Juneau officials blast relocation of ferry system

Posted: Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Juneau lawmakers and city officials sent Gov. Frank Murkowski and the state Department of Transportation a swift rebuke Monday, following the announcement that state ferry system administrative offices will move to Ketchikan.

State Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, said he is pursuing a legal opinion on whether the decision was done legally and whether moving some 40 state workers would require an appropriation from the Legislature.

"What (Murkowski's) done is he's driven a wedge between two communities who have tried really hard to work together, and to split a region up like this on some political deal he's done in secret is what really is the worst," Weyhrauch said. "I'm about seethed over on this one.

"I don't want to impugn Ketchikan," Weyhrauch said. "The responsibility is with the guy at the top ... I put the responsibility with the governor."

Weyhrauch, along with Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, and Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho have requested information from DOT and the Murkowski administration for months, but received nothing until the announcement was made on Monday.

Barton said Monday that public officials would not want to be involved in every minor aspect of the internal review. He had planned to run details from the review past ferry system employees in a meeting held last Thursday. When members of the press showed up, Barton said he chose not to release those details.

"I got specifically told (by DOT Commissioner Mike Barton) that there would be a public process and that the lease was not final on Thursday and then this happens." Kerttula said. "These are real live people and they have families, and they have mortgages and they have homes here, and the impacts are a whole lot broader even than just the 43 people."

Weyhrauch, who also serves as chairman of the House State Affairs Committee said he would put DOT officials on the stand to explain why the decision was made in secret.

Elton said he's spoken with ferry system employees who say they will not make the move.

"What this says is that state employees are pawns and we're going to move you not based upon what makes sense, we're going to move based upon what makes good politics," Elton said. "And when state employees are told in this manner that they're pawns in a bigger game, it's going to make it more difficult to attract and keep good state employees."

Mayor Botelho said the ferry system is best served from Juneau and not Ketchikan, and noted that he is not in the position to horse trade with the administration over Gov. Frank Murkowski's support of construction of a new capitol.

"We support a new capitol building, so we hope Juneau will support the recognition that we can operate the ferry system better by having the operational activity centered in Ketchikan," Murkowski said last week.

Botelho said he did not take the comment as a "quid pro quo" or a threat.

"I take it as the governor responding to a question off the top," Botelho said.

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