The Year in News: A look back at Juneau's biggest stories of 2016

Here’s a list of Juneau stories and issues — in no particular order — that shocked us, had a lasting impact or celebrated our community.

 

 

Muñoz letters

Former Juneau Rep. Cathy Muñoz made headlines in 2016 with letters she wrote on behalf of a convicted child rapist and a woman convicted of child endangerment. The original Empire story caused a media firestorm of criticism and a deluge of condemnation from constituents and colleagues. A few months later, Democratic underdog Justin Parish defeated Muñoz, who had been in office since 2009.

Muñoz claimed she wrote the letters for Thomas Jack Jr. and Mary Chessica Hauge as a private citizen, not in her formal role as a state representative.

[Rep. Cathy Muñoz writes letters on behalf of defendants in two child sex abuse cases]

Jack, 40, was convicted by a Juneau jury during a 2010 trial on six felony counts of sexually assaulting a minor — his then 11-year-old foster daughter. Hauge, 33, was convicted in Juneau of eight felony counts of child endangerment after leaving her two daughters with a known sex offender, their biological father. The father had repeatedly raped the young girls over a number of years and produced pornography with them.

Originally, Muñoz told the Empire said she didn’t do anything wrong by acting as a private citizen on behalf of people she considered her friends.

But a week and a half later, Muñoz wrote another letter — this one posted on her website apologizing to the residents of Juneau.

[Muñoz can't 'remove' her letters supporting child abusers]

“(The letters) unintentionally caused pain to victims of sexual abuse and for that, I sincerely apologize,” Muñoz wrote. She called writing the two letters “a mistake.”

 

Housing First breaks ground

After several years of talking and planning, Juneau’s Housing First Project broke ground in Lemon Creek in May to the cheers of more than 100 people.

[Breaking ground, building homes]

Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority President and CEO Ricardo Worl called the project a symbol of “how we treat the people who need the most.”

The 32-unit Housing First Project will cater to Juneau residents who have barriers to housing stability, including individuals experiencing homelessness, mental health issues, developmental disabilities, chronic alcoholism and other substance-related disorders. The project aims to provide housing and resources without the caveat of sobriety or other preconditions of treatment. Anchorage and Fairbanks already have such housing.

Residents of Juneau’s Housing First Project are scheduled to move in this spring and summer. The roughly $7 million project is still seeking funding.

 

SLAM and the Whale

As Juneau looks forward to the completion of Housing First in 2017, the community in 2016 welcomed the opening of the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff State Library, Archives, and Museum building, also known as SLAM, and the arrival of the whale.

The 118,000-square-foot SLAM was a result of 12 years of development and about $140 million. Hundreds of people filled the plaza outside the new building on opening day June 6.

“It’s a huge relief to finally be here,” museum conservator Ellen Carrlee said. “It’s like studying for a big exam: You study and you study — you could always study a little more — but to have it be here is tremendous. It’s not all the way done, but we couldn’t keep people out any longer. People want in, they want to see it.”

[Grand SLAM: New state museum opens]

R.T. Skip Wallen’s whale sculpture migrated north to the capital city by ferry in August. It took about 10 years and nearly $3 million to get the whale sculpture to Juneau. For years, the whale sculpture had been a source of local debate. Some see it as an iconic work of art; others see it as a symbol of frivolous spending.

The life-sized, six-ton bronze whale can now be seen breaching at Bridge Park where it awaits an infinity pool. When everything is complete, the whale will function as a fountain, shooting water out of its fins.

 

New to Celebration

Celebration 2016 in June saw two new events that will hopefully become mainstays during the biennial festival of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures — the Native fashion show and the “Two Spirit” reception.

Eighteen Native designers showcased clothing, jewelry and body art on the runway inside the Shuká Hít (clan house) in the Walter Soboleff Building.

[Slideshow: Celebration 2016 Native Fashion Show

Sealaska Vice Chair Jackie Pata designed a school uniform with skin-stitched trimmings and buttons of the Raven moiety. She called the outfit a seemingly simple way of incorporating Native style into mainstream life.

“Not only is our culture special to us when we come to Celebration or when we put on our special regalia during ceremonies, but ... we are Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian every day,” she said.

Organized by SEAGLA, the “Two Spirit” reception connected the Native community with the LGBTQ community.

“I want to create a space for people to connect,” Tlingit artist Ricky Tagaban said. “We’re a lot stronger as a community. My hope is that people from villages come … and connect with people and realize you’re not alone.”

The reception was held at the end of Celebration and kicked off Pride events in Juneau.

 

Juneau teens

From filling the halls of the Alaska State Capitol to participating in the Democratic Party State Convention, Juneau teens made their voices heard this year.

Juneau high school students testified during committee hearings on the controversial Senate Bill 191, which, in its original form, would’ve restricted providers of abortion services and its affiliates from teaching or distributing materials in public schools, and impose sanctions if violated.

[Juneau teens say banning Planned Parenthood is bad for students]

Walking into the Capitol in early March, TMHS student Catherine Marks explained why it was important for her to be there, “We’re the ones who are going to be affected by this bill. We’re the ones who Planned Parenthood won’t be able to come in and educate, so it’s important for them to see that the youth really care about this.”

A couple months later, Juneau teens Adrienne Audet and India Busby were getting ready to participate in the Alaska Democratic Party State Convention in Anchorage as delegates in a pool that party spokesman Jake Hamburg called “the youngest group overall.”

Thunder Mountain High School graduate Kevin Allen also got an up-close look at politics during a summer internship with Sen. Lisa Murkowski. During election season, the 18-year-old was one of four candidates who ran for two Juneau School Board seats. Allen lost but earned almost 19 percent of the vote.

This fall, Juneau-Douglas High School senior and former Juneau Empire intern Tasha Elizarde wrote a post for MTV News titled, “The Power of Understanding Your Body.” She told the Empire that sex ed isn’t just important; it’s empowering.

“It just gives us so much information about your body and through that, you are kind of able to accept yourself more and, in a way, knowing the information is almost like having another support system behind you. Knowing yourself and knowing your body allows you to just progress farther in life,” Elizarde said.

 

Excursion Inlet homicide

A hunting trip in Excursion Inlet went extremely wrong when a Juneau jeweler was killed. The man charged for the May murder is a former Arizona lawmaker.

Mark De Simone, 53, was charged with first- and second-degree murder for allegedly shooting and killing 34-year-old Juneau resident Duilio Antonio “Tony” Rosales, who is originally from Nicaragua. De Simone also faces manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges.

[Juneau grand jury indicts ex-Arizona lawmaker for murder]

The two men were part of a group hunting trip organized by William Young, owner of The Jewel Box in downtown Juneau where Rosales worked. After Rosales was shot twice in the back of his head at a private cabin in Excursion Inlet, De Simone allegedly confessed to a witness, “I shot Tony. I shot him. It’s my fault,” according to an affidavit filed in court.

The case is scheduled to go to jury trial in May 2017.

De Simone was a politician in Arizona and resigned in 2008 after he was arrested for domestic violence for allegedly hitting his then-wife.

Rosales had lived in Juneau for five years. He had a wife and two daughters.

 

2016: A year of theft

It was hard to go too long in 2016 without hearing or reading about a house, car, boat or business getting broken into. Even schools reported stolen items.

In the first six months of the year, Juneau Police Department received reports for 113 residential and commercial burglaries, putting Juneau on pace to experience the most burglaries recorded in more than a decade.

[Juneau on track to see the most burglaries in a decade]

Lt. David Campbell said in August a lot of the increased crime was directly related to drugs in the community.

“There’s definitely a link between drug use and property crimes, we’ve always known that,” Campbell said. “You have to deal with it from both ends.”

 

UAS gets to keep School of Education

The University of Alaska Southeast got an early Christmas present when University of Alaska System President Jim Johnsen changed his mind on where a consolidated College of Education should reside.

[UAS president changes mind; UAS will keep School of Education]

Johnsen originally recommended the teacher education program be located at University of Alaska Fairbanks, the system’s research hub. But during a trip to Juneau right before the Board of Regents was scheduled to vote on the issue, Johnsen heard an earful from community members and leaders.

“This is the most logical area where the University of Alaska Southeast can play a meaningful statewide role in providing academic leadership, and that’s the case we made to the president,” UAS chancellor Rick Caulfield said.

The City and Borough of Juneau’s plea to keep the school in Southeast included a $1 million pledge.

Johnsen changed his recommendation, and the board voted unanimously to headquarter the College of Education at UAS.

 

Haven House wins legal battle

A year after its first residents moved in, Haven House was no longer surrounded by signs outside that read, “Right Idea, Wrong Place.”

But that didn’t mean its neighbors, worried about crime and a depreciation of property values, still didn’t want the place shut down. Haven House, located on Malissa Drive in the Mendenhall Valley, is a faith-based recovery residence for women. Some of its residents are transitioning from prison.

[Haven House is more than a home; it's a way of life]

The multi-year battle between Haven House and the Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association came to an end in August when a Juneau Superior Court judge upheld the City and Borough of Juneau’s decision to allow the transitional home to operate.

“I’m glad that the legal challenge is over,” Attorney and Haven House board member Mary Alice McKeen said, “and that we can just get on helping women who want to start their lives anew and live in harmony with the neighbors.”

Top 10 stories of 2016 set the state stage for 2017
A year in review: City Hall's biggest stories in 2016

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