Win Gruening: Juneau Assembly’s Transparency Deficit Disorder

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By WIN GRUENING

Controversies surrounding Juneau Assembly actions regarding property tax assessments and millage rates, efforts to build expensive public buildings rejected by voters, and spending tax money to influence municipal elections, have all left our city leaders unfazed.

Assembly members continue to ignore growing community concerns expressed at the voting booth and in public testimony.  For a group that normally conducts its business by covering all their bases, this seems almost reckless.  They have chosen to pursue their agenda with little, if any, public explanation.

The July 10 Assembly meeting provides another example of the lack of transparency that permeates recent decisions.  During that meeting, the following ordinances were among those up for public hearings:

  • Creating a Short-Term Rental Registration Program
  • Authorizing the Manager to Convey Approximately 11.5 Acres of Property Located at Pederson Hill to Tlingit Haida Regional Housing Authority for Less Than Fair Market Value
  • Authorizing the Issuance of General Obligation Bonds in the Principal Amount of Not to Exceed $27,000,000 to Finance Construction and Equipping of a New City Hall
  • Appropriating $8,100,000 to the Manager for the Purchase of the Juneau Bone and Joint Center Property

While testimony on these ordinances was not extremely heavy, it was passionate, almost uniformly against, and echoed opinions published recently in the Juneau Empire. Six Juneau residents who spoke about the City Hall ordinance opposed it strongly. No one testified in favor of it. Nevertheless, all the ordinances were approved unanimously.

During a break in the meeting, it was revealed that at least one Assembly member, probably more, had received emails from the public supporting approvals of some or all of the above ordinances. Traditionally, it has been standard practice to provide copies of these emails in the Assembly Packet, yet this was not done.

At a minimum, any email, texts, or letters constituting public testimony should be disclosed to the public.  If these communications are persuading Assembly members to vote unanimously in favor of ordinances, despite near-unanimous opposition during public hearings, it makes the necessity for this disclosure obvious. How else can the public openly address arguments being made for and against an issue?

With none of the people sending these emails showing up to testify at the public meeting, it leaves the impression they knew their presence was not necessary because the issue had essentially been decided in advance.

Non-disclosure of written communication to Assembly members, for or against any pending action, robs the public of the right to know who is influencing their elected officials. While it may not violate the Open Meetings Act, it certainly flouts the spirit of it.  

But that wasn’t the only example of the Assembly’s transparency deficit that night.

Toward the end of the meeting, long after most audience members had left, Mayor Beth Weldon made a surprise announcement nominating former Assembly member Loren Jones to fill the position of resigning member Carole Triem.

There was no discussion of the proposed appointment, and it was unanimously approved.

On its face, there is nothing wrong with filling a vacant Assembly seat, but, with only three regular meetings remaining before Juneau’s municipal election and the 10-day filing period for seats occurring just four days later, it seemed unusual, unnecessary, and possibly prejudicial. 

Jones, a 9-year Assembly veteran, who termed-out in 2020, presumably could keep the seat warm for the next occupant, but what if that happens to be him?  Neither Mayor Weldon nor Loren Jones have indicated whether he intends to run again for the seat.  If he does, the appointment will confer the huge advantage of incumbency to his campaign.

More than that, it raises the question of whether Assembly members agreed to the appointment in advance.

Given the Assembly’s record thus far, it’s not out of the question.

Why not some Juneau Empire opinion pieces from the Mayor or other Assembly members responding to published public concerns?  Justify Jones’ appointment, why communications with Assembly members aren’t being disclosed, and why it’s ethical to spend public money on political advocacy.

We hear a lot from the Juneau City Manager, but very little from the actual decision makers.

Transparency starts with communication and it’s best received earlier in the process, not later.

After retiring as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank 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.

14 COMMENTS

  1. It’s very simple.

    They do not give a damn because we’ve taught them not to give a damn.

    We vote things down, true. But then they ignore how we voted and do it anyway.

    Why? Because they know, know, we didn’t mean it since we re-elect them until termed out. Unless you are Kathy Munoz and push yourself out.

    Until we actually make major changes in the makeup of the faux Junta, this will not change.

    Related: once upon a time I thought Wade had common sense. Ever since his downtown Subway closed, he seems to have gone Dark Side.

  2. Why not ask for the emails and all embedded metadata?
    .
    Might be interesting to find out out their origin, whether they were sent by humans, bots, or whether they were sent at all.
    .
    If a FOIA request to that effect is denied or the response is redacted into uselessness, that shouldl tell taxpayers what they need to know.

  3. It was 18.00 for 4 dozen doughnut holes and 4 old English donuts! Does anyone on the assembly actually have a job and how many work a public entity and guess many private.
    I’m retired in Juneau after 44 years working for both public and private sectors and shortly will not be able to afford doughnut holes.

  4. Mr. Gruening is precisely accurate in his account of this feckless and reckless body; poorly led and anything but transparent. Don’t forget, this is the outfit that spent $17 million on a brass whale that the merchants begged them to not fund or build, and then they spent $900,000 defending themselves against a lawsuit in which the cruise ship association said the $17 million was misspent. Get this: They then lost on summary judgement. How do you spend almost $1 million on attorneys to lose on summary judgement?

    I’ll answer that question. You perform that financial malfeasance by taking your instructions from the very people who brought ranked choice voting to Alaska.

    They also gave a grant to “teach drag queen lessons!” All taxpayer money!

    Now they want to borrow millions to build a huge downtown office building. Here is one long time Juneau resident and taxpayer who thinks that Alaska needs a better and more representative capital.

    • These people directing our city are not fiscally conservative. They act like children whose parents told them not to do something, and they went ahead and did it anyway, thinking they may get away with it. its up to us to NOT let them! Rise up and vote. Get MAD!

    • Kayak, careful what you wish for, as bad as the Juneau Assembly is, moving the Capitol to Anchorage would only enable even worse villains. In fact the aging Starr Hill, North Douglas Bolscheviks in Juneau are harmless and benign in comparison to the Anchorage Stalinista.

      • I agree with you, and I did not intend to suggest or even hint that the capital could move to Anchorage. At the same time, and while Juneau bends over backwards to cater to legislators and their constituents, there has to be point that beyond which Juneau is too woke and incompetent to represent the rest of this great state as its capital. There have been many debacles of management by CBJ government that I did not mention. One that comes to mind is the mishandling of the sister city arrangement with Vladivostok. Thanks for your input.

  5. Hey the voters got what they wanted why now are they unhappy? They voted for these great people who is doing their best to steel and spend as much as they can. Anchorage better wake up.

  6. You have it bad in Juneau — you should feel kind of Ok– just think IF you had the Anchorage Assembly running your show like we do.
    That group of conniving misfits would drive you up a wall and over the edge. and we continue to reelect the scallywags.
    We will pray for you and maybe you would do likewise for us.
    Jim Weber

  7. You all need to hire someone smarter than you.
    Start a GoMe Fund and then hire BDO and watch the fireworks show. They are forensic accountants. That means they cannot be bought or sold like the politics of Alaska. Welcome to the show… Ladies and Gentlemen.

  8. Mr. Gruening: Maybe it is time for you to “put up or shut up” as the kids say? Deadline for CBJ Assembly Election is Monday, July 24 at 4:30 PM.

    Here’s a link… https://juneau.org/clerk/elections

    If you need people to sign your petition come down to the Imperial today (7/21) after 5:00 PM. I’ll be watching the USA match and would be happy to sign your form and donate $50 to your campaign!

  9. For years we have had no choice. If you have two or more people running for the same seat they all have been of the same mind. I hope we have a real choice this time to bring an end to this.

  10. The longer you let this accountability problem continue, the harder it becomes to correct. Politicians (local and state) have a way of circling the wagons for protection? Juneau will soon be looking back at when an appropriate correction could have been made at the ballot box (not the mail-in one), instead of more drastic measures?
    People who vote away their rights and liberties, never get them restored by another vote?

Comments are closed.