The Juneau Assembly is poised for some major change as four seats on the nine-person Assembly are open during this year’s City and Borough of Juneau municipal election.
Though two of those seats could be filled by incumbents Alicia Hughes-Skandijs and Christine Woll, who are running for reelection, the other seats open are expected to welcome two new faces.
The Assembly is the governing body of CBJ, and its members hold the legislative and policy-making powers of the city. They are largely responsible for setting policies, and directing them to the city manager and staff to enact. Those policies include topics like housing, child care, tourism and taxes.
In order to make those pivotal decisions for the city, it’s critical a quorum of members are present at those meetings — without at least five members present, a vote cannot take place.
Over the past year, Assembly members sporting perfect attendance (either in-person or on Zoom) at the 14 regular Assembly meetings — held between Sept. 12, 2022, through Sept. 11, 2023 — include Greg Smith, Wade Bryson and Michelle Bonnet Hale. Hughes-Skandijs, Maria Gladziszewski and Mayor Beth Weldon only missed one. Woll, former member Carole Triem and ‘Wáahlaal Gíidaak Barbara Blake missed two, three and four, respectively.
“I think it’s important to be there to make the decisions,” Smith said in an interview Monday, noting he wasn’t aware of his perfect attendance. “Sometimes life happens and you miss some meetings — people on the Assembly have regular jobs, family and life — but I think everyone does their best to do the work.”
Smith, who works a full-time job outside of being on the Assembly, said it’s a constant balance.
Beyond just regular meetings where members give the final approval of their policy decisions, they often tackle much of their work in committees that focus on specific facets of municipal issues such as finances, housing and economic development, public works and facilities, and human resources.
The Finance Committee and Committee of the Whole are often where the most critical changes and discussions are made, for both policy and budgetary decisions, before they reach the full Assembly for a final decision. A quorum of five members is also required for votes to occur at both of those committees. From September of last year to now, the city has held 15 Committee of the Whole meetings and 16 Finance Committee meetings.
“That’s where all the work is done,” Bryson said in an interview Monday.
Throughout the year, members also attended a multitude of economic development, public works and facilities, and human resources meetings. They serve as liaisons for other city boards and committees as well.
Gladziszewski, Hale and Hughes-Skandijs all had perfect attendance at the 15 Assembly Committee of the Whole meetings — held between Sept. 26, 2022, and Sept. 18, 2023 — followed by Bryson, former member Triem and Mayor Weldon missing only one meeting over the year. Smith, Woll and Blake missed two, three and four, respectively.
Bryson, who also works full time outside of being an Assembly member, said attending committee meetings is where he best learns about a topic. He said having full Assembly attendance is pivotal in having a robust discussion.
“That’s where the details really get worked out, is in the initial meetings, that’s just where the really good information happens,” he said. “Even one person missing where we have eight people, or two people missing you can feel a dynamic change in the group depending on who is missing.”
Members with perfect attendance at the 16 Finance Committee meetings — held between Sept. 7, 2022, and Sept. 6, 2023 — include Smith, Hale and Woll. Former member and chair of the committee Triem missed one meeting, Hughes-Skandijs missed two, Mayor Weldon missed three, Gladziszewski missed four and Blake missed eight. Blake said being Alaska Native and a parent means she is pulled in many directions, including away from her role as an Assembly member at time.
Hale, the only member to have perfect attendance for all the meetings, said she’s always felt a “crazy sense of duty” after she was elected to the Assembly in 2018. She recalled a Finance Committee meeting on May 17 of this year that she went to great lengths to attend despite multiple hurdles getting in the way.
“I was in a camper van, in really, really hot Florida. I had my computer, but then I couldn’t plug it in. I had my phone, but then my phone got too hot, so I was switching back and forth,” she said, laughing. “I had to take the camper van away from our little cabin and parked next to the ranger station. I was there until midnight just so I could attend the meeting.”
The finance meeting centered around what mill rate the Assembly would approve for the 2024 municipal budget, a major topic being discussed during this year’s election. Hale said choosing to miss a meeting — especially a committee meeting discussing something as important as the mill rate — just isn’t an option for her.
“I don’t know why I have this sense of duty beyond that people elected me to do this job and, if you have a job like this, you can’t miss really big things,” she said. “We make decisions that affect the entire city — for me, it’s really important to be there for those decisions.”
Hale acknowledged that since retiring last December, the duties and responsibilities of being an Assembly member have been much more manageable. She applauded her fellow members who work full-time jobs outside of their time on the Assembly.
“There’s so many hours that go into things,” she said. “Even if it’s just an Assembly meeting a lot of time is spent reading packets, and then taking phone calls from people and meeting with people. So it’s not just the meeting, right? It’s the prep and then all the conversations that you have with people.”
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651) 528-1807.