Sanford reflects on service, gives Assembly advice

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly on Monday evening gave special recognition to outgoing and incoming members with a tone of seriousness — and sparks of humor.


Assemblymen Malcolm Menzies and Peter Freer both joined the Assembly for several months of service — elected members Bob Doll and Jonathan Anderson resigned due to moving out of state. Both had served on the Assembly before.

“One of the great hallmarks of the American system, whether we’re talking state, federal or local level, one of our greatest contributions to the world is peaceful, organized government,” said Mayor Bruce Botelho. “We are at a transition tonight. Three of our members will be stepping down, two of whom helped us in the continuum.”

Freer thanked the Assembly for allowing him to serve again.

“When I served 28 years ago, I was a young man and wasn’t sure what I was getting in to,” he said. “It felt as though I had never left. I felt very comfortable in the chair and doing the work of the community.”

Menzies echoed Freer’s comments about serving many years ago and having it feel comfortable.

“I appreciate the honor and the opportunity to serve our community,” he said. “I want to thank all of you for continuing to serve our community.”

Sanford, who has termed out, took the opportunity to make one last speech. Sanford quipped the audience knew he was a man of “few” words.

He had three points for the Assembly and public to think about.

“Lands in Southeast Alaska are the most restricted there are anywhere in the United States,” Sanford said. “We have 17 billion acres of national forest and we just about can’t touch any of it. It’s important as you deliberate in the next years, pay attention to what little bit of lands we have. We don’t have a bunch of land available to us to do whatever we want. So don’t lock it all up, please. We have to pay attention very sincerely. Less than 1 percent of our lands are in private ownership. You will not find that anywhere in the United States. It is the big gorilla in the room.”

His second point for the Assembly was to pay close attention to neighborhood needs.

“This past year or two we have had to make some very hard decisions that weren’t right in line with individual neighborhoods’ (opinions),” he said. “That’s the most difficult thing for us to do.”

Sanford urged them to look at what’s best for the community, because oftentimes decisions that sprout a lot of controversy work out well. He pointed to the asphalt plant, 12th street reconstruction and First Street in Douglas as examples. He said 12th Street has turned into a beautiful project, and believes most residents think the project was good after all. Sanford said the Douglas cul-de-sac turned out nicely as well, where fire trucks won’t have to back up extensively to turn around.

Sanford’s third topic turned to the interactions he’s had with Assembly members, the public and staff the past nine years.

“Thank you for all the interface I’ve had with you over the years,” he said. “You’ve been respectful and come forward with your ideas.”

Sanford held up a firefighter figurine, and admitted when he first came on the Assembly he thought the police and fire departments were the most important in the city. Sanford served as a fireman for 30 years.

“As I’ve sat here the past nine years, I’ve gained a great deal of respect for all of the other divisions working hard for us every single day,” he said. “... A lot of things that can happen in the city that can be just as big a catastrophe. Things we take for granted every single day.”

Sanford told the Assembly members the biggest thing they will need — from his perspective as a firefighter and retired Marine — is teamwork.

“Not that you all have to agree, but you need to sit down and really think about what you’re doing and if it’s better for the community in your mind,” he said.

Botelho said Sanford is a classmate, friend and colleague. He said sometimes the two have come down on opposite sides of big issues.

“Merrill, it has been an honor to serve with you,” Botelho said. “Merrill has been an incredible leader for this community. He is a plain speaker. In politics that is not a dominant characteristic. He’s an independent thinker.”

Botelho said the public tends to think Assembly members serve in factions and stick with them.

“Merrill can’t be pigeonholed,” Botelho said. “He is something all of us need to aspire to. He exercises his judgment. It’s a good judgement.”
Botelho joked he couldn’t say that judgement is unfailing.

City Attorney John Hartle led Randy Wanamaker, Carlton Smith and Jesse Kiehl through the swearing-in process. They all raised their right hand and pledged to follow the U.S. Constitution and all federal, state and local laws.

Hartle followed the procedure with a “good luck.”

Assemblyman David Stone was elected as deputy mayor.

In other business, the Assembly unanimously approved a letter of support to the U.S. Postal Service asking it to keep the Douglas Post Office open. It also unanimously approved a resolution for the library department to apply for grant funds to build a new Mendenhall Valley library.

The Assembly meets again Tuesday in retreat from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Assembly Chambers. Topics will include replacing the retiring city manager and its top 10 goals for the year.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at


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