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Municipal candidates meet at LWV forum

Posted: September 19, 2012 - 12:05am
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Mayoral candidates Merrill Sanford and Cheryl Jebe share a laugh as they speak during the League of Women Voters forum in the Assembly Chamber on Tuesday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Mayoral candidates Merrill Sanford and Cheryl Jebe share a laugh as they speak during the League of Women Voters forum in the Assembly Chamber on Tuesday.

Read coverage of this year's municipal election and weigh in the questions posed to candidates at juneauempire.com/elections

Candidates in Juneau’s Oct. 2 municipal election answered questions at a collegial League of Women Voters forum in the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Chambers Tuesday evening.

Moderator Barbara Belknap asked questions generated by the LWV and audience members of first the candidates for the Juneau School District Board of Education, more commonly known as the school board, and then candidates for Assembly Districts 1 and 2, and finally the two candidates for mayor.

The school board candidates largely agreed on issues like focusing on early education to improve Juneau’s high school graduation rate, reaching out to the community to help cover school nurse program cuts, and emphasizing efforts to counter bullying and discrimination in Juneau schools.

But candidates displayed some divergences over the pupil-to-teacher ratio, among other topics.

“There’s nobody that wants a larger PTR. However, PTR is a very fine balancing act,” said Destiny Sargeant, who served on the school board from 2007 to 2010 and is seeking a return to the body. “When the budgets get to be difficult, you have to choose what gets given up.”

Incumbent Phyllis Carlson agreed with Sargeant’s position.

“We are not in a circumstance right now where we can meet our ideal PTR,” said Carlson.

But first-time candidate Michelle Johnston said PTR is her top priority.

“I will not support increasing our current PTR under any circumstances,” Johnston said. “I think that it’s a crucial issue.”

Vice President Andrea “Andi” Story, running for reelection, said class size is not the most important element in education.

“We’re equating lower class size to having our kids learn the most, and while class size is important, effective instruction is the most important principal factor to improve student achievement,” Story said.

A running theme throughout the event was the school district’s budget shortage, prompting Belknap to remark of questions suggesting additional expenditures for the district, “I think what we’ve heard is a very sad response about budgets.”

Second-time school board candidate Will Muldoon, who previously ran in 2003, did not attend the forum.

Assembly candidates Loren Jones and Paul Nowlin, running for District 1, and Jerry Nankervis, the sole candidate for District 2, explained what they would bring to the Assembly.

“I’ve been a team player,” said Nankervis, who retired from the Juneau Police Department last year. “I will bring that to the table.”

Jones said his time as a state employee and serving on local boards had taught him “the value of listening, the value of asking really good questions.”

Nowlin described running for the Assembly as “a good challenge,” adding, “I just want to give back to the community.”

On the question of downtown revitalization, Nankervis said, “I’m not sure that downtown isn’t vitalized. … I don’t come downtown and see a non-vital community. I see a pretty darn busy place when I come down.”

Jones disagreed.

“I think that there’s a lot of concern about downtown,” said Jones. He said the Juneau Economic Development Council and other groups working on the issue should continue to be included in the discussion, adding, “The Assembly’s not going to come up with a solution that’s going to be acceptable unless the people that are most affected are part of the solution.”

Nowlin identified his top priority as affordable housing.

“The most important thing is to get some more affordable housing downtown,” said Nowlin. “In the buildings above the shops, there is a lot of empty space.”

Nowlin also suggested, “I think one thing that the Assembly could try to work toward is lowering property taxes.”

Nankervis said his main concern is also housing.

“My goal is to try and ensure the future of this town is as bright for my children as it was for me when I got here,” Nankervis said.

Jones said his top concern is the Lemon Creek Landfill.

“I think my second priority is to try to increase the amount of communication with the Assembly, getting more people to the Assembly meetings,” Jones added.

The mayoral exchange between former Assemblymember Merrill Sanford and LWV Treasurer Cheryl Jebe was perhaps the most staid of the event’s three segments. The candidates found little to disagree on.

“I’m running for mayor to bring new energy to all of Juneau,” Jebe said in her opening statement.

Sanford said a sense of family motivated him to run.

“The main reason I’m running is because I have five grandkids living here now,” said Sanford. “Those grandkids are what are important to me, and I want them to be able to grow up in our community of Juneau.”

The only question on which the candidates seriously differed was the question of additional funding for Capital Transit to provide Sunday and holiday service.

“Yes,” said Jebe. “I believe in public transportation. It’s very important for the life of our community.”

Sanford said the budget and transit plan should be considered, noting that much of Capital Transit’s funding comes from the CBJ.

“I wouldn’t say yes automatically,” Sanford said. “I think that we have to balance that with the routes that we have and the routes that we can provide.”

After Jebe and Sanford concluded, Belknap implored attendees to vote on Oct. 2 and on Nov. 6, the date of the nationwide general election.

“These candidates are working hard for us,” Belknap said. “I think we can return the favor.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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