A recently formed advocacy group known as Save Juneau is running a campaign opposing the new City Hall proposal set to appear on this October’s municipal ballot, and intends to back Assembly candidates “who are most likely to give taxpayers some relief,” according to its chair.
Save Juneau, which registered July 23 with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, states its purpose is “to support City & Borough of Juneau (CBJ) Assembly candidates who will act responsibly with regard to public spending, taxation of CBJ residents, and the regulation of residents’ businesses. Also, to address ballot measures proposing bond authorization or property tax increases.”
A similarly named group, Save Anchorage, gained attention in recent years, and has been described by Alaska Public Media as contributing to “a spread of misinformation about the pandemic, the city’s public health measures, the homelessness situation, and other issues.”
Molly Duvall, the group’s chair, said Save Juneau is not affiliated with Save Anchorage.
Duvall wrote in a letter published by the Juneau Empire on Aug. 8 she believes the current Assembly holds an “out-of-touch attitude” and argued residents “deserve Assembly members who respect the voters and the democratic process.”
In her letter, Duvall criticized the Assembly’s choice to move forward with the new City Hall proposal for a second time along with the $50,000 advocacy initiative for it, despite the ballot measure failing last election in a tight vote. She elaborated in an interview with the Empire.
“They put it to the vote of the people — and they continue and bring it up again, so they’re either ignoring the will of the people or they’re out of touch with what people want,” she said. “I think that with the scope of everything going on in the city, they need to think about what the people have said, which is no.”
Duvall said the group of about 50 residents is still “in the investigation phase” of deciding which of the 14 candidates for four Assembly seats Save Juneau intends to support. She said some of the attributes the group is seeking in a candidate include someone who “wants to ask questions of why we’re spending money on this, and why we’re giving discounts for that.”
Assembly members Wade Bryson, Greg Smith, Christine Woll and Alicia Hughes-Skandijs — the latter two who are up for reelection — said they had not heard of the group before the Empire’s inquiry. Hughes-Skandijs said in an email response that despite not knowing much about the group, she believes her actions so far on the Assembly align similarly with the group’s goals of responsibility in public spending, taxation and regulation.
“Obviously I voted to put City Hall on the ballot, which they don’t support. I’ve also voted against plenty of other projects that we’d probably find common ground on when it comes to fiscal responsibility,” she said. “In every single vote I take on the Assembly, I consider how it’s going to affect the community. I take the responsibility that comes with being on the Assembly very seriously.”
Hughes-Skandijs said she stands by her vote to put the new City Hall proposal back on the ballot again this year despite the group’s and other residents’ vocal opposition.
“I would not have voted to do it again if I didn’t truly believe that the alternative is going to cost more, is going to be a waste of public money, and is irresponsible,” she said. “We talked about why we were doing it in multiple Assembly meetings leading up to the vote, but on the night of the vote no one said anything. I’d still vote the same way, but if we did it tomorrow I’d explain to the public why I was voting the way I was.”
Woll agreed, along with Bryson and Smith, who said they stood by their decisions as well.
“I think it’s clear to me that we’re going to need a new City Hall and at some point, our current City Hall does not meet our needs, we spend a lot of money on rent, and the building that we own is falling apart,” Woll said. “We have to prioritize it and at some point a new City Hall is going to have to be built.”
Woll said during her time on the Assembly she has done her best to “stay connected to the pulse of the community,” but noted the Assembly is tasked with trying to find “that right balance” between spending on public services the community wants and taxing people to pay for it.
“In an ideal world you can have both of those things,” she said. “But building costs have gone up, maintenance costs have come up and, given how expensive all those things are right now, I think we didn’t have a choice except to keep the tax rate at a level that would allow us to pay for those things.”
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651)-528-1807.