Juneau Assembly candidates discuss a range of issues during a forum Sept. 12 at the KTOO studio. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Juneau Assembly candidates discuss a range of issues during a forum Sept. 12 at the KTOO studio. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Opinion: After the election where does Juneau go from here?

The dust has finally settled on Juneau’s recent municipal election, and there’s an expectation that our Assembly will start conducting its business more transparently and begin re-examining its priorities.

With the new City Hall initiative (NCH) suffering its second electoral setback in two years it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Some project proponents blame its defeat on a public misunderstanding of the ostensible benefits advanced by city leaders, but that excuse doesn’t hold water. Voters evaluated enough information to make their decision on the project merits. Even after the Assembly authorized $16 million in upfront funding and expended $50,000 to “educate” voters, the NCH received fewer “yes” votes and failed by a larger margin than in the 2022 election.

It was a doomed effort from the start. It’s past time to re-think the cost, location and need for a facility of this size.

The public rebuke of the NCH should signal to the Assembly that their other mega-project priority, an expanded arts and culture center, now combined with a revamp of Centennial Hall and dubbed the Capital Civic Center (CCC), may be in trouble. A total of $17 million has been appropriated to date, even though no one knows the final cost or the extent of the required annual subsidy. Several years ago the price tag was estimated at $75 million. Who knows how much more it will cost now?

It’s interesting to note that while CCC boosters maintain that such a grand facility is needed, a recent weekend in Juneau tells a different story. Three very large downtown public events were held simultaneously on a Saturday night at Centennial Hall, Juneau Arts & Culture Center, and at the State Library and Museum. While those three major events were happening, Juneau’s Crystal Saloon was entertaining yet another audience…and in the Valley, Juneau’s Moose Lodge and Women of the Moose held a fundraiser auction.

Juneau certainly seems to have facilities that can host large, medium and small events.

Even more telling is the trend of cultural performances being staged in smaller Juneau neighborhood venues instead of larger auditoriums. In November, Theater Alaska is scheduling an Ibsen production in 11 different venues around the city. Only one of those is taking place in the Juneau Arts and Culture Center. Comparable outdoor performances were enjoyed earlier this summer at parks in the Mendenhall Valley, downtown and Douglas during the Alaska Theater Festival. According to event organizers, their main focus is to increase accessibility and bring “professional theater and professional artists closer to the community.” A total of 2,259 people attended similar festival shows last year.

Acknowledging that traditional approaches aren’t useful in contemplating building uses, whether for city employees or theater-goers, requires a complete mind-shift by our city leaders.

Nevertheless, some will interpret the retention of sitting Assembly members and the election of the two new members as quasi-approval of these projects, and a continuation of business as usual.

That would be a mistake.

The power of incumbency, the strength of campaigns and the sheer number of candidates in the Areawide race played a major role in this election, and the results did not truly reflect the amount of public dissatisfaction with a whole host of past and current Assembly actions. Juneau residents have continued to voice their frustration over a number of concerns:

• Unwarranted, exorbitant increases in property taxes.

• Millions of tax dollars appropriated for projects not approved by the public.

• Non-disclosure of emails constituting public testimony.

• New city manager selection held almost entirely in secret.

• Continuation of expensive vote-by-mail elections with little benefit.

Over the past several years our city leaders have promoted projects and initiatives without fully vetting them with the public. Appropriating millions of dollars for buildings or projects like vote-by-mail without a clear idea of cost or impacts is not a recipe for gaining public trust in government.

Increasingly, the resulting unnecessary taxes and impacts will further burden Juneau working families and aging population. JEDC’s 2023 Economic Indicators revealed for the first time in Juneau history, our over-60 citizens outnumber our under-20 young people. This isn’t a positive trend.

Resolving these issues will require creative, perhaps unconventional, thinking — but that’s what is needed now.

• After retiring as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for KeyBank in Alaska, Win Gruening became a regular Opinion Page columnist for the Juneau Empire. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is involved in various local and statewide organizations. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

More in Opinion

Have something to say?

Here’s how to add your voice to the conversation.

Leaders at Bartlett Regional Hospital listen to comments from residents during a forum Monday about proposed cuts to some services. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
My Turn: Bartlett board faces challenges

Once upon a time, Alaska’s capital had a well-run municipal hospital, but… Continue reading

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Letter: SEARHC’s goals seem likely to limit, rather than expand, health options in Juneau

Max Mertz’s comments at the Bartlett Regional Hospital public forum about SEARHC’s… Continue reading

Former President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower after he was found guilty of all counts in his criminal trial in New York on May 30. (Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times)
Opinion: Trump’s new fixers

“Alaska Republicans back Trump after historic conviction in hush money case,” the… Continue reading

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Letter: Allow locals to have their town back once a week during the summer

Perhaps Nate Vallier shrugs when he sees eagles and bears (My Turn,… Continue reading

Juneau School District administrators and board members listen to a presentation about the district’s multi-million deficit during a Jan. 9 meeting. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
My Turn: School board recall not a cure for ‘failure to thrive’

Decline happens over time. Kinda like the way we gain weight and… Continue reading

Two skiers settle into a lift chair as they pass trees with fresh snow at Eaglecrest Ski Area on Dec. 20, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
My Turn: Eaglecrest Ski Area attempting to do too much without sensible leadership

Ever wonder what the 50-year-old clearcut above the beginner slopes at Eaglecrest… Continue reading

A Carnival cruise ship is berthed Juneau’s cruise ship docks during the summer of 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Ignoring the consequences of ship-free Saturdays?

Backers of a cruise initiative to block large cruise ships from docking… Continue reading

Juneau School District administrators and board members review the updated budget for the current fiscal year during a Board of Education meeting April 16 at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
My Turn: School board recall is about more than ‘angry moms set on being vengeful’

It’s time to set the record straight about the school board recall.… Continue reading

The 1,094-foot-long Norwegian Bliss docks in Juneau on April 9 to begin this year’s cruise ship season. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
My Turn: Consider the far-reaching and harmful consequences of Saturday cruise ship ban

The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council expresses our strong support for Protect… Continue reading

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Letter: Don’t believe doom-and-gloom predictions for ship-free Saturdays

As a 54-year resident of Juneau I have seen the summer cruise… Continue reading