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Students vet Assembly, School Board candidates

Posted: September 23, 2013 - 10:00pm  |  Updated: September 24, 2013 - 12:01am
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Thunder Mountain High School students attend an after-school candidate fair to hear from city assembly and school board candidates on Monday.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Thunder Mountain High School students attend an after-school candidate fair to hear from city assembly and school board candidates on Monday.

Candidates for the Juneau School Board and Assembly gathered once again Monday to discuss their stances and qualifications for the positions they seek, but this forum was a bit different.

The meeting was conducted by and designed for the students of Thunder Mountain High School.

“This was a chance to meet Assembly members we wouldn’t have met on our own,” said Hannah Marx, the school’s student body president. “Now, I’m more comfortable to reach out and get in touch with our local leaders.”

Mara Early, a government teacher at Thunder Mountain, conceived the idea about two weeks ago. Seniors Zach Gianotti and Brock Cary teamed up to work on the logistics.

“It was a chance to address issues we have with our leaders,” Cary said.

About 30 students attended, along with Assembly candidates Mary Becker, Karen Crane, Kate Troll and Bill Peters. The two school board members up for reelection, Barbara Thurston and Lisa Worl also fielded questions from students.

“City races are so important for things that affect our lives, yet voter turnout goes down,” Early said. “It’s important for the young people to realize the importance and influence [city leaders] have in their lives.”

Students questioned the school board members about the thought put into some of the board’s decisions, such as graduation requirements and the recent middle school travel ban.

“People who feel the most strongly are the most likely to come in, but that’s not necessarily the whole community’s opinion,” Thurston said. “There’s a difference between not listening and not doing what you want.”

Worl added that some did contact her in support of the ban. Both members voted against banning the travel.

Assembly candidates were also asked about the ban. All said the district’s savings were minimal, and none said they would have supported the ban.

The candidates had opportunities to list their priorities and describe their plans if elected, but they also were asked about hot-topic issues like building a road out of Juneau and solving the city’s garbage issue.

Candidates addressing the garbage questions offered answers ranging from shipping the garbage and sludge to Oregon, buying an incinerator for the growing pile and emphasizing the importance of recycling.

“There is no easy answer, but it is an important issue,” Crane said.

Another question about the creation of a parking manager position to handle downtown parking elicited a number of responses from the Assembly hopefuls — from an endorsement of the position to frustration that past attempts at fixing downtown parking have proved futile.

“We’ve invested a lot in technology and infrastructure to address some of the downtown parking problems and I’m disappointed it’s not working,” said Peters who is running against Troll for the open Areawide Assembly seat. He added that a dedicated, short-term position would help sort through some of the problems.

Finally, students asked the Assembly hopefuls for ideas that would allow students to get more involved with local government through volunteer or internship positions.

Becker offered the concept of taking a student with the city’s board for the Southeast Conference every year, and Troll suggested making a student honorary mayor for a week.

“It’d be a fun way to engage students in the civic process,” Troll said.

The 2013 Municipal Election is Oct. 1.

Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at matthew.woolbright@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reportermatt.

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