By Jeff Landfield and Nick Coltman
On Wednesday (1/19/2018) I received a tip that was hard to believe. It involved Eugene Smith and Sandra Shroyer-Beaver, two of the three people whose names were recently submitted to Governor Bill Walker by the Alaska Democratic Party as potential replacements for Dean Westlake (D- Kiana). Landmine readers will remember, Westlake recently resigned his District 40 seat amidst allegations of sexual harassment while in the legislature, and also because he fathered a child with a 16-year-old girl (15 during conception) while he was working for the Kotzebue Police Department.
The tipster reported that a video existed of Northwest Arctic Borough (NWAB) Mayor Clement Richards acting inappropriately with an underage girl. According to a complaint obtained by the Alaska Landmine, filed 2/6/17 with the State of Alaska Department of Law by Eugene Smith, “The incident started when the Borough Mayor was drunk and driving the Borough Vehicle and had a young girl in the vehicle with him. He almost hit another vehicle and the (sic) person (Chris Lie) was driving at the time. Chris decided to film the incident with his phone and was showing it to others in the community, he showed the video to our Public Services Director and then he notified me about it.”
Eugene Smith Complaint (Redacted) (I redacted personal contact info)
Before he was one of three nominees to fill Dean Westlake’s vacant seat, Eugene Smith was NWAB Mayor Richard’s Chief of Staff. The Department of Law complaint continues, “I was the Chief of Staff for the Borough at the time and notified the Mayor. I told our Mayor (Clement Richards) that he needs to go talk to Chris about the situation. Clement notified me that Chris agreed to delete the video and told Clement not to do that again.”
If the story ended here it would be sordid enough. But it gets worse. A lot worse.
The Kivalina School and Road Project
Mayor Richards had been actively advocating that a NWAB no-bid project management contract for Kivalina’s new school and road construction be awarded to Remote Solutions, LLC, a Kotzebue based Limited Liability Corporation owned by Iditarod champion John Baker and his fiancé Katherine Keith, also a musher.
In March 2016, Remote Solutions had entered into a separate contract with the NWAB to manage work on the Kivalina Evacuation and School Site Access Road. According to Katherine Keith (Remote Solutions) it became apparent that the Northwest Arctic Borough School District (NWABSD) was not actively working on the McQueen School Construction project – upon which the road construction funding was contingent.
In October 2016 the NWAB Assembly unanimously passed Resolution 16-50, “directing the Borough Administration to work expeditiously toward construction of the Kivalina School, and for related purposes.” This gave project management of the McQueen School Construction to NWAB.
Due to the lack of progress on the Kivalina McQueen School construction, the NWAB proposed that Remote Solutions merge their road project with the school construction, that way the road funding could be used as a cash match for the school project. Remote Solutions would act as General Contractor overseeing all sub-contractors and assuming responsibility for both projects – with a combined cost of over $60 million.
At three special borough assembly meetings in November and December 2016, Mayor Richards championed resolutions approving a Construction Manager/General Contractor contract with Remote Solutions, LLC for construction activities on the Kivalina McQueen School. However the Northwest Arctic Borough School District Board, of which Sandra Shroyer-Beaver was then president, unanimously opposed awarding the contract to Remote Solutions.
Following the 11/18/16 & 11/22/16 NWAB Assembly meetings, two different resolutions were respectively taken off the agenda and then voted on, resulting in a 5-5 tie vote. A third meeting, at which the Remote Solutions resolution was discussed, took place, controversially, in Seattle on 12/16/2016. Sandra Shoryer-Beaver attended the Seattle meeting and stated that she was adamantly opposed to Remote Solutions being awarded the contract. At the meeting, Resolution 16-60 was defeated by a 6-5 vote.
KTUU did a story in February 2017 on the controversial Seattle Meeting, “Northwest Arctic Borough spends $128,000 on Seattle retreat”
Here are the minutes from all three special meetings:
November 18, 2016 Meeting Minutes (Anchorage)
November 22, 2016 Meeting Minutes (Kotzebue)
December 16, 2016 Meeting Minutes (Seattle)
A Change of Heart
Following that 3rd meeting, Mayor Richards had a complete change of heart and stopped advocating for the contract. 3 times at bat, 3 strike-outs, fair enough right? But Eugene Smith suggests that there was a more sinister reason for his change of heart. According to Smith’s complaint, “During the (Seattle) meeting our Mayor Clement Richards received a phone call from Chris Lie and Clement had me listen to the conversation. He told Clement if he didn’t get rid of the “Baker Boys” that he would have to show everyone the video. After the retreat, when the mayor was heading home, he had a meeting with Sandy in Anchorage. Once he got back, he told me that I couldn’t talk about the “Baker Boys” and I told him he couldn’t do that since they still had an active contract with the Kivalina Project. He fired me and eliminated the contract with Remote Solutions.”
The “Baker Boys” presumably refers to John Baker (of Remote Solutions) and his brother, Andy Baker. Andy is a lobbyist and did work in 2016 for both the NWAB and the NWABSD, according to his lobbyist filing with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. In 2017 he only lists the NWAB as a client, not the NWABSD, and 2018 shows neither one as a client.
When contacted by the Landmine, Chris Lie denied making the video or having any involvement. After we initially spoke over the phone, Lie called me back, angry and asking how I got his number. Lie told me he did not appreciate being accused of video recording Mayor Richards. Later in the conversation he expressed that he thought that the Bakers and the politicians are the real crooks.
Do Lie and Shoryer-Beaver have any connection? The Landmine discovered that Shroyer-Beaver has a child with Lie’s brother.
During all of this, Shroyer-Beaver was actively posting about it on her Facebook page. On a post from 11/23/2016 she wrote, “I also believe administration that they too are pretty frivolous in their spending the borough administration….I am beginning to think its time to put a petition together to recall this Mayor they are outta control….. but… thats another story.”
On another post from 12/7/2016 she wrote, “I believe there are some serious back room deals going on with the administration staff. The Borough Mayor Clement Richards has absolutely no respect or regard for the political process…. the Assembly or the NWABSD. This is why I call them the Mayors Mafia….”
Shroyer-Beaver is clearly no fan of Richards, insinuating he is corrupt and saying he needs to be recalled. Both posts can be seen here:
Multiple people I spoke with in Kotzebue say they heard about the alleged tape and some said they spoke with people who claimed to have seen it. I contacted the Kotzebue Police Department to request if they had a case on the matter. The Police Chief, Eric Swisher, said no records existed for 2017. I requested he check December 2016 and am waiting to hear back.
When I called Mayor Richards, he would not provide any comment and hung up the phone. Shoryer-Beaver says she heard about the alleged tape but never saw it and did not use it to blackmail Mayor Richards. She also says that she did not meet with Mayor Richards in Anchorage in December.
What Happened Next
After it all went south, Katherine Keith says she met with Mayor Richards, Eugene Smith, and John Baker to discuss how they could continue the work they had begun for the NWAB. She said that the mayor acknowledged the existence of the alleged tape.
Smith says that the tape was discussed amongst the four in Seattle after the call from Lie. Not long after the meeting, Smith was fired and the NWAB ended up severing their relationship with Remote Solutions.
However, Remote Solutions bid on a Department of Transportation (DOT) RFP in early 2017 for providing community outreach and collaboration on the Kivalina road. There were five or six bids submitted according to Ryan Anderson, DOT Director the for Northern Region. Remote Solutions won the contract. The project recently completed the environmental process and is moving to the next phase. Anderson said about the project, “This is not an easy project. Remote Solutions has been great to work with and is a big part of the success.”
The Kivalina school project is still short on money and has not been started.
Eugene Smith told me, “The whole thing is very frustrating. I didn’t do anything wrong but I am being painted as the bad guy.” When asked to comment on the complaint he said, “It’s all in there.”
John Baker says he did not say anything at the time because he was worried about the impact on the project and the region. He told me, “In fairness to everyone in our region, it’s time for the truth to come out.”
Smith also sent a letter to the NWAB ethics committee with similar language to the complaint he filed with the Alaska Department of Law. The letter was addressed to Assemblyman Larry Westlake, father of Dean Westlake, who was on the ethics committee at the time. When asked to comment on the letter Westlake told me, “You need to talk to the NWAB about that.” He had no further comment. Ethics committee matters are normally dealt with in executive session. I could not find anything to indicate the matter was ever taken up by the NWAB ethics committee.
This is a complicated story. During my research I ran into one major problem, everyone I spoke with seems to know one another and many are related. Because of this many of them are hesitant to go on record. I believe there is much more to this story and I hope those who have more information speak up. That is what it will take to get to the bottom of this. If not, I believe these problems will continue and the people of Kivalina will end up paying the price.