This March 2020 phgoto shows Juneau's City Hall. On Wednesday, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly OK'd extending local mitigation measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire File)

Assembly candidates square off in annual forum

Read candidate answers to the questions.

Wednesday evening, the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Juneau — in cooperation with the Empire and KTOO — held the annual Municipal Candidates Forum.

Candidates took turns answering questions on local issues ahead of the Oct. 5 municipal election. Answers from candidates for seats on the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly appear below. School board candidate’s responses will appear next Sunday in the Juneau Empire.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity. A full recording of the broadcast is available online at https://www.juneauempire.com/news/watch-municipal-candidate-forum/. The video is also embedded below the chart.

Assembly

Questions

Candidate(Office)

The current city Assembly has made many decisions regarding Covid -19 mitigation What would you change or move forward?

What is one thing you would do to stabilize Juneau’s financial future?

What are your top priorities for the city’s new tourism director?

Do you support the systemic racism review committee, and what specifically would like to see them looking at or proposing to the committee?

The Juneau Committee on Sustainability looking for ways to meet the cities pledge to have 80 percent of Juneau powered by renewable energy by 2045. What is an action you support to reach that goal?

In anticipation of federal funds, what are Juneau’s greatest needs?

Beth Weldon (Mayor) I think our mitigation measures have worked well. I think we burned ourselves with endless meetings and long deliberations. I think we should figure out a different way to do that. I’d continue to follow our economic development plan. I’d build on our strengths: tourism, mining and fishing. The other part of the Juneau development plan is keep Juneau as the capital. Build a senior economy.

The first thing the manager should do is follow the visitor tourist industry taskforce recommendations. Negotiating with CLIA will be a big one, for using shore power and keeping waste out of landfill.

I believe it keeps us more aware of what’s going on and make better choices. Where we will see it is our budget and resource allocation next year. It’s a good group of folks and they have some good insight. Electric vehicles and busses as well as shore power. I think our support of Alaska Heatsmart program has been great and I hope we continue to do that. I think our biggest greatest need, as Ms Hale said earlier, is the second crossing. It’ll open up development over in Douglas. We could also use more infrastructure for our sustainability goals. I’d like see us use some federal funding to expand Centennial Hall.
Paul Kelly (District 1) I think the assembly has been doing a great job. They’ve done a great job of balancing our civil liberties. I don’t think there is much I would change. Juneau has a pretty diverse economy, but it doesn’t have a diverse tourist economy. I think we need to expand more to independent travelers and make Juneau a cultural hub. I’d like to see better management for the traffic downtown. I’d like to see other priorities as well bringing in independent tourists and cultural tourists. Considering the history that we have in Juneau, I think we made a lot of progress. I think it’s important that we continue to monitor this deliberately, making sure all new laws treat all of Juneau equally.

I suppose building up more infrastructure for electric vehicles around the city. Replacing city buses and vehicle fleets with EVs as they age out, changing zoning building codes for more environmentally friendly practices.

I think school buildings is a priority of mine. I believe we need a second crossing so we can do more development in North Douglas and reduce cost of housing for Juneau residents.

Other needs cited were the New JACC and Centennial Hall.

Barbara Blake (District 1)

I think our assembly is doing an exceptional job of taking care of Juneau. Our assembly works well together. I don’t think I would change a whole lot of their extensions of the mitigation measures put forward. I’m super thankful our kids have gone back to school this year.

I think the city’s on a great trajectory — tourism, conferences, Ironman, mining. I think we should be more proud of ourselves as the art capital of Alaska.

We have a 10,000-year history in this place. I know Eaglecrest has some big, huge plans. I think there’s an opportunity for increasing infrastructure for more independent travellers.

I would love for them to consider and hopefully reveal the implicit bias that exists when making decisions. I think more than anything I would like to explore what is not working. Why are there no Alaska Natives on the assembly? Why are there so few stepping up to sit on the assembly? Why are there so few engaged in this space? As 30% of the population, there should be more BIPOC and Alaska Native people engaged in this space.

The Biden Administration is really picking up what the Obama Administration began with the change over from diesel to electric vehicles. If we were to tap into that line of funding that will be coming to communities soon, we’d be able to pay for stuff without having to raise taxes. There’s opportunities for us to help nearby neighbors get off diesel fuel as well.

Maintenance to our schools is one of the priorities I’d consider. A second crossing would benefit all Juneauites. Are my children going to be able to afford to live here, in the homeland of the Tlingit and Haida people? Centennial Hall and the JACC would be an economic driver for Juneau.

Troy Wuyts-Smith (District 1) I believe our Assembly has done an exceptional job of dealing with COVID here in Juneau. I don’t think there’s much I would change but I think we should continue to encourage people to get the vaccination. I believe people need to get vaccinated to protect our community and our kids.

I want to still support our small business and do some tax breaks. I think we need to put more back into our small businesses via grants. We need to encourage startups and affordable housing. The heart of Juneau is our small businesses.

I want to highly encourage bringing cruise ships in. I think we need to expand our art and culture so more people can learn about our indigenous community Juneau and our history.

I believe that our system has been fundamentally flawed from the very beginning. People of color have been oppressed for a very very long time. We need to look at a lot of things here to look at the root of the problem. I think we need to support our BIPOC businesses better because they haven’t got their fair share of CARES act funding.

We need to transition to more of an electric community. I think there needs to be a lot more electric charging stations downtown and in the valley. I think adding more parking spaces and designating them for electric cars is a huge step forward.

I believe that maintaining our schools should be a top priority. I know there’s some roofs that need to be fixed. A second crossing would be huge. Addressing mental health, the Bartlett Mental Health Crisis Stabilization Center.

Michelle Bonnet Hale (District 2) Having been on the assembly while we’re making all these decisions, it’s been grueling but I think we’ve done the best we could. What I want to continue mitigation measures that work with the lightest touch possible. I am encouraged by the state chamber of commerce lottery system and wonder if there’s something like that we could do with private partners.

Looking big, thinking big, the one thing I’d really like to do to build Juneau’s economy is build that second crossing. That’s a big ask, that’s a big thing to do. It would spread tourism across Juneau in a much more effective way. Without that we really can’t do much more development on North Douglas.

One of the first things is to work with Docks and Harbors and CLIA to make sure Juneau has an active role in the scheduling of the docks. Working with Assembly for visitor industry taskforce recommendations.

I am eager to see the committee bring things to us. I kind of suspect the area they might see systemic racism is in the budget process and that’s a tough process to go through. I think we need to give more funding to our busses. I think that’s one area where we might reveal systemic racism.

It’s a huge goal. We don’t have that much time. 2045 is not that far away. We’ve gotten more specific last year. I’d like to dial that, get more specific with Assembly goal setting.

That second crossing, the Centennial Hall, the New JACC. It needs to be upgraded. Dock electrification and sustainability, we are poised to take advantage of infrastructure dollars.

Kelly Fishler (District 2) As Michelle Hale said, we want to make sure we’re protecting our civil liberties and rights to bodily autonomy. I would like CBJ to put out a wellness campaign to decrease risk factors and celebrate our vaccination rate and look at the whole picture the science gives us. I would continue to work with the tourism industry as well as the mining industry and as Troy mentioned, focusing support into our small businesses. We can continue to support our small businesses and encourage potential small business owners.

Balance the needs of local residents as well as incoming tourists. One of the important things is putting shore power in for cruise ships. It’s important to differentiate ourselves as an arts and culture center.

I thought, “Damn, if there’s systemic racism in Juneau, I want to get rid of all of it, immediately.” I want to make sure everyone is equally valued and if there are any possibilities of systemic racism they are addressed immediately.

Juneau has a really great hydropower system in place. I look forward to seeing what our private enterprise and assembly is going to be working out and workshopping in the very near future.

Healthy towns grow, healthy economies grow, healthy lands grow. I want to see ideas that are well thought out come to fruition.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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