think it was around 10 -- 10 or 11 percent --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay.
VERN WEISS: -- to the mental health. And I'm not sure what -- what their budget was at any time. I'm going to say we were really turning into the trust at that point. All I know is that they were probably doing a better job than they did in the very beginning. But Usibelli, they are just like any other big business here in Alaska, they run -- they run the show.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-hum.
VERN WEISS: They are going to get what they want whether you like it or not.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, were those Mental Health Trust lands --
VERN WEISS: Yeah. They were -- they --
KAREN BREWSTER: -- that had been sold to them by the state? VERN WEISS: I think what they did is they just leased it. They didn't -- they didn't own the property. They leased the rights to mine it.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. VERN WEISS: I don't know how much there's -- there's... And up there all they have been doing as far as I know is strip mining, and then reclaiming the -- the ground, which I guess they are doing all right on that. Section 13:
BILL SCHNEIDER: When we were talking at lunch, you mentioned that you were also active over the years in setting up clinics?
VERN WEISS: Yeah, I set up four clinics.
BILL SCHNEIDER: When did you do that?
VERN WEISS: Right about 1990, '91.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Tell us about that. VERN WEISS: Well, I found out that there was a -- there was some information in the -- at the commissioner's office about they were thinking about doing a grant up in the northern region of the Railbelt there, and I looked into it and it was just sitting there without any attention at all. It was just -- just a piece of paper then. And I asked around and I said, what's -- what's the possibilities of getting that grant written and get us going? And that's four stations, one in Cantwell, one in Healy, one in Anderson and the main office is in Nenana. And the commissioner said yes. And there was kind of a pinch on time, I think, there. I had about 48 hours to get that grant done, and Dr. -- what's his name? He worked for David Walker. With David Walker.
KAREN PURDUE: He worked with David Walker?
VERN WEISS: Yeah.
KAREN PURDUE: Dr. -- you mean he was working with the state or was he -- VERN WEISS: He was working with David Walker. He was a -- he was a colonel in the Air Force, I think.
KAREN PURDUE: We're talking about Railbelt Mental Health?
VERN WEISS: No, not Railbelt. I'm talking about -- it was this paperwork on the grant that had -- or I mean, the -- the proposal, I guess, was just laying in the commissioner's office, and they weren't activating it or doing anything with it, so I took it upon myself to get busy on something. And in about 48 hours, I had a grant. And it was written down there. What's his name. Scholl.
KAREN PURDUE: Dennis?
VERN WEISS: Dennis Scholl. Dr. Scholl.
KAREN PURDUE: Yes, Dennis. Yes. VERN WEISS: He wrote the grant. Or he helped write it. I got all the paperwork and said, well, there it is. I'd never wrote a grant in my life and didn't know the A from Z on those things. I needed help.
And then at first Dennis didn't want to have anything to do with it, and I just went over there with tears in my eyes, I wanted to have that grant bad. And he did it. And then we came up here and had meetings, town meetings in Healy and at Nenana, and we invited the people in from Cantwell and Anderson to attend the meetings, and then we wound up taking in the Native tribes that were -- one tribe, the Athabascans, I believe, that we went into Copper Center. So they are under that umbrella down there, too, on way up here. I don't know what the budget is anymore, but I'll bet it's pretty close to 7- or 800,000.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Did you benefit from that, or did Carl benefit from that? VERN WEISS: I never drew a penny out of anything. All I got is my transportation paid for here and there.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Did --
VERN WEISS: Carl -- Carl didn't get anything, either. He just got his Social Security and that was it.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But he didn't benefit from those services at that point?
VERN WEISS: Pardon?
BILL SCHNEIDER: But he didn't benefit from the services at that time? VERN WEISS: Carl was getting services. Yeah, he was getting a lot of it. But it was just one right after another was a failure, one right after another. They would try one thing and then they would try something else, and -- and they -- he went through just about everything from -- you know, I think he tried out every quiet room in the country. BILL SCHNEIDER: But when you were -- when were you working on this grant, this 48-hour grant, was Carl still at home at that point?
VERN WEISS: Let's see. He was here in Fairbanks.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay.
VERN WEISS: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: So he didn't -- once those clinics were set up, he was no longer needing their services? VERN WEISS: Well, he didn't need the -- the counseling down there. That's mostly based around family issues and drug addictions and whatever. And then the -- the more complicated problems come here to Fairbanks.
BILL SCHNEIDER: How did you hear about that grant opportunity? VERN WEISS: Well, it was -- it was through the commissioner's office. I don't remember exactly how. There was a -- I think it was probably Yvonne Jacobs that tipped me off. She always knew what was happening down there more than anybody, I think. And --
KAREN BREWSTER: Did you serve on the Mental Health Trust Authority Board after the lawsuit was settled?
VERN WEISS: No. No. I wasn't very well liked after I left. BILL SCHNEIDER: Why was that?
VERN WEISS: I was too bullheaded on a few things. I knew we weren't getting a fair shake, or I had the -- you know, the intuition to know that there was some stuff going on that shouldn't have gone on. And I couldn't put a finger on it, but I knew it was wrong. And they didn't want anybody in there that would do oversight on them. They all wanted -- they wanted the guys that was -- their heads were turned all in one direction, and their thoughts and issues were all about in line and that's the way it worked. And it worked pretty well, I think, for quite a bit -- I would say about half, two-thirds of the time, it was working okay, but there's other things that they are not paying attention to. They are selling land off the trust that's underpriced. Section 14:
Now, this came out of Juneau just recently. There was, I think, 470 -- between 4 and 500 acres north of Juneau that went to contractors for a sum, right on the beach. And DNR had their fingers right in there as usual doing the deed. What do we want to do? KAREN PURDUE: I don't want to mess up your interview. You know, I'd like to talk to you, but this is your day, let's talk about your things.
VERN WEISS: Well, my memory is full of holes on this because that's been a long time ago. And I had probably 6- or 700 pounds of paperwork.
KAREN PURDUE: Uh-hum. BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, it's amazing that you were involved as long as you were and even after Carl had left home. And you were pretty dedicated to it.
VERN WEISS: Well, I wanted to see it work. I wanted to see it work like it should. Because, like I say, we had -- even -- even Hammond was against it. And I was surprised. And he was one -- I think he was one of the guys that probably had -- was in on the -- a charter, the original charter for Alaska. And then between Hammond and two or three other governors, they didn't want any trusts. In fact, they didn't even want the trust for this to be allowed for the university. They wanted to dissolve it because they were -- I mean, they thought there was Juneau over out -- it was going to affect the state's treasury and not give them enough revenues to do their business in Juneau, you know the song and dance. BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, I guess that raises the overall question of how well has it worked out? How well has the idea of trust lands and a settlement worked out for people that need that mental health assistance? VERN WEISS: I think they still need that. If it was really managed, that they should take DNR out of the mental health system, period. And have a management firm take care of that, take care of the revenues and the contracts and everything. Get them away from the government and -- and work it from that direction because we're not getting a fair shake. There's -- land is the most valuable thing in the world. And that was one of the statements I made at the last -- one of the last hearings. I mean, you cannot replace it. It's there. You've got to use it, you know, you make your money off of it, you live off of it, you've got -- your future's there and the past is there, everything. It doesn't change. Section 15:
BILL SCHNEIDER: Let me -- let me ask one more question and then maybe the Karens have questions.
You mentioned earlier that the environment -- environmentalists had held up the settlement. Could you elaborate on that? VERN WEISS: I wish I had the list. We had -- number one, we had the Sierra Club. Trout -- trout fishermen, the trappers, and the -- the greenies side, I don't know who all they were. There was about a dozen of them just sitting there with their hand out. And the biggest -- the biggest one was the Sierra Club. And I don't know how many attorneys they had, I know they had about three or four that I knew of. But they were always suing us about everything, every time we would take a turn, like picking up only the wells down in the Cook Inlet, or moving north and going into Prudhoe Bay, and doing -- doing something up there. I don't know for sure how many places we picked on to trade off, you know, and get -- get back equal value that was stolen out of our trust, literally just taken out of it. They didn't -- they didn't probably exchange a dime hardly in a lot of cases. But it -- whenever the -- whenever the Sierra Club would get done with one issue, they would send us -- send us a bill and we had to pay for it. The mental health paid for everything to be sued.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And --
VERN WEISS: Now, what would you do?
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, I'm a little confused. So you mean when there was an exchange that was going to take place, they would hold it up because they were concerned? VERN WEISS: They would -- they would fight it for some reason or another, you know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But how could they then bill you, bill the Mental Health Trust?
VERN WEISS: That's what I'd like to know. That's a good question.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay.
VERN WEISS: Why don't they -- why don't they do the state?
KAREN PURDUE: I don't know. I'm not familiar with that. I didn't understand that. VERN WEISS: That's what was happening. I didn't understand it, either. Somebody was filling their pockets on it pretty darn healthy. I mean, it was up in the millions that they got us for just legal -- legal issues.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, I guess the course in all the interviews we've been doing is the issue of making money off of land has really created issues with all sorts of different groups because of the competition for it. VERN WEISS: You know, it -- well, look at Anchorage. It was -- 90 percent of that land, I think, down there was mental health, the flat area there. And all of it's developed. You're not going to get anything back out of that very easy. That's a trade-off. KAREN PURDUE: The original selections, you know, were around townsites, they did an excellent job around townsites and coal fields, and so on, and a lot of that land then had been given away by the state and/or by the statehood transfer. So Juneau's the same. There are large, large areas of Juneau that are -- still are Mental Health Trust. VERN WEISS: Yeah, there is. And there's -- there's -- I don't know whether -- whether they changed the -- the trust lands there in Nenana, but there was several -- several sections of land north and west and a little bit south of us. And then east they had, I would say, about 15, 20 sections of land, at least, up the Tanana River. And then the first big valley, just east of the railroad bridge, there's a huge valley back in there. And then they ran across this down south -- southeast of Nenana through -- across the river, some swampy land, some timber, and grassy stretches and -- in that area. But some of it's been homestead land for maybe three or four acres, lots and things like that. But what's happening now -- I'll bet you in 20 years, if they open up the gas fields, you'll have gas wells right out here in your backyard. All the way to Holy Cross. Because they've got 3.3 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves in a 10-mile section right there, just across the -- the Nenana River from us in Nenana. Section 16:
KAREN PURDUE: I have a couple of comments and then a question for you. The -- it's just amazing to me, like Bill said, how long you stuck with this. And it must have been -- it must have been given you a little thought when Steve Cowper came to you and said I want to put your name on this lawsuit and sort of put yourself out there on an issue that, you know, let's face it, in the old days, still even today, it's sort of a stigma to -- to talk about mental health issues. VERN WEISS: Well, I had an aunt when I was a kid about that tall, I remember they had her in place in Annon, in Illinois. And she would sit around and pick the threads out of her dress all day long. And they would have to replace it. She would just pick it to pieces. And you couldn't keep her at home. She was intelligent, she could read and write, nice, she wasn't mean or anything like that, but just couldn't function. And they kept her there all her life in a sanitorium, and that was the old way of doing things in those days, you just stored them away. But what happened in those situations is if I didn't like you and you were my daughter, or you had a -- a husband or somebody that thought you was a little screwy or something, and put her in a sanatorium and that was it for you for the rest of your life. No getting out of it. And now they overrode that and left, you know, since the mental health systems have been changed a lot in the last 25 years, 30 years, that's one thing they got rid of. And then they went the opposite direction, they went, rolled over like we were talking about before, individual records and things were top secret. You could not move your mental health system in -- into the police station or your records, you couldn't get them to the FBI, you wouldn't give it -- not even the government, federal government could have access to it. And that -- that seemed to be okay at first, but then what happened here a week ago in Virginia, that just blew that all to pieces. And you and I know that. I mean, if there's something wrong with somebody, they send them into school, they are a danger to themselves or somebody else around them, the school should know. KAREN PURDUE: It's a struggle in our society back and forth.
VERN WEISS: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it's our Constitution. There's problems there that's not been right or righted for certain things.
KAREN PURDUE: Yeah. Like what you're saying is you -- as I hear you saying anyway, you know, that there were other family and other things you had seen, you felt like it was kind of a rights issue, an equal rights or justice issue for -- I don't want to put words in your mouth. VERN WEISS: Well, it was -- yes. That's part of it, yeah. That was part of it. But it -- my -- my goal was to find out what the cause -- what was the cause, for sure, and if it's curable. We never came up with a valid answer. All those years that we had Carl in this system here, they never really evaluated him promptly or right. They would guess. And, I mean, he had everything from schizophrenia to autism, and they had him under anger control treatments. They couldn't figure out what was really going.
But to be around a kid like that, you know darn well he's hearing everything, but he would -- and the only thing that would stick with him is some sort of a physical thing. There was strong, big and strong, maybe they would pick up a boulder and throw it like Mr. -- what is that guy in -- the Black guy that used to be on a series? And Carl -- Carl thought that was the greatest guy in the world. He worshipped him. Or anybody that drove a fast car or a big car, made a lot of noise. He would take Social Security and he'd spend all his money on gas just to ride with somebody that had a noisy car. You'd ask him where it went, he would never tell you. He would not. He would clam up like a clam and you couldn't get anything out of him. KAREN PURDUE: Did you ever think, though, when Steve Cowper came to you that day and you put your name on that lawsuit that it would be 15 years and 600 feet of paper later? Did you ever think.
VERN WEISS: I never thought about it like that. I just thought it -- we've got a problem here and if we can help in some way to get it done -- I mean, to, you know, get it right, whatever's needed. I had no idea about the Morningside or what was going on in Anchorage with the clinics down there, South-central. I didn't have any idea there. I never met anybody at all until I met the -- I was invited into the Mental Health Trust to -- or the -- it was Alaska Mental Health Association or something like that in Anchorage. It wasn't -- it wasn't the state board or anything like that, never did get on that. I was on the -- on the --
KAREN BREWSTER: Is it the Alaska Alliance For the Mentally Ill?
VERN WEISS: Yeah. Alaska Alliance For the Mentally Ill. And I was also connected up with the national. I went out to two or three seminars -- two or three -- what do you call them -- not seminars, but --
KAREN BREWSTER: Conferences?
VERN WEISS: Conferences. Yeah. KAREN PURDUE: Well, another question I had for you was about the time you talked about the land, how valuable the land was, and the land over time is way more valuable than money.
VERN WEISS: Right.
KAREN PURDUE: And I know that in the middle of the settlement and near the end, that was the big -- that was one of the big issues, and you kind of alluded to that, which was should there just be a land settlement or should it be a cash and a land settlement, or more cash, you know, less land, that kind of thing. Section 17:
And then also the issue, I think, that seems like one of the things the trust got was this sort of a governance idea, this idea of being involved with the trust and advising the Governor on the mental health appropriations and so on. So it's kind of a wandering question, but... VERN WEISS: Was that through the Trust Authority?
KAREN PURDUE: Yeah, where they advised the Governor on this --
VERN WEISS: I never got into the bylaws on that end of it. I don't know whether -- what kind of --
KAREN PURDUE: But do you remember the time when there was the trade-offs going on? Is that an accurate perception? VERN WEISS: I don't have a -- I don't remember in detail anything like that. I just remember when they started kind of hinting around of who was going to be on the trust.
KAREN PURDUE: Yeah, but I mean on the issue of land versus money, and that whole issue.
VERN WEISS: That was not a very clear subject on -- for -- for me, or what David Walker or Jim Gottstein had on their minds. That was a -- a decision, I think, was made in the court, and they just took what was, you know, done through the -- through the judges that made the decisions. There was a lot of proposals.
Well, now, you know, see, this lis pendens that we had where we couldn't -- we froze everything in the trust. You couldn't sell or buy. And that -- that's what really stirred things up around the state and got everybody moving. And that -- so it pushed it towards a settlement sooner.
And then after -- after -- let's see. When did they lift it -- I don't think they lifted the lis pendens on the entire trust until sometime in the early '90s. It was still there. I'm almost sure it was. And then after that, what we -- what we were striving to get was an equal trade. Land for land or a gold mine for a gold mine or maybe equivalent in oil, or whatever, you know, whatever. And then we wanted the timber, some timber lands, you know, that had some value to it. And a lot of that would have been in south -- south -- Southeastern Alaska and some of the coastal forests down there, I think. But it was -- now, there's -- that's part of -- that's part of what the -- the way it's detailed, I didn't get to see all the details on those things. There's one guy that had control over the mapping, and he and I got along pretty good, but I was more or less fascinated on what was going on in Denali because I had some friends down there that lost their mines, gold mines, and they told them just to shut down and leave their -- leave their sheds and everything there. That Joe Jahola (phonetic) was one of them that he was the last depot chief or manager there in Nenana. And him and his wife, they had -- they had a good gold mine out there in the Kantishna area. And in fact, I got one of their old trucks they used to haul gas and stuff in out in -- out in that area in the summer. KAREN BREWSTER: So you're saying the settlement, you feel, wasn't an equal deal?
VERN WEISS: No.
KAREN BREWSTER: Equally --
VERN WEISS: No. No. Not by any chance. What we -- what they -- the Trust Authority had no really choices to make because what -- what they did, when they -- when they said we could have the Chugach settlement, I don't know how many thousands of acres is in that. I have no idea. But it was a heck of a lot of mountains, straight up and straight down. What are you going to do with a glacier? It kind of felt a little odd, you know. It's not very much -- not much you can do with that. And --
KAREN PURDUE: And I think that's why some of the money came forward, some of the cash came forward --
VERN WEISS: Could have been.
KAREN PURDUE: -- it seemed to me.
VERN WEISS: Yeah. Section 18:
KAREN BREWSTER: So what was -- during that whole 20 years of the settlement lawsuit and back and forth, what exactly was your role during that period?
VERN WEISS: I was just a representative for the public. People versus the state.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you would go to testify at things? VERN WEISS: Uh-hum. My attorneys did all the talking, I did the listening. I'll be frank with you, a lot of it went right over my head. I didn't even know what was going on for the first four or five years. It was soaking in, but I didn't know how much was really sticking. And sometimes you'd be pretty clear on what was going on and -- and I know -- I know a lot of times I went snooping around on my own, see what was happening. I remember one of the guys that was on the other side, I used to try to get him to go out and have coffee. He said, I can't do that, Vern. Why not? He says, this -- this is not right. You just can't do it. Confidentiality.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So Vern, who were -- who were some of the heroes of this fight? VERN WEISS: You know, I -- I would -- I just couldn't -- I would say David Walker would be. I think David was really trying to get a -- get something done right and so was Jim Gottstein.
Jim Gottstein had a problem, he was mentally ill when he was a kid, he pulled some pranks that almost lost his life over, and he -- and he more or less settled down and did pretty good. He's a real estate attorney. And David was a -- an attorney for government issues. He knew -- he knew pretty well what was going on inside the -- inside the committees and everything like this. He could sit at meetings and -- and we would go -- we would go in and listen to what the issues were about, and then David -- David -- I think they had about 30 -- 35 or 40 people working for them at the time, at the peak of it, right there in Anchorage. And David is somewhere in Virginia, I think. He moved out of town. Section 19:
KAREN BREWSTER: What about the opposite -- you just asked about heroes. What about the -- what's the opposite of heroes?
BILL SCHNEIDER: Being careful not to slander anyone.
VERN WEISS: Politically correct.
BILL SCHNEIDER: No. No, you don't even have to be politically correct.
KAREN BREWSTER: Who did you find that you may have had difficulties with? VERN WEISS: Phil Volland, Jeff Jessee, John Malone. I told you about I locked heads with them, and Sharon Lobaugh. She come out in tears one day while we were in Sitka or someplace, just squabbling about something. I didn't even know what she was talking about. KAREN BREWSTER: What were some of the issues you locked heads with?
VERN WEISS: It just -- it just was -- they -- the Alliance For the Mentally Ill in Alaska wanted me to represent them, and I didn't mind being, you know, a member of the group, but I was not going to lean towards just their -- their ideas and take the blame for whatever their favors were or whatever they wanted to present to the government or DNR, their complaints and all that sort of things. It was basically around a half a dozen people, and we've mentioned most of them. And John Malone was after me more or less just to move it all the way over to the right on their side, and I didn't -- I didn't do that. Stayed in the middle. I wanted -- I wanted to be as fair as possible and do what I could, but when -- when we ended that court sessions up here in Fairbanks, I was kind of glad to see the end of that. And then I got involved in the Railbelt and carried that on for another six years, somewhere in there, board chairman for a while. And I organized a -- another outfit 35, 40 people to represent the Railbelt as an Alliance For the Mentally Ill, they called them RAMI. And we had a full set of bylaws and a bank account, secretary, treasurer, and the whole works. And I knew as soon as I left that group it was going to die and it did. Just no interest. Section 20:
KAREN PURDUE: Did you ever talk to Steve Cowper after he became Governor or, you know, once he had to step out of the case, did you --
VERN WEISS: No. The only time -- yeah, me and Steve talked maybe about two or three minutes over the telephone one time. It was a question I had to ask him. And then he said, Vern, you know, I'm really sorry for some reasons about that mental health stuff. He said, I -- I've had -- I brought a lot of people into it and it turned their lives upside down, made a big -- or just more or less absorbed their time. And maybe just turned in the wrong way where if they would have been going on the same track, it would have probably been okay. But he was a little bit -- you know, I think he was a little -- what do I want to say. He was satisfied in one way, but dissatisfied in the other, disappointed that he hadn't -- that he kind of realized that he had pushed people too far. But basically, I think he was a pretty good guy. KAREN PURDUE: Were you happy that he came in and asked you to do this? I mean --
VERN WEISS: I had no feelings one way or the other. I thought it was just an opportunity to do something for our community and our kids. And I didn't realize exactly what I was really going to be up to. And it's one of those things that will grow in your backyard and pretty soon you don't know -- you're out in the field with all the rest of them, wondering how you got there. Because I got thousands of miles of travel all over this state back and forth between Juneau, Sitka, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Cincinnati. I didn't get back to Washington D.C. I kind of wanted to go back there. It's the only place I didn't really get into. Section 21:
KAREN BREWSTER: I have another question about the fact that this settlement took so long. And you sort of mentioned the environmentalists holding it up and suing. I'm wondering about the state in the Department of Natural Resources and your interactions with them, how that went. VERN WEISS: DNR was very stubborn. They -- they were kind of going on their own -- out on their own hook and managing it and taking care of the selling the land and trading this and that. And they weren't making very good decisions for the mental health budgets that they needed appropriations annually. I think what had happened, I'm not going to say for sure, but most -- a greater percentage of that and the benefits went into the -- the state's coffers. There wasn't any designated money coming back into the mental health department. And Jim Gottstein was in there for a purpose. He -- he knew what it was to have mental illness himself, and other people around him, and he's -- he's -- he's a champion, a fighter for mental health rights. I -- you know, this -- this is a whole new chapter now and people don't even remember what happened. A few of us get a little spotty things, but -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, I think this has been really helpful.
VERN WEISS: But I think -- I think I can probably get you some documents about that high to the sky. Some of them are really important issues in the middle of it, some --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, and you had mentioned someone who interviewed you --
VERN WEISS: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- and we can work on getting that name and address, we'd like to --
VERN WEISS: I will.
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- work on that.
VERN WEISS: I'll get that. It's in my index at home. Section 22:
BILL SCHNEIDER: Thank you very much for taking the time today.
VERN WEISS: Well, I don't feel like I really gave you a fair, a straight enough -- I mean, enough information. I know there's a lot more there, but I just can't remember it.
BILL SCHNEIDER: I think your personal story is what's important.
VERN WEISS: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And your son's.
VERN WEISS: Well, he's surviving. KAREN PURDUE: Where is he now?
VERN WEISS: Surfing. He's in Honolulu.
KAREN PURDUE: Oh. That's wonderful.
VERN WEISS: He just wound up down there all of a sudden. And his mom was down there, that was his -- he found out about that and that's how he got -- how he went down there, looking for her. He didn't know where she lived, but he found her. I don't know how he did it. He has -- he has a sense about traveling and directions. But when we traveled into the Midwest back in the early '80 -- well, mid '80s, I -- I didn't think he could read a map. But that little devil picked it up quicker than anybody. He knew what he was doing and he liked it.
KAREN PURDUE: So how old is he today? How old is he?
VERN WEISS: Let's see. He was born in 19 -- let's see. '70 -- December of '75 in Providence. Section 23:
KAREN BREWSTER: Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about that we haven't asked the questions about?
VERN WEISS: You know, I -- I don't know whether anybody wants to go political on it, but I'd like to see somebody initiate a move to open this up again and challenge DNR on their transactions down in Juneau, to start with. And also to make challenges against the contract with Fort Knox, their -- I don't think they are getting a fair shake at all.
I could be wrong, you know, as rumors are, and I haven't been active in the middle of things, and people have told me this several times, and that's what's going on up there right now. They are cooking the books. They are -- there's two ways of doing a contract. And if a guy's not honest and they got the gold mine, like these people up here do, they can write a contract to you and say, okay, here you are, you're going to get 10 percent, 20 percent, or 50 percent, but you're only -- you're -- but when do you get it? You don't -- you don't get it at the end of it because this is what they want you to do, or wind up with, is there's -- all the money is spent by the time that it gets to you, and your royalties aren't collectable, they are broke. What you want to do is get right off the top of the wellhead or right at the mine, what's coming out there daily, or weekly, or monthly. And that's how you get your -- get your full amount. Watch your -- watch your contracts. Because contractors are crooked. There's hundreds of them around that will do it. And the Canadians. I don't trust them, I don't trust Gibraltar Mines, I don't trust BP, Conoco Phillips, any of them. They are just -- I read the paper the other day, do you know how much that Permanent Fund is up to now? $37 billion. That's what it's sitting on now. We could buy out that dern pipeline up there, all of us.
BILL SCHNEIDER: All right. Thank you.