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Me thinks the city doth protest too much - a response from Assembly member Danner

A response by Assembly member Ruth Danner to the port director's report on a city grant

Posted: July 15, 2012 - 12:10am

Editor’s Note: This letter from Assembly member Ruth Danner came in near press time Saturday. Due to it’s detailed nature we felt it necessary to run it in its entirety.

The Port Director’s response to my question is over four pages long with 18 attachments. All I asked for was a copy of the paragraph in the grant application that supports his statement that, “The vision for utilizing the self-propelled hydraulic boat lift has always been to operate and to serve the maritime requirements at both the Auke Bay Loading Facility and at Statter Harbor.” I hope I can find it.

It is a fact that the TIGER Grant was not properly managed prior to Carl’s appointment. Reports were not filed timely or accurately. That is why the auditor’s letter found that the City was lacking proper internal controls in the administration of this grant. It is no surprise that the contractor selling the Sea Lift is painting their product’s capabilities is a somewhat different light now that they fully understand the reason behind the question.

What is not, but should be a surprise is the tone is of the Port Director’s response. It is unprofessional, uncalled for, and demonstrates a sound understanding of “the best defense.” Whether or not it is his intention, he has taken my words and twisted them to make me look like I am foolish or a trouble-maker who doesn’t understand the issues at hand. Perhaps I am foolishly naïve to hold on to the idea that we should be able to expect more from our government officials and I am not afraid to face trouble when it comes my way, but I clearly understand the issues at hand because they are born of the questions that were brought to my attention directly by the people of this community.

Juneau is fortunate that the vast majority of staff is highly professional and intentionally operates with the public’s best interests in mind, and I expect that Carl is no exception. However, when someone from outside the staff raises a question, it is the assembly’s duty to look at it, to question what is happening and see if all is as it should be.

Of course this is not pleasant for staff. If they are doing a good job, it takes time away from their other tasks and gives them a sense that all their hard work is not fully valued. And if they in that minority that are truly not doing a good job, and they know it, they definitely do not want anyone to butt in and start looking too closely at the details.

After three years one starts to see patterns emerge. I’m sorry I didn’t pick up on it sooner. When members of the public are missing some bit of facts to understand the full picture, staff provides it. But when people get too close to an unpleasant truth, all too often, the argument is turned back against the person who is asking the question. That’s why I am here, to be the messenger.

People are not stupid. They learn quickly from the examples set before them. If we see someone’s credibility and motives being attacked because they dared to question what staff is doing with the people’s money, and that person goes up in smoke, who would be willing to follow them into the fire? Maybe only an assembly member with a reputation for asking too many questions, but that’s our job.

I have already said too much about the Auke Bay Loading Facility and the TIGER Grant for the good of the City. I should have been more discreet. The Port Director is fulfilling his duty by using every possible argument to defend the City’s actions to date. There is money on the line and I certainly don’t want us to have to pay it back anymore than anyone else does. But how big a bazooka does it take to kill a mosquito?

When I have questioned concerns expressed by the auditor in their letters to the assembly over the last three years, staff, assembly members and the media have all but ignored my questions. Working quietly through the “proper” channels has had no apparent impact. Without the interest of at least one of three key players (staff, the assembly, or the public as informed by the press), the status quo prevails. This is not a battle that one person can fight alone.

Most of us heard tales of heroes when we were little. One brave soul persists in the face of great opposition and saves the day. Government doesn’t really work that way. We all have to take responsibility for standing up for what is good and true. And that takes time and commitment … and to be perfectly honest, most people have better things to do with their time, like put food on the table and tend to their family and friends.

I hope, as Mr. Uchytil says “The vision for utilizing the self-propelled hydraulic boat lift has always been to operate and to serve the maritime requirements at both the Auke Bay Loading Facility and at Statter Harbor,” and I hope we were clear about that in the grant application. If so, then my question has been answered and all is well … tempest over … thank you for answering my question.

But every time I get too close to a sensitive topic and they make an ugly face and try to scare me into silence, I think, “Wow, I must really be onto something.” I also think, if I stop now and go find a place to hide I will reinforce the same old message … that you shouldn’t question what the City is doing because they will hurt you if you dare. This is bullying at its worst and it makes me think that I have no moral choice BUT to push on.

Look, I could be wrong about ALL of this. I’m the first one to admit it. I’m just a citizen. I have not researched the Auke Bay grant thoroughly. I’m not supposed to. We are supposed to trust staff. They are supposed to be the experts. In fact, assembly members are discouraged from asking too many questions. But at this point I feel like if I don’t ask, what is my purpose? What’s the worst they can do to me? I’ve already faced the Mayor’s ire. How much worse can it get? Maybe we will see soon enough. For the record, I DID ask quietly and I did not receive the assurances necessary to satisfy the concerns of my constituents.

I have not had time to review all five pages of Carl’s letter and the 18 attachment but I will. I hope the answer is in there somewhere. After reading the Port Director’s response to my inquire in Sunday’s paper, anyone who still has question or feels like their concerns have not been satisfactorily addressed, should contact me and/or if they feel comfortable, the Port Director, the City Manager, and the Mayor.

• Danner is a Borough Assembly member who is up for reelection and has not yet announced whether she will run again.

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