People walk past City Hall downtown on Monday evening. The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly passed an ordinance Monday night to allow the city to advocate for a new City Hall ahead of the upcoming municipal election. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

People walk past City Hall downtown on Monday evening. The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly passed an ordinance Monday night to allow the city to advocate for a new City Hall ahead of the upcoming municipal election. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

City funds $50K advocacy initiative for new City Hall

Residents in opposition argue the “project should stand on its own merits.”

The Juneau Assembly passed an ordinance Monday night that allows the city to advocate for a new City Hall — despite rejecting a nearly identical ordinance last year.

During a special meeting, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly unanimously OK’d the city to spend $50,000 to “advocate for and provide public information regarding the need for a new City Hall.” The $50,000 will be pulled from the city’s general funds and was included in the city’s 2024 fiscal year budget passed weeks earlier.

The ordinance would run in tandem with a ballot proposition which, if approved, would again ask Juneau voters during the upcoming municipal election whether to approve $27 million in bond debt to fund the construction of a new City Hall.

The proposition itself has yet to be passed by the Assembly, but a previous unanimous vote of support during a Committee of the Whole in early June indicated support for its passing as a full Assembly, expected July 10.

The vote Monday night drastically differs from a vote last August, before the 2022 election, in which the Assembly — comprised of the same members — rejected an ordinance nearly identical to the ordinance that would have funded $25,000 and allowed for the city manager to advocate for last year’s $35 million in bonds to go toward funding the construction of a new City Hall.

[City nixes ordinances that would allow city to advocate for ballot initiative outcomes]

That ordinance failed 6-3, with Assembly members in opposition, such as Michelle Bonnet Hale, questioning the ethics of the city influencing an election.

“Information is one thing, but weighing in on an election is another,” she said.

Before the vote Monday night, five residents provided public testimony, all in opposition to the ordinance. Scott Spickler, a North Douglas resident, argued Juneau voters and community “said no to this,” and said the $50,000 would not be a wise use of city funds.

“The project should stand on its own merits if you choose to put it on the ballot — I hope you do not,” he said.

Auke Bay resident Wayne Coogan agreed, and said it “gravely” concerned him that the Assembly would allow the city to advocate and spend money on an initiative that mirrors an initiative shot down by voters last election.

“We’re using their money against what they voted on,” he said, continuing “I just want to make sure that you understand that it’s a matter of honor. I want you to know that I’m concerned about this.”

To meet requirements for the Alaska Public Offices Commission disclosure and filing requirements, the city is prohibited “from using funds to influence the outcome of an election concerning a ballot proposition unless the CBJ specially appropriates the funds for that purpose by ordinance.”

City Manager Rorie Watt said the $50,000 included in the ordinance would allow for the city to comply with APOC requirements while still advocating for City Hall.

“Clearly we would be trying to influence the outcome of the election,” Watt said. “We believe that a new City Hall is in the best interests of our citizens and in the effort to provide the information we would be trying to influence the election — so APOC requires these two separate authorizations.”

According to Watt, the $50,000 in funds would likely go toward offsetting salary costs of city employees who would be spending time advocating, along with potential fliers or postcards.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807.

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