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Some question transparency of Alaska Committee

Save-the-capital group to hold its annual meeting Saturday

Posted: Friday, January 26, 2007

Once a month at 7 a.m. on a Wednesday, a group of Juneau residents gather in a conference room on West Willoughby Avenue to talk about one thing: how to retain Juneau as the state capital.

Sound off on the important issues at

It is the Alaska Committee, largely funded by the city and chaired by banker Win Gruening.

On Saturday, the committee meets for its annual session. It expects to elect directors, discuss recent board activities and financial statements, and vote on a resolution changing one of its by-laws. Typical meeting stuff.

Yet, while few quibble about the importance of the committee's mission, some have questioned how its duties have been carried out.

An internal memo distributed to the Assembly by Mayor Bruce Botelho during an Oct. 28 city retreat questioned the committee's transparency, particularly in light of the fact it operates with public dollars.

"(The memo) did express concern making sure that the board is more transparent, that notices to the public that the public is invited to be there (were distributed)," Botelho said in an interview Thursday.

Gruening said that the group's meetings and activities are no secret.

"There have been several articles over the year about the Alaska Committee," he said. He also has spoken in front of a number of groups and every year the committee appears before the Assembly.

Know and go

What: Alaska Committee annual meeting.

When: 9 a.m. Saturday.

Where: Travelodge.

Committee members (as of Nov. 9)

Chairman: Win Gruening.

Vice chairwoman: Rosemary Hagevig.

Treasurer: Pete Carlson.

Secretary: John Williams.

Directors: Dennis Egan, Sharon Kelly, Clark Gruening, Mike Notar, J. Gary Droubay, Carlton Smith, Dennis Watson, Max Mertz, Geoff Larson, Bob Bartholomew, Larry Spencer, Don Etheridge, Devin Tillotson, Bruce Botelho.

Ex officio: Lorene Palmer (Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau), Cathie Roemmich (Juneau Chamber of Commerce), Lance Miller (Juneau Economic Development Council), Murray Walsh (Southeast Conference).

"If somebody wants to know what we are doing, there are certainly ways to find out," Gruening said.

The mayor said another point of concern is how the committee deals with the proposed road north of Juneau. The committee strongly implies that being a good capital supporter means favoring the Juneau Access Road. Those who don't agree have a more difficult time getting a seat at the table, he said.

"The viewpoint that I represent is underrepresented and I think it is underrepresented on purpose, at public expense," said Sally Smith, a former Juneau mayor and committee supporter. Mayors are among a handful who have an automatic position on the committee.

Gruening said that the committee represents a diversity of beliefs, including those opposed to building a road northward.

In a Nov. 9 letter responding to Botelho's memo, he wrote that "the Committee respects the opinions of all community members on this subject. But the Alaska Committee should have a broader view by taking into account the rest of the State's desire for increased access if we are to retain the privilege of serving as the Capital City. If the Committee were to turn into a forum on the road, it would only serve to detract from our main mission."

Smith said when she was on the committee it was a largely Republican group, with little turnover.

"It's kind of a self-selected group," she said.

"I think everyone who sits on the Alaska Committee believes in Juneau and believes they have Juneau interests at heart," she said.

Just what are the members doing?

During its most recent monthly meeting, on Jan. 17, it listened to an update on Gavel to Gavel by Bill Legere, KTOO-TV's program manager. It also assigned each committee member to a state legislator as a way to ensure the lawmakers are well taken care of - this could include helping a new lawmaker find his or her way around Juneau, or helping staff members find affordable housing.

The group also discussed constituent fares, or discount airline fares available to people in several Alaska cities when flying to Juneau. The group sponsors the program.

Gruening said that each year, the city grants it $320,000 to $380,000 to operate. Of that, roughly $250,000 funds Gavel to Gavel, which offers television coverage from the Capitol.

The money comes out of the "better capital city" fund, which totals $450,000 to $500,000, Botelho said. The money also goes into other efforts to maintain Juneau as the state capital, such as the hiring of a lobbyist two years ago, he said.

The city has a limited say in how the Alaska Committee money is spent.

"They propose a budget each year and the Assembly at that point is in a position to say, 'we are not going to fund it at all,'" he said. A few times, the Assembly has advised alternative ways to spend money.

"In practice, the Assembly has largely accepted the budget as presented," he said.

The Alaska Committee Annual Meeting Agenda

9:00 AM, Saturday, January 27, 2007

Travelodge

AGENDA

1. Introductory Comments 9:00 AM Win Gruening

• Purpose

• Introductions

• Housekeeping

2. Board Acceptance of Nominating 9:10 - 9:15 Rosemary Hagevig

Committee Report

3. Election of Directors 9:15 - 9:20 Rosemary Hagevig

4. By-Laws Change Resolution 9:20 - 9:25

5. Chair's Report 9:25 - 9:40 Win Gruening

• Report on Activities

• Presentation of Financial Statements

• Questions

6. Membership Discussion 9:40 - 9:55

7. Good of the Order 9:55 - 10:00

8. Adjournment 10:00



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