Juneau’s current City Hall is outdated, according to local municipal leaders who are hoping voters will approve funding to help pay for a new building. A bond providing such funding was rejected last year. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Juneau’s current City Hall is outdated, according to local municipal leaders who are hoping voters will approve funding to help pay for a new building. A bond providing such funding was rejected last year. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

My Turn: Local leaders’ chatter about diversity and sustainability rings hollow

  • By Joe Geldhof
  • Monday, June 19, 2023 9:14am
  • Opinion

If you pay attention to the workings of the City and Borough of Juneau, one hears a great deal about sustainability and diversity. This is especially true with the CBJ Assembly and its senior management.

I’m a big fan of listening to diverse viewpoints. And sustainability is a worthy goal — one I attempt to follow in my personal life.

The trouble with all the chatter about diversity and sustainability by our local politicians and senior management is that it often rings hollow.

The current CBJ Assembly is oddly imbalanced and lacks diversity. Our Assembly is “majority millennial,” while the fastest growing segment of our population is seniors. How is that “diverse?”

Our current Assembly is also composed mostly of members who are employed, or were employed, by government or non-governmental organizations (“NGO’s”) closely aligned with or dependent on funding from government or grants for their existence. The experience and aptitude gained from participation in the oft-discussed, but infrequently reached private sector is lacking among this Assembly. The level of participation by the senior management staff at the CBJ in actual enterprises that are required to efficiently deliver goods or services is minuscule.

Lacking in genuine diversity, this group of elected officials and senior bureaucrats does not reflect the world in which most individuals live. Yet they have advanced a number of ideas and concepts related to “sustainability,” none of which are linked to the idea of a sustainable economic future for Juneau or a genuinely sustainable budget.

The truth is the current CBJ Assembly and senior management team are in love with spending.

Think I’m wrong?

Reflect a bit on the manner by which property taxes have been assessed and handled the last few years. Our population remains stagnant, but tax increases have shot up dramatically and the CBJ budget continues to spiral upward.

Do you believe we have a lean operating budget at the CBJ? The total, all-in budget is around $450 million dollars a year. More importantly, the general government budget was stable for a long period at around $100 million for years, but has jumped up to $133 million. Not only that, twice in the last couple of years the CBJ has discovered over-spending errors exceeding two million dollars. A couple of million here, a few million there; pretty soon you’re looking at real money being squandered without apparent accountability.

The recent decision by the voters declining to fund a new City Hall, complete with expensive underground parking, obviously had no impact and apparently counts for nothing among the CBJ Assembly. The election results have been ignored in the pursuit of a personality driven agenda to build a new facility instead of focusing on the public interest as expressed by the electorate.

Juneau is a great place in most regards. But our local Assembly is ignoring the electorate and instead acting to rubber-stamp decisions cooked up by the city manager and the city finance director, both of whom and heading out the door. This pattern of electorate abuse needs to stop.

We need to adopt a genuinely sustainable budget that will help the hard-working individuals and families that live in this community, most of whom don’t have time to spend hours trying to rein in an out-of-control Assembly. Juneau needs a more diverse Assembly that reflects actual experience with finance, budgeting and the efficient administration of services.

A lot of the virtue signaling and talk about diversity or sustainability emanating from City Hall might make many of the current CBJ Assembly members feel good about themselves. That would be really swell if we were operating a support group down at City Hall for politicians and government managers. We’re not.

It’s time to focus attention on basic services, and getting our local government finances and budget under control. Until we accomplish this essential task Juneau will slowly and steadily stagnate, and become a less desirable place for many individuals and families to live.

• Joe Geldhof is a lawyer in Juneau. He has held a number of positions requiring administrative and financial skills.

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