Scott Ruby, a director at the Department of Commerce, sent a letter to Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan telling him that disbursements for the $37 million grant which includes funding for Anchorage tennis courts has been suspended pending “resolution” of issues surrounding the grant: namely the use of the grant money to build new tennis courts.
Ruby wrote that the department is “taking this action in response to a legal concern raised by the Legislature’s Legal Services Division.” Ruby said that the action was “unfortunate,” and he hoped for a speedy resolution.
Alaska state Sen. Lesil McGuire alerted the division to the legal services opinion in a letter she wrote to the department and to Gov. Sean Parnell.
Last year lawmakers added the funding for the courts to a larger package in the state capital budget earmarked, “Project 80s Deferred and Critical Maintenance.” The money was originally intended to support renovations to aging facilities like the Dempsey-Anderson Arena, Sullivan Arena and the Ben Boeke Ice Arena.
Sullivan and Rep. Lindsey Holmes pushed for the tennis court money to be part of the appropriation, a push that has since captured the public’s attention and has turned into a symbol of murky government process.
Hilary Martin, the legislative lawyer Ruby is referring to, wrote on April 2 that the law says that a condition of a grant is that the grantee will “spend the grant for the purposes specified in the appropriation or allocation.” New tennis courts “would not likely fit with the purpose of the appropriation,” Martin wrote. Nor would they fit the definition of deferred and critical maintenance of buildings built in the 1980s, she said.
McGuire is running against Sullivan in the lieutenant governor’s race. She recently asked the Senate Finance Committee to re-appropriate the tennis court money and put it into the library instead.
The Committee voted against doing do.
McGuire denies that she’s pushing the issue for her campaign, and welcomes a rewrite of the grant to fit the stated purposes. One of her main goals, she said, is for the public to be aware of the fact that the Legislature didn’t authorize tennis courts when they allocated the money.
“This is precedent setting,” McGuire said. “When you’re asking for public money, you should be clear what you’re asking for.”
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