Alicia Hughes-Skandijs: Assembly District 1 Candidate
Occupation: Director of Programs, Alaska Municipal League
Bio shared by candidate: “After graduating with a BS in mathematics, I worked a variety of jobs that gave me a well-rounded perspective, including the service industry, nonprofit sector and school district. After 8 years of public service at the State, I returned to work in the nonprofit sector, as Director of Programs for the Alaska Municipal League. I split my time between downtown and Douglas and love spending time with my friends and family, walking my dog on our amazing trail system, and spending quality time outdoors. I enjoy hiking, picking berries, getting as much time as possible in Auke Lake, cross country skiing, and the bunny hill at Eaglecrest. I feel truly grateful to live as a guest in Dzántik’i Héeni.”
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Why do you want to continue as a member of the Juneau Assembly?
I’m running for reelection because I think I have a skill set that I can bring to solving our challenges. As somebody who lives in our community, I want to help address those challenges right, they affect me too. Much of my time on Assembly has been spent in a sort of reactive role. We had the pandemic, I’m really proud of the work we did in the pandemic.
But we still have these major issues that we need to take care of in order for the community to really thrive. So the top three issues for me are to continue work on housing, to see the city do even more with childcare and tourism. The speed of government is slow, and I wanted to continue working on them and I feel like I could bring value to these issues.
Describe your knowledge and involvement with Juneau’s municipal government and what you think the strengths and weaknesses of it are based on those experiences.
It’s been a real privilege to be on the Assembly and serving in that capacity. I’ve been on the Assembly for four-plus years and I am at the point in my Assembly life where I get to chair committees. So I’m moving to be one of the more senior members of the Assembly.
I think the state of our municipal government, I think we’re about to have a lot of change. We have a new manager coming soon, and that’s huge. We have a strong manager form of government here in Juneau. So it’s important for the Assembly to act as a citizens’ voice and to steer the direction of the community.
But the day-to-day business, a lot of that is in the manager’s purview, and so changing managers is going to be really important and I’m excited about our incoming manager. We’re also going to have a new police chief and that’s hugely impactful. It’s a lot of senior leadership change, but I think CBJ is in good shape as a municipal government.
I think we suffer from what all municipal governments around the state are suffering from, which is the state failing to step up and meet its obligations, and not meeting its constitutional duties. So like all municipalities some of our pains are a direct result of that, but I think we’re in good shape.
Are you against, or in favor of the proposal for a new City Hall? What are your thoughts on the decision by the Assembly to both put it on the ballot again after it failed, and to fund an advocacy initiative?
I voted to put it on the ballot so I obviously support it and I’m gonna vote for it. I hope that the city of Juneau as the majority is gonna vote for it too. In terms of some feedback from the public that was upset that we put it on the ballot the very next year, I think I stand by that decision, I would still vote to put it on the ballot today. And I would still vote to do the $50,000 to advocate for it.
I think where we could have improved our actions is to make clear the process that led us to how we got there. So all the things that happened in between. And some of the feedback that I’ll get from people is, “Have you looked at other commercial real estate?” or, “Why don’t you just do this? Why don’t you just fix the building that you have?”
We’ve really looked hard at that and we would not have put it on the ballot if we didn’t feel like that was what we needed to do. If we fix the current City Hall building, the fact that we’re going to go on spending about a million a year in rent feels like such a crazy waste of money to take this building that’s not really a great fit for city workers.
Repairing this old fire hall and bringing it up to condition — that feels so wasteful of public money. I think that’s really how we got there, but we could have done a better job of explaining that to the public. We could have emphasized all those things that happen in committee because the Assembly process sometimes is opaque and hard to follow.
The decisions the Assembly makes aren’t being made in a backroom or anything like that — they’re in public meetings and in committees. I wish that the Assembly had explained that better and I hope the lower price tag helps convince people, and then share some of those facts that I don’t feel like we did a good job of getting out last time like that.
What is your assessment of how much the city taxes its residents versus the amount of public services it provides to them? Specifically, outline what adjustment in each of those areas you’d advocate changing as a continued member of the Assembly.
I’m certainly cognizant of inflation and just coming out of the economic situation we were in with the pandemic. I think everybody is feeling the pinch, myself included. I’m shocked when I go to the grocery store.
So I’m definitely cognizant of the fact that our cost of living is high and that people are feeling an economic pinch right now. So I bear that cost and I keep that at the front of my mind with every decision I make. All of the services we provide — the basic ones like public safety, schools, wastewater, all of those things — that’s the bulk of the budget.
So, then when you get to items that people might say, “Oh, maybe these are less important,” but I will say philosophically when people talk about whether is it better to have a larger government or smaller government, I truly believe the size of government that’s the right size of government is the one that people are willing to pay for.
If people are willing to pay to have those qualities of life, those extra services, that’s the right size of government, that’s not too big. Those are services that residents have consistently said they wanted. So residents have consistently supported things like our parks, which means we might be putting more into parks and our parks department than other municipalities are. That’s something our citizens want and it’s something they value.
But we also are providing services that truly are a result of the state not stepping up and doing what should be statewide solutions like homelessness, housing, and child care. Those are things that are areas that typically a local government doesn’t move into, but we’ve had to step in and subsidize because it’s that needs not being met. As a city we have to respond to that and so I think in terms of adjustments we all have to continue to spend funds on those services that we feel are needed, and be receptive to the ones that are wanted.
How can the Assembly better balance the growing cruise ship tourism industry’s impact on the quality of life of residents, specifically regarding affordable housing, environmental impact and overall cost of living?
We’ve continued to grow and, on the one hand, all of our folks who work in the industry are feeling relieved, I’m sure, coming out of the years without it and that the industry has bounced back so strongly. We have taken steps, specifically with our five-ship limit that we negotiated that goes into place next year, that hopefully will feel more like a normal strong year.
I’m really hopeful that by next year we’ll be in a position to further evaluate, “Are we happy with this level of cruise ship tourism in regards to how it makes our year-round residents feel?” and “Are the impacts from the cruise ship tourism industry we feel like we can live with, specifically on how that affects seasonal housing, how it affects environmental impact until we can get the cruise ships on electric?”
I think we need to keep in mind as we approach a hopefully more stabilized tourism number that it’s really important that the needs and weight we give to the year-round experience is high when we’re evaluating that.
I think cruise ship tourism is an important part of our economy. And it’s important to a lot of our residents. But if it’s impacting problems we already have, then you can’t give it outsized weight because it is one piece of our economy. I think this has just been a slow-building problem and it sort of feels like it’s bubbling up.
I think we have to let the five-ship limit hit, and not get too reactive and approach this methodically. Let’s make sure that we remember how much power we have as a municipality, and that it is working for us. I say that as we address all of our year-round residents and how it fits in with the rest of our economy, and how it affects the rest of our quality-of-life and housing.
We need to give it some time (the five-ship limit), but we also need to be communicating.
Are there any substantial matters that we didn’t get around to talking about that you think is pertinent to discuss?
I will say that with our aging demographic, that’s big in my mind and that is complementary to our need to focus on creating affordable housing so that people can live here, and so people can stay here and afford it.
Creating available child care that is affordable — I say affordable — because it’s got to be available, but it’s got to be affordable. Those are the two things that are really important. If you don’t have younger people moving here and also don’t have anybody here who can take care of their kids that’s an issue. With people retiring, but not being able to afford to live here it means then they can’t age in place. We want to keep all our seniors here in place. My mom is here. I’m lucky to have her here with me. She moved to Juneau, but I want her to be able to stay here. It’s a senior issue to get young people here, those two things go hand in hand. Housing, childcare, tourism and seniors all intertwine.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651) 528-1807.