Paul Kelly and Ella Adkison will become the newest members of the Juneau Assembly next Monday. David Noon and Britteny Cioni-Haywood will become the newest members of the Juneau Board of Education next Tuesday. And a new City Hall won’t be coming for the time being, according to results of the Oct. 3 municipal election certified Tuesday.
A ballot proposition for a $27 million bond to fund part of the construction of a new City Hall was defeated 4,896 votes to 4,263. A similar measure last year for $35 million failed by a narrower vote of 4,394 in favor and 4,640 opposed.
Kelly and Adkison were the top finishers among 10 candidates seeking two open Areawide Assembly seats. Kelly, as the top finisher with 3,393 votes, will fill the open three-year seat while Adkison with 2,940 votes will fill remaining two years of former member Carole Triem’s seat after she resigned in July for family medical reasons. Nano Brooks finished third with 2,826 votes.
Two incumbents were also reelected to the Assembly, with District 1 member Alicia Hughes-Skandijs defeating challenger Joe Geldhof by a vote count of 5,167 to 3,705, and District 2 member Christine Woll defeating challenger David Morris by a 5,579 to 3,104 tally.
Noon got 5,739 votes and Cioni-Haywood with 5,377 votes, easily topping third-place Paige Sipniewski’s 3,061 votes for the two available three-year terms. Neither of the two incumbents, Brian Holst and Martin Stepetin Sr., sought reelection to the board.
The updated count from the Oct. 3 election includes 9,435 ballots representing 33.98% of registered Juneau voters. Official voter turnout was just under 32.87% during the 2022 local election.
What’s next for the Assembly winners
The first meeting of the new Assembly on Monday night won’t just be a ceremonial swearing-in and assignment of committees. At least one significant issue needing quick attention is slated to be on the agenda, due to city officials proceeding with a winter warming shelter for people experiencing homelessness scheduled to open three days before the meeting, even though officially Assembly approval of the facility is needed.
The shelter, after months of disputes and discussions about its location, is being prepared in a city-owned storage warehouse about a mile south of the Goldbelt Tram. Officials with the city and St. Vincent de Paul, which is being contracted to operate the shelter, said it is opening before the Assembly can take action due to sub-freezing temperatures forecast this weekend.
Kelly, in an interview Tuesday, said as a new member his concerns about the warming shelter include transportation to the facility, the use of portable toilets outdoors in freezing winter weather and the cost of heating the city-owned warehouse being used as the shelter.
“And then coming up with a long-term solution,” he said. “We can’t be doing this year by year. We need to know at least months, if not a full year in advance, what we’re going to be doing. The Assembly simply going to be able to make better decisions when it has more time to consider alternatives.”
The Assembly will only be able to give initial consideration to the ordinance at its Monday meeting, with approval of it coming at a subsequent meeting. The next scheduled meeting is Nov. 13, but Kelly said the shelter appears to be of enough importance to warrant a special meeting before that date, which Hughes-Skandijs agreed with.
“I do if it’s weather-related,” she said. “If we have to add a meeting that’s something of high enough importance — having a place for our unsheltered population to go when there’s inclement weather — that’s absolutely worth calling a special session because the weather is not going to wait on our regularly scheduled meeting.”
Adkison said she agrees with the city’s decision to open the shelter before Assembly authorization given the circumstances.
“This is one of those instances where it’s really about making sure we’re doing our sort of humanitarian duty here in Juneau, and having a place for people where they can stay warm in the winter,” she said. “In most cases I don’t believe that the city would entertain an option like this, but they’re doing it because it is those extenuating circumstances and is just really that important.”
Other forms of housing, one of the major issues during the campaign due to local shortages and costs, are among the first issues Adkison said she expects to discuss with the city manager and see brought up during her initial Assembly meetings.
While voters rejected the City Hall bond, they also elected four candidates who supported the measure. Kelly said that’s likely because of other high-profile issues during the campaign.
”Tourism was a big one, housing and homelessness were big, and taxes,” he said. “City Hall was was just one issue. And I think it’s also a matter of electing people who you can trust people who are putting in the work to do the outreach and whose messages otherwise are most aligned with the will of the voters.”
Adkison said some initial official work of sorts occurred Wednesday — despite city offices being closed due to the Alaska Day holiday — as she received onboarding training about things such as the Open Meetings Act and procedures during Assembly meetings. Since she works as a staff member for Juneau state Sen. Jesse Kiehl she said the material is largely — but not entirely — familiar. She also said she plans to continue working for the senator at the Alaska State Capitol while serving on the Assembly, much as Assembly Member Greg Smith previously did for Juneau state Rep. Andi Story.
“I think it’s valuable to have someone who’s on the Assembly and to doing that legislative work,” Adkison said. “Certainly we don’t need more than one. But it really helps, I think, to have that go-between and kind of being informed on both fronts. I think it will make both the city and state work I’ll do better.”
What’s next for the school board winners
The results of the election show Juneau voters aren’t eager to embrace “culture war” issues causing controversies in many schools nationwide, Cioni-Haywood said Tuesday. As the third-place candidate, Sipniewski responded to a question during a forum about book bans in school libraries by stating she was “completely against anything regarding gender, sex, religion, religion, profanity, drug use, race.”
However, the school board will have to take up one such measure after the Alaska School Activities Association voted earlier this month to ban transgender girls from girls’ high school sports teams — but did not offer specific guidance to districts or schools about how to implement or enforce the rule.
Cioni-Haywood said she’s taking a cautious approach about possible options such as birth certificate requirements or medical checks to enforce the policy — or withdrawing from the ASAA so local athletes are exempt from the rule.
“My initial thought is I really need to dig into this and I have not yet had a chance. And I’m not one to usually just kind of winging it on really important topics like this,” she said. “I believe it’s an option to pull out. But then I think that comes with a lot of consequences. And I need to understand what those consequences are if we pull out of this sports association.”
An early classroom issue of focus will be how K-3 teachers are handling the Alaska Reads Act, Noon said. The act signed into law last year, intended to boost literacy education, adds statewide requirements for teachers such as mandatory training. As a result of the policy, the school board in July voted to let elementary school students out of school 30 minutes early on Mondays with the intent of giving teachers an extra hour for training and other non-classroom activities.
“I’ll be curious to see how well that’s how well that transition is going,” he said. “I’m definitely interested in in seeing where we’re at in terms of staffing. I know that there were a lot of open positions for paraeducators and maintenance, and there were a much smaller number of teacher openings that needed to be filled. So I just want to get a sense of where we’re at in terms of personnel.”
Funding for schools is another issue like to to come up early and often, both as the school board crafts a budget for next year, and grapples with issues such as the state challenging “outside the cap” funds Juneau and other districts provide to schools beyond the state’s per-student formula. Noon said if he runs for reelection in three years, what he wants to be able to say is he helped prevail in a long-running effort by educators to get the state lawmakers to significantly increase the funding formula known as the Base Student Allocation.
“A lot of other good things will come out of that if we can stabilize the funding, get it up to where it ought to be,” he said. “Then we can do a better job of retaining and recruiting teachers, and we can do a better job of training parent educators, a lot of whom are also new.”
What’s new for City Hall
Assembly member Wade Bryson, while not up for reelection, was among the most fervent supporters of the City Hall bond measure. But after it failed by a wider margin than last year’s vote for a more costly bond he said he’s resigned to looking at yet-to-be-determined “secondary options.”
“That will be probably what the first discussion, what type of things do we want?” he said. “How do we want to look at this as solving City Hall, because building a new City Hall…was not going to be allowed. So what’s the next best thing?”
The problem is the current municipal building is both too old and too small to be serviceable, with agencies spread out in other nearby buildings, so in essence there isn’t an existing comprehensive City Hall that other cities generally have, Bryson said. Finding a single space for all municipal operations will likely involve some unappealing options.
“All rental space that would be even remotely close to the appropriate size would be to move a state agency out of that building,” he said. “The state is going to be willing to do that. The Permanent Fund would be willing to do that.”
The outcome of that, Bryson said, is the jobs of those state workers would also be moved out of those offices.
“That’s unfortunately one of the outcomes that I was hoping to avoid,” he said. “But it looks like that’s going to be the case.”
Many people expressing opposition to the bond measure said the Assembly was ignoring the will of the voters by bringing it back a year after a similar proposal was defeated, and that additional public money was put toward the project itself and $50,000 approved for an advocacy campaign. Hughes-Skandijs said she’s not surprised with the outcome of the vote given the feedback she heard during the campaign.
“I was disappointed, but not surprised by that outcome,” she said. “For personally as I went into it some of us who were running, you’re going out there and you’re talking to more people, and you’re feeling especially connected to the pulse of Juneau. So even before we got to the vote — the ballots were already printed — I was already wishing that we could take a pause.”
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at email@example.com or (907) 957-2306.