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A poor choice for our city lobbyist

Posted: September 30, 2013 - 11:00pm

It takes one tour of the Department of Labor (DOL) building to recognize its nickname was born from a cynical tongue. The Plywood Palace has been plagued by water damage, mold and air quality problems. Inside and out, its appearance is anything but an architectural charm. There’s no historical value either. Simply speaking, this isn‘t a palace anyone would write home about. That is unless you’re paid to make it appear attractive. Enter Kevin Jardell, who was chosen last week to be the lobbyist for the City and Borough of Juneau. He’s also the lobbyist for the Juneau1, the Plywood Palace owner.

The decision to hire Jardell wasn’t unanimous. Three Assembly members objected. The primary concern they voiced to the local news media was Jardell’s work in 2009 for Juneau1. He helped block a bill for construction of a new DOL building. It was sponsored by Rep. Cathy Muñoz and supported by the Assembly. But it would have resulted in Juneau1 losing a lease worth well over $1 million per year. Jardell’s efforts put Juneau1 in a position not only to renegotiate the lease; they were able to add about $4 million to it for making building improvements.

Assembly Member Jesse Kiehl said that representing both CBJ and Juneau1 could lead to a conflict of interest, especially if another proposal to authorize construction of the DOL building is put before the state Legislature. Jardell responded by stating he’d “remedy that conflict to the satisfaction of the CBJ including severing ties, if necessary.” But given his record, can Jardell truly be a passionate advocate on issues of vital importance to the city? If so, shouldn’t the owners of Juneau1 be the ones terminating their relationship with Jardell because his loyalty has shifted to CBJ?

Article 5.1 of the lobbyist Code of Ethics states “a lobbyist should exercise loyalty to the client’s or employer’s interests.” That means they should display a faithful allegiance not only to the person or organization but to their cause. It could be anything from regulations affecting personal finances, land use, the environment or social programs. Whatever the issue, if it’s genuinely aligned with the lobbyist’s value system, he or she can be an influential voice for their client.

However, a shared set of ideals isn’t a necessity. Like every aspect of life, money alone can influence the decisions people make. Lobbyists could represent their client’s interests for no other reason than they’re being paid well.

One way to examine a lobbyist’s values is through the pro bono work they do in pursuit of “objectives that advance the public good.” This is also language from the lobbyist Code of Ethics. They are “encouraged to devote a not insubstantial amount of time each year to providing lobbying or related services to such persons or organizations” who can’t afford to hire a lobbyist.

Most non-profits organizations fall into this category. Technically, CBJ is one, although as a government entity it obviously has ample ability to raise revenue to pay a lobbyist’s fee. But if the Assembly really wants a strong and honest voice for our community in the Legislature, doesn’t it make sense to judge a lobbyist by the kind of work they do in the public interest?

CBJ’s primary concern should be the public good. The Assembly should have focused on candidates who have already displayed a commitment to our community. But it seems that wasn’t the case at all since two of the five finalists don’t even live here.

Jardell lives here and says he and his family love Juneau. And he has a $10,000 annual lobbying contract with Juneau’s Catholic Community Services, a charitable organization that provides assistance to disadvantaged people throughout Juneau. That and any pro bono work he’s done didn’t seem important to the Assembly though because they didn’t mention either in the press release they issued after hiring him.

But while Jardell was a voice for Juneau1 and their Plywood Palace, he opposed the community’s long term interests. It seems all he did was follow the money. I believe the Assembly made a poor choice. And I suspect that when he walks into a legislator’s office, Kevin Jardell will be recognized as a paid lobbyist who’s not passionately committed to Juneau.

Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident.

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