Mayor Greg Fisk talks about his first week on the job during an interview on Friday.

Mayor Greg Fisk talks about his first week on the job during an interview on Friday.

A sit down with the new mayor

Greg Fisk officially assumed his position as Juneau’s new Mayor when he was sworn in Oct. 20. On Friday afternoon — with almost a week under his belt in the city’s highest elected office — Fisk sat down with the Empire to discuss his plans for the city. The following Q&A has been edited for length. 

Empire: The Assembly has some big issues to tackle in the next few months. What are your top priorities for the rest of 2015?

Fisk: Well, the first thing we have to accomplish is the working on the city manager issue. We had a meeting updating us on the process on Tuesday night, and we’re still trying to refine a list of finalists, which is probably going to take a little while longer. So that’s in process, but that’s very important. 

Other things that I want to work on are getting a start on these NOAA jobs, which I mentioned a lot in the campaign, so we’re going to have our first meeting next week. The manager and I are meeting with someone from NOAA to talk about that and see if we can get that moving along. 

The contract was let for the Gastineau Apartment demolition, so we’ll need to monitor that and make sure that they have a good plan. We’ll be getting reports from Rorie Watt to see that that goes forward. It has been a process, and hopefully it will come to an end by next April. We’ll get that done. It’s a tricky project. There’s going to be a lot to monitor, but it’s an important thing to do.

How should the city proceed in preparing for the legal sale of marijuana?

Well, we’re still waiting on some finalized recommendations back from the Marijuana Committee, so I think that’s the first thing. One item was taken off the agenda this week at my first meeting, and that’s the question of zoning as it relates to where marijuana grow operations can be. It’s a situation I’m learning on, and I think we all are as it goes forward. 

How should the city move forward in how it handles solid waste?

You know, I don’t think that there’s been any really great answer come up with yet because of the cost factors. There was a really interesting meeting — a presentation to the Utilities Advisory Board by the city of Hoonah — about something that could be like a win-win for Juneau and Hoonah, which would allow that material to be used to generate gas, which in turn could generate electricity in Hoonah. 

We’re a long way from knowing if that’s feasible, but something like that could work out it would certainly be a lot better than the current situation where we’re paying roughly $2 million a year to ship that stuff to a landfill in Oregon, which is an unstable situation. The other option is to dry it here, but that’s not a cheap process either, so we’re looking at those two things, I think. If we could have that win-win, that would be terrific. But there’s a lot of questions to ask and answer.

Housing is always a big issue for the Assembly. What is the first step the city needs to take to solve the housing crisis?

There’s $70,000 in the current budget through the end of this fiscal year, and the plan now is to hire a housing coordinator to really focus on housing issues. Hopefully this will really be someone who can be a deal-maker and really know something about finance and that sort of thing. I campaigned on the idea that we need to put our economic clout behind certain types of housing development, particularly downtown mixed-use and stuff like that, so that’s something I definitely want to raise with other Assembly members. 

I don’t think there’s any single magic bullet that we can say is going to solve the housing issue, but I was looking at something just yesterday, a chart of where housing starts happened in the last couple of years, and they’ve been spread throughout the borough except downtown. There’s been very, very little down there, and we know there’s a need for that type of housing downtown. … We’re going to have to look at a whole bunch of different steps to stimulate the market.

The whale statue has once again been at the heart of controversy. How do you feel about the Juneau Ocean Center, which has proposed moving the location of the statue? Should the statue’s location be changed?

I haven’t heard from any Assembly members yet a desire to change the Assembly’s decision on where the whale is going to go. The bid (for the Downtown Seawalk) was cancelled, and the Engineering Department is in the process of analyzing the whole bid process to see what things could’ve been tweaked or should’ve been tweaked and how to make that workable. So, I don’t have an answer as to where it should go. A lot of people have opinions about it. 

As to the proposed (Juneau Ocean Center), the concept is really great. I really applaud those guys, Bob Janes in particular, for bringing that forward. The whole idea of having some type of maritime museum in association with that is a really great idea. It’s really embarrassing, actually, that Alaska has two-thirds of all the coast line in the United States, but we don’t have a maritime museum in this state, and yet we’ve got an incredible maritime heritage. It’s really quite amazing when you think about it. So I’m really gratified that people are bringing up ideas like that. (Janes) has a lot of work left to do on that idea, but I applaud them for bringing it forward. 

And I would like to add that I think his concept is bigger than the whale. It doesn’t hinge on the whale. It has importance beyond the location of that statue. I know that that’s kind of in the mix that they’re considering. But whatever happens with the whale, I hope that they persevere with their concept for the waterfront.

For a while you’ve been a big proponent of the Downtown Circulator. Is this something that you’re still interested in pursuing?

Yes. $150,000 was appropriated to the manager to look at that issue. It’s a big issue. I haven’t had a chance to meet with her and with Rorie Watt and Rob Steedle again on this issue. It’s a little too early, but that’s definitely on my list of things to bring up and get that analysis process started. I think it can tell us a lot about what we can do about revitalizing downtown, and it could be very, very important for the housing issue. In a lot of communities, that type of transit has been very stimulative for housing development.

You’ve just completed your first week as Juneau’s mayor. So far, has it been everything you thought it would be?

Yeah, pretty much. I got sworn in on Tuesday evening, and you get thrown right in to the running of the meeting. I think it went fairly well. I was a little rusty. I haven’t run a meeting like that for a while — since I was on Docks and Harbors. So that went pretty well, and the next day was my first full day. I was telling people that I went in early, at 7:30 (a.m.). Everything went fairly well, and I got home by 9:30 at night. But it’s not going to that way every day. I think I’ll get into the rhythm of it. We’ve got a really good Assembly, and I think they’re a good group of people with a lot of good ideas. I’m hopeful that we can accomplish a fair amount. 

Each person who fills this position brings a different set of skills to the table. What do you see as your biggest strengths? And what do you hope to get out of this position?

Mainly I’ve been thinking about what I can give to the position. What I think I bring is a deep intellectual curiosity … and I’m really fascinated by the whole issue of economic development in Alaska. I have been for a long, long time, and Juneau is a pretty important player in that. We’re not as big as Anchorage or Fairbanks, but we’re the biggest coastal Alaska community. I think we’ve got a leadership role there. Hopefully, I can bring that intellectual curiosity and problem solving bit to the issues we’re facing. It very much has to be a cooperative thing with a lot of people, so I guess that’s another thing. I hope I can galvanize people. Otherwise, it’ll be tough sledding.

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