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Empire Endorsements: Oct. 4 Municipal Election

Posted: September 30, 2011 - 12:03am

The Juneau Empire’s Editorial Board met with all of the candidates for the contested races in Tuesday’s municipal elections. We were impressed with the quality, breadth and depth of experience each would bring to the Assembly, and with their expressed desire for public service.

On the basis of those interviews, along with the questionnaires each candidate filled out for the League of Women Voters, we’re pleased to announce the two candidates we’ll be endorsing in those contested races — Carlton Smith for the Areawide City and Borough of Juneau Assembly seat, and Jesse Kiehl for the District 1 slot. We’ve also taken positions on each of the ballot questions Juneau voters will answer Tuesday. We were unable to meet with unopposed school board candidate Sean O’Brien, whose schedule was full.

Here’s a bit more on our picks and why we made them:

For Carlton Smith, Assembly Areawide seat:

Carlton Smith brings a healthy mix of both government and private-sector experience to his bid for the open Areawide seat on the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly, and we believe that makes him the right candidate to vote for Tuesday.

Smith runs a commercial real estate company, which will allow him to bring insight to the Assembly as to what potential employers look for in a community before deciding to open up shop. This will be key as Juneau works to boost its population growth level beyond its current anemic rate. And, general knowledge of the real estate market can be nothing but helpful as the capital city figures out how to house not only its current residents, but new ones as well.

Smith also worked for the state as a local government specialist and for the Local Boundary Commission. That latter position could prove valuable to the Assembly as Juneau may find itself in a fight with Petersburg over its proposed new borough. His experience leading Native corporations and civic groups rounds out an impressive resume for Smith.

We’re glad Smith drew challenges from Geny Del Rosario and Loren Jones, as the three-way race they created has made the debate lively. In the end, though, we are most impressed with the total package Smith would bring to the Assembly, and we encourage Juneau voters to cast their ballots for him.

For Jesse Kiehl, Assembly District 1:

Both candidates in this race are positive forces in our community, but we picked Jesse Kiehl for the District 1 seat. His decade of experience in state government working for legislators gives him a unique view into how our state works, and he has concrete ideas for how to boost affordable housing construction and keep a lid on municipal spending while expanding Juneau’s role as an important regional hub.

Randy Wanamaker for Assembly District 2:

Randy Wanamaker is running unopposed, and we look forward to again having this experienced individual on the Assembly.

Sally Saddler for school board:

Running unopposed, we suspect she’d have steamrollered any other candidate in the race anyway. A dynamo of positive energy, we’re sure Sally Saddler will continue to give her best efforts to the Juneau district.

NO on Proposition 1:

This measure would significantly lessen the amount of information available to Juneauites about their elected and appointed officials, and the amount of oversight those given the public trust receive. These are bad things, and we encourage voters to reject this proposition.

Advocates for this measure tell us it’s not important to know how much money a candidate or officeholder receives from a given source. We’re told simply disclosing the conflict is enough, since that officeholder is required to recuse him or herself from any discussion or vote regarding that source. But that’s not the sole reason for this requirement. It also exists so the Alaska Public Offices Commission, and the public, can check to see if income is the result of an honest transaction or day’s work. There’s a world of difference between selling, say, a used car for $10,000 and $1 million. The first would appear reasonable, while the second would not. If Proposition 1 passes, all Juneau voters will know is A sold a car to B, and all they can do is hope it was a deal on the up-and-up.

The measure would also eliminate APOC oversight of City and Borough of Juneau elections and officeholders. Instead of a watchdog agency, Juneau would have to rely on citizen-initiated complaints to enforce the rules against campaigns and officeholders. We’d rather a trained group of observers keep an eye on things, instead of hoping citizens will have the time and technical know-how to fight the good fight.

Proponents of Proposition 1 tell us the disclosure requirements are cumbersome, clumsy and intrusive. We won’t apologize for APOC’s request to thoroughly examine a candidate’s finances. However, we’re sure efficiencies and ease-of-use can be added to the process. But disposing of a good system with a few flaws isn’t the way to go about it. Instead, we encourage filers, the public and APOC work together to make the process as user-friendly as possible.

We urge the voters of Juneau to keep our city government as transparent as possible by voting no on Proposition 1.

YES on Proposition 2: Temporary areawide 3 percent sales tax renewal:

We’re advocating a “yes” vote on Proposition 2, but under protest. Juneau shoppers pay a combined 5 percent in sales taxes. That is far too high. Sales taxes are regressive taxes that hit the poorest the hardest. In this case, the city is holding a gun to the heads of taxpayers by linking continued provision of essential services to continuation of the tax. Relying on the goodwill of voters every five years to keep ambulances and fire trucks rolling is extremely irresponsible and amounts to taxpayer blackmail. With City Manager Rod Swope on the way out and the city facing budget shortfalls, now is the time to rehash the city budget and find reliable ways to keep things going. Prop. 2 is an example of lazy, hazardous budgeting on the part of the City and Borough of Juneau. If the city really can’t replace the revenue, it should be honest and move to make the five-year-at-a-time tax permanent.

YES on Proposition 3:

This issue is an easy call for Juneau voters. The long-term savings the Juneau School District will enjoy by using a ground-source heat pump — not to mention the environmental benefits such a system will provide in lieu of burning oil or wood — lead to just one conclusion: a yes vote on Proposition 3.

This system will save JSD anywhere from $500,000 to $1.3 million a year in maintenance and fuel costs against wood and oil boilers, allowing the district to recoup the slightly higher initial cost in no more than three years. And, a geothermal heat source coupled with hydroelectric power is a model for how to heat a large building in an environmentally responsible way.

It’s rare the cheapest alternative is also the best one for our needs, but when presented with such a scenario, Juneau voters should jump on the chance to take it. They can with a yes vote on Proposition 3 Tuesday.

YES on Proposition 4:

The artificial turf on the field at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park is past its useful life — a vandalism incident earlier this year didn’t help matters — and needs to be replaced. A yes vote will allow the Juneau School District to do just that, at a cost of about $3 per year per homeowner, based on Juneau’s average home price.

A patchwork artificial turf is a recipe for injury, increasing the risk of a football or soccer player catching a cleat in an uneven seam and twisting, tearing or breaking something. And replacing the existing turf with a natural grass field might save a few dollars now, but that savings would be eaten up rather quickly in maintenance costs generated as Juneau’s athletes slog through the slop a grass field would become in our wet climate.

The simplest and cheapest fix for the field at Adair-Kennedy is a new artificial turf surface. A yes vote on Proposition 4 would put that fix in motion.

NO on Proposition 5:

The proposed 15-cent tax on plastic bags is well-intentioned but misguided. The money raised is not earmarked to fight the problem the tax seeks to impact. We can not support another regressive tax, especially given the 5 percent sales tax Juneau shoppers now pay on everything from apples to artwork. We also question the constitutionality, not to mention the fairness, of singling out and taxing shoppers at only the largest stores in Juneau to try to solve a plastic bag waste problem that stems from all stores that dispense plastic bags. The tax is a burden on shoppers and the large merchants and won’t stop plastic bags from entering the waste stream and the environment. Recycle, re-use and don’t litter; take canvas or other bags to the store — but please vote against this unfair and punitive tax.

Agree? Disagree? A little bit of both? Please let us know your thoughts, either through our online commenting section or by emailing a letter to the editor to editor@juneauempire.com.

Regardless of your take on the candidates or questions, please vote Tuesday. Information about voting can be found at www.elections.alaska.gov and at www.juneau.org/clerk/elections. You can also call 888-383-8683 to learn where your polling place is.

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