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Joe Geldhof: Assembly District 1 Candidate
Bio shared by candidate: “Corine (his wife) and I moved here in 1979. I am proud to call Juneau my home. I’ve loved Juneau and many of the people who call this wonderful place home since we moved here. My work as a lawyer is about service. I’ve successfully completed a number of public interest cases as a lawyer, including a case that stopped the State of Alaska from borrowing a billion dollars via a bogus bond proposal that would have used public funds to pay back a flakey oil & gas exploration tax credit scheme that was so obviously flawed, the legislature finally croaked the credit program. I’ve worked successfully in a number of jurisdictions in America, including and most importantly Alaska, to address impacts that follow from large-scale industrial tourism.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Why do you want to be a member of the Juneau Assembly?
Well, why do I at my age? I love Juneau — I have liked it since the day I got here in 1979. The beauty of the place, the people of the place have always been a source of enormous satisfaction to me. But, I sometimes grumble and complain about the way our local politicians, our Assembly, run the affairs of the citizens in this place that I call home. At my age it’s either I put up and stop complaining, or do something about it.
I think that residents deserve a better Assembly. One that asks harder questions of the staff, and an Assembly that is not just a go-along or get-along, and only follows the impulses of the senior management team. I will do better.
I think we can do more with the resources we have and in a more efficient manner. We can speed up decision-making and we need to speed up decision-making. They’re very lackadaisical around there. I also am a team player, I have been my whole life, whether it’s in my professional work or sports. I’m not running because I’m trying to stand athwart of what they’re doing or not doing down there — it’s to be part of a team and make sure you assemble the votes, and then move forward.
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.
In my 47 years of living here I’ve been very actively involved in Assembly matters. I’ve testified and participated in various workshops and sessions. This is a relatively small, isolated community where people know one another.
The Assembly in terms of providing overall guidance and instructions to the staff, has lost its way. They are deferring to the senior management team and they bought into this whole idea that because we have a strong manager in the charter they’re muted.
I’m not going down there to be a bomb thrower that wants to just cut, cut, cut, cut. But I want to start having the Assembly working as a team to provide direction, good direction, and then follow up and make sure they’re accountable.
There are too many instances where the city management team, they just follow their own bliss — they do what they want — and they basically get rubber-stamped by the Assembly. That has to end if we’re going to have an efficient and effective government that works for the citizens who live here.
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 am going to vote against the new City Hall. The senior staff and the Assembly members had an opportunity to make their case why we need a new City Hall, but they didn’t make that case. It’s bothersome that senior staff are running around saying it was really a close vote — it wasn’t all that close.
Our community took a look at what was proposed and they went thumbs down. The proposed new City Hall is a proposal that’s of the bureaucrats, by the bureaucrats, for the bureaucrats. It’s not even on the capital improvement projects list.
This was a proposal which might have been able to justify it had they done their homework — but they didn’t. That reflects a certain arrogance and detachment by the senior management staff and the Assembly that leads me to the conclusion that we should turn this down.
We haven’t explored the other alternatives to a new City Hall. This was a discussion by the bureaucrats that took place in a silo, and it wasn’t an expansive look and that’s another reason why the citizens should turn this down. I think they will turn it down — there’s something enormously phony about the city and borough appropriating taxpayer money to fund a campaign where they got smoked a year before.
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 to change as a member of the Assembly.
Well, before you get to taxation you have to look at the assessment. They adopted a bogus assessment process and I think that’s widely understood. The methodology by which they are assessing properties is wrong and it results in enormous increases for some people, and other people were just relieved that they didn’t get tagged with a big tax bill.
If the foundation of your tax program is based on faulty assessments there’s going to be problems — and we have problems. We have taxation and we don’t deploy the taxes that we receive — whether they’re from property tax, whether they’re from sales tax, or whether they’re from the passenger ship fees or the other sources of revenue around here — in an inefficient way.
We have way too much money going into overhead and not enough direct delivery of services that benefit the citizens. We have too much talk and not enough action, and that’s true in a number of cases. We can do better, we should do better and the citizens deserve better.
They lowered it (the millage rate) fractionally — a teeny tiny fraction.
They said “we’re lowering the millage rate,” but when you lower the millage rate based on a hugely increased assessed rate the result is way more taxes. I think they should have lowered it more.
You take money from people’s pockets in whatever form and you build up big slush funds as they have in order to build this new City Hall. That’s money that’s removed from the citizens and goes into a holding pattern at City Hall so they can build projects and follow their bliss. I’m not saying this is an easy thing, finding the balance between taxation and efficient spending is always hard.
That’s going on with the current Assembly, is that they continually defer to the senior management team who have a big agenda. Often it’s a personal agenda. The Assembly has to start acting like they are and not being led around as if they’re a calf heading towards the veal slaughterhouse with a little ring in their nose.
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 have a high seasonality demand for housing, which is compounded by the fact that we actually have an imbalance in our housing stock. We have way too many houses with four bedrooms and two-and-a-half-car garages. We have people living in them who often retired and are living half-time here. More power to them, but what we don’t have is enough starter houses, something marginally better than, say, a trailer or manufactured home, and less than the full-on bourgeois three- or four-bedroom house with granite countertops.
How we get there is that we absolutely have to have some reform done at Community Development, and they need to be faster, better and more responsive to the actual needs of our citizens. That means reducing in some cases lots of setback requirements. That means encouraging smaller homes, and maybe even having pre-designed homes with variations that you go down to City Hall and pay the money to get the home design.
You should be able to get out there and get a pre-approved set of plans, and as long as you get the dirt work and a sewage hookup and electrical hookup, it’s pre-permitted and you just build it on site on a property.
We should also be encouraging infill, and we’re long overdue on enforcing maintenance on both commercial structures and individual structures. There are too many houses, there are too many properties around here that are falling into the ground. There are various little mini junkyards all over this town that are not only an eyesore, they destroy property values.
Community Development down there is slow and not very responsive, and the Assembly needs to give direction to speed up and encourage housing stock that’s affordable to younger people and seasonal workers.
Are there any substantial matters that we didn’t get around to talking about that you think is pertinent to discuss?
Well, we talked about taxes and we talked about housing. We touched upon inefficient and efficient decision-making down there. But we didn’t talk at all about public safety. I am not a crazed right-wing person, but we have a real problem in this community with just staffing our police department.
One part that’s related to housing, because Juneau has a high cost of living. I am worried that we are not paying sufficient attention to the needs of the women and men who respond to emergencies, whether it’s police, fire or medical. It’s probably because we haven’t had a glaring incident where somebody is grievously hurt or killed.
I’m a big believer in paying attention to the fundamentals, in terms of municipal government and setting aside schools. You have to pay attention to fundamentals, the water, the sewer and the public safety issues. The Assembly tends to lose its focus, there’s always an issue du jour for them.
One of the things I would bring to the Assembly is a continued focus on some of the more fundamentals that get overlooked, I think, including water, sewer, the dump, public safety, housing and clean water. The real needs of this community. We need to do better and we need to do more considering spending on activities that actually benefit the citizens, and not just go into the hands of consultants and planners with no yield.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651) 528-1807.