Paul Kelly: Assembly Areadwide Candidate
Bio: “My name is Paul Kelly. I’m a lifelong Alaskan. All four of my grandparents moved to Alaska following WWII. I grew up on Dena’ina lands in Anchorage and moved to Juneau in 2017 to work as a Legislative Aide. I loved Juneau and decided to make it my home year-round. Currently, I work as an Analyst/Programmer for the Department of Education and Early Development. I graduated from Dimond High in Anchorage and obtained a B.S. in Computer Systems Engineering from UAA. I have taken coursework towards a Master’s in Public Administration at UAS. I’m a member of the Juneau Chapter for AFSCME/ASEA Local 52 where I’ve served on the local Juneau chapter E-board (currently as president) and assisted in negotiating the last contract. For three years, I served on the Juneau Board of Education. For two of those years, I was the clerk, which is a board leadership role.”
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Why do you want to be a member of the Juneau Assembly?
I see serving on the Assembly as an investment in my community. I’ve lived in Alaska all my life, I grew up in Anchorage. One of the two best decisions I made, besides proposing to my fiance, was to move down here to Juneau.
This is where we want to raise our kids. This is where we want to build our careers. This is where we built our home. This is where someday we’ll want to retire and where we want our kids to want to come back after they finish college or trade school or whatever they decide they want to end up doing.
To that end I’d like to support public education in the way that Juneau has been offered for so many years. I would like to reduce homelessness, and I would like to grow our economy and diversify our tourism industry. Beyond just the seasonal cruise ships, to include more independent travelers and cultural tourism, and build our capacity.
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.
I served three years on the Juneau Board of Education from 2018 to 2021. That gave me the opportunity to work with a lot of the current sitting Assembly members and to build relationships with a few of the sitting school board members.
I guess some of the weaknesses might be that often I see the Assembly and the school board try to do outreach, but I think sometimes the message doesn’t always get out. I think sometimes there’s the appearance that they’re not following the right process or listening to the people.
I think we need to do a better job in municipal government of getting the message out there of getting more community input on issues like tourism, like the gondola or the new City Hall.
I think it is important for the municipal government to function with the utmost transparency as possible.
I would say some of the strengths that we have is that we have a very functional Assembly and a very functional school board, and they seem to work well together. I can think of my own former hometown of Anchorage where the Assembly has a much less functional relationship with the mayor and seems to be much more divisive, and I think that gets in the way of doing this business. I like how down here we seem to work well together.
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 liked how you broke that apart, because I think those are two very separate questions. I can agree with a lot of the people that I’ve talked to that this seems kind of anti-democratic. I would have gone about things a different way.
If I were on the Assembly I would have looked at other options, or I would have demonstrated how circumstances have changed, or had some sort of more information that the voters didn’t have before bringing this back to the ballot.
I would have liked to have seen an alternatives analysis like what would it have cost to stay in the current City Hall location, and continue renting the four other locations and make all the repairs that you need to make? What would it cost to buy this new building? How soon will it take us to pay it off? How much will it cost us to maintain this new facility?
I can agree with people that the process the Assembly followed wasn’t the best, especially with allocating the money ahead of time, the $10 million (included in the 2024 municipal budget) I’m speaking of.
I went and spoke to Public Works and Engineering Director Katie Koester, and asked for a tour of the current City Hall. During the tour I saw bags hanging from the ceiling to catch water in offices, torn carpet that would likely require abatement procedures. To fix basic things like that, that would end up costing millions of dollars potentially to repair and cause a big disruption in city government as people would have to move out of their offices or relocate for several years.
I think the current situation is the definition of government inefficiency and I believe in the end it will save the taxpayers money to build a new City Hall. Despite the process that the Assembly followed in getting to this point, I will be voting in favor.
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.
While everything is rising with inflation, housing has been rising much more. If you think about the year during COVID, we had these exceptionally low interest rates, and that caused a lot of buying and selling in the market, and costs rose rapidly to meet that, so our assessed values that our homes and businesses are being assessed against this year has been rising much more.
I do like how the Assembly realized that this level of taxes was going to really hurt taxpayers because of that inflation, and that they lowered the mill rate, and are projected to dip into our savings to protect the taxpayers and bear the brunt of that.
I’m not sure what decision I would have made sitting on the Assembly at the time they voted to lower the mill rate. I can say that I think we might have had room to lower it a little further, though I don’t know how much further.
And I don’t know that there are any services I would want to cut. There are services that I think need some of our attention. I think the hospital is in pretty bad shape. I don’t think we’re providing enough services to our citizens. I mentioned that part of the reason I want to run for the Assembly is that I want to be able to retire here like I don’t want to have to go down to Seattle or go up to Anchorage where they have more medical services.
I would like to put more resources towards our hospitals. I would like to see us investing in certain aspects of our community, in our infrastructure.
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?
I’m telling people that my top priorities are reducing homelessness, supporting public education, growing our economy and diversifying our tourism industry. The phrase “diversifying our tourism industry” is pretty loaded and people usually ask, “what does that mean?” To me it means not just focusing solely on the seasonal cruise ship industry. It means trying to spread out to independent travelers in times of year where we have more capacity because these people can stay in our town for more than a day.
I want to encourage more cultural tourism, having young people coming here for arts — we have lots of homegrown playwrights and cultural events. Showcasing the culture that has been a part of this location thousands of years before Juneau was. I believe that we need to diversify to include more independent travelers and to bring people here for cultural tourism.
I also have some ideas for better managing cruise ship tourism. I think a part of managing tourism, a responsible thing to do, is to perhaps set times when tour groups are coming to the glacier, so that way the people who live here year-round can also enjoy them. I think it’s I think we also don’t quite have the infrastructure for the level of tourists that we have coming through off the cruise ships.
I see firsthand the congestion and the difficulty of traffic, and I think more needs to be done with our traffic congestion downtown. My idea is in future years to maybe one day a month, like on First Friday, where we have a reduced amount of cruise ships in town. Where we make an active effort with activities and everything to actually bring locals back downtown so we can also experience downtown.
Are there any substantial matters that we didn’t get around to talking about that you think is pertinent to discuss?
I think a lot of the issues that I’ve I’ve taken up as a priority — whether it comes to our economy or whether it comes to reducing homelessness — I think they depend on kind of three core areas that we need to work better on: We need to make sure that we have great schools, we need to make sure that we have good affordable housing here and we also need to do better with child care in Juneau.
When we talk about improving our economy by bringing professionals here and keeping our residents, young families are looking for these things like good schools, affordable or middle-income housing, and they’re looking for a place where their children can stay.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651) 528-1807.