Empire Editorial: Endorsements for Assembly, school board

  • Sunday, October 2, 2016 1:03am
  • Opinion

We don’t envy the slate of candidates vying for municipal government seats this year. These individuals will be asked to make some of the most difficult choices impacting our city in nearly four decades. We commend each of them for answering the call of public service.

The primary criteria used by the Juneau Empire’s Editorial Board in judging these candidates is straightforward: We want to see individuals who are prepared to deal with the fiscal challenges that lie ahead. We considered each candidate’s knowledge and experience working with budgets, their temperament and approach to decision-making, and their understanding of the fiscal climate today and into the future.

By no means were these easy decisions to make, but the slate of candidates endorsed below are the best ones to lead our community during the difficult times ahead.

District 1

We endorse Arnold Liebelt in the Assembly District 1 race over incumbent Mary Becker.

Liebelt was consistently one of the strongest and most prepared candidates during every debate and forum. Liebelt was never one to mince words or manipulate divisive topics to gain votes. He’s a straight shooter with a pragmatic approach to governing, something we need more of during times of low oil prices and dwindling budgets and staff resources.

Liebelt has a wealth of private-sector experience that would offer an immediate benefit to the Assembly. His time as a policy analyst included work on budgets, testifying before the Legislature and closely following legislation and its fiscal impact — all useful tools for someone serving on the Assembly.

We like Mary Becker and can’t thank her enough for her six years of service on the Assembly, her nine years on the Juneau Board of Education and decades teaching. Becker can serve only one more consecutive term before terming out. We literally can’t afford to wait three more years for someone like Liebelt to come along.

District 2

Even if Beth Weldon wasn’t unopposed for the District 2 seat, she’d probably still have our vote. Weldon has spent her entire life in Juneau, with half of it serving the community as part of Capital City Fire/Rescue. We’re not surprised that someone like Weldon, who retired from CCFR a few years ago, would get the itch to return to public service. It’s what she knows and what she’s always done.

Weldon understands our city and the needs of its residents, while still recognizing we all must live within our means — both residents and city departments. Despite being given a smooth road to the Assembly, Weldon was active in getting her message out to voters and surveying their thoughts on local issues. We doubt many unopposed candidates would have gone to the same lengths to ensure voters’ voices were heard.

Areawide

We’d rather not pick a favored candidate in this race. We like both — a lot. The areawide race includes the two strongest candidates overall, and we wish there was enough room for them both. Since we must pick only one, our vote goes to Norton Gregory over incumbent Kate Troll.

Against any other candidate in any other race, Troll would get our vote. She is a committed public servant, has a deep understanding of the issues, and she’s demonstrated the ability to make difficult decisions while facing adversity. We can say without any doubt that Juneau is better off because of Troll. She’s a part of an Assembly that has made great progress in advancing development of new housing units, has supported the new Housing First facility, and helped ease restraints on child care centers — all critical issues directly impacting thousands of people. A vote for Kate Troll is a vote well cast.

Our vote is for Norton Gregory, however.

Our city needs Gregory — his energy, his experience and his perspective. He is an intelligent, informed and involved man who has committed years to fixing Juneau’s housing crisis. He devotes time to AWARE and other causes. Gregory received our endorsement in 2014 because he had real solutions to fix the housing crisis and he understands the challenges of being a young professional in this city. It’s an added benefit that he brings a underrepresented perspective to the table.

There’s been a void on the Assembly in recent years, and it’s one Troll can’t fill.

During a debate this month, each candidate was asked if the Assembly properly represents Juneau. Gregory was the only candidate to say no. We think others might not have understood the question.

About 12 percent of Juneau residents identify as Alaska Native, and 40 percent are between the age of 18 and 44. Our Assembly is entirely white and the majority of its members are retirees. The Assembly needs diversity in both age and culture. We have no doubt those on the Assembly do their best to represent all residents, but perspective is lacking nonetheless. Gregory can change that.

School Board

Our votes for the two open seats on the Juneau Board of Education go to Dan DeBartolo and Steve Whitney.

DeBartolo and Whitney most clearly understand the position they’ll be in as the district reduces its budget, year after year. We need individuals grounded in fiscal reality. Whitney and DeBartolo have that in spades.

On several occasions during debates, Whitney refrained from giving his opinion. At first, we took this as indecisiveness. After meeting with Whitney, we realized he takes a cautious, measured approach to everything. Whitney won’t rush decisions without having all the facts. Whitney also has public policy experience that will serve the school board well, and he’s taken the time to get to know the administration and the issues he’ll be faced with.

DeBartolo knows the challenges ahead and is prepared, as he should be considering his extensive and impressive work history. DeBartolo worked six years for the Permanent Fund Dividend Division, and he serves as director of administrative services for the Alaska Department of Revenue. He’s the kind of person we need in tough financial times, and has several possible solutions (more shared services, for example) that will minimize, and possibly avoid, impacting classroom size.

Propositions 1, 2 and 3

Proposition 1 asks Juneau voters if the city should implement an additional 3 percent sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products, bringing the tax up to 8 percent total. We urge you to vote “yes.”

Alaskans’ plan from the beginning was to treat marijuana like alcohol, which is why this proposition made the ballot. Alcohol is taxed at an additional 3 percent as well. A “no” vote would be a costly mistake, especially when cruise ship season rolls around next year.

Proposition 2 asks Juneau voters to renew a temporary 3 percent sales tax on retail sales, services and commercial rentals. The renewal begins July 1, 2017 and ends June 20, 2022. If you enjoy being part of civilized society, vote “yes” on Proposition 2.

Proposition 2 funds the majority of our government, things like police, fire, street maintenance, snow removal, library costs, capital improvement projects, general government services and Juneau’s budget reserve. A “no” vote would mean the loss of $25.5 million in revenue, of which 18 percent comes from tourists. Juneau’s permanent sales tax is a paltry 1 percent. If the temporary sales tax isn’t renewed, we can all expect cuts in services, increases to other taxes, or both.

Proposition 3 asks residents if they want to make the same temporary 3 percent sales tax permanent. We urge you to vote “no.” This tax is essential to keeping our city vibrant, but make no mistake: We should not make a permanent decision for all future generations. Additionally, renewing the tax every five years helps to ensure city officials are managing the money properly.

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