Tourism meetings building optimism

Collaboration Juneau seeks out common ground

Posted: Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Participants of Collaboration Juneau met eight times between last October and April to tackle local conflicts over tourism. They haven't come up with any concrete solutions, but they say they've built the most important things to further discussions: trust and understanding.

"It is a slow process because we have a wide range of people trying to find common ground," said Steve Dehnke, who attended most of the meetings.

"I think the biggest accomplishment from our Phase One meetings was getting acknowledgment from flightseeing operators that noise is a problem and acknowledgment from residents that these businesses are valuable to our community," said Dehnke, a resident of the Thane neighborhood, which has been affected by downtown congestion.

Collaboration Juneau was established in August of 2003 by a group of concerned residents. Although the nonprofit group is just one of the many attempts that have been made to tackle tourism issues during the past two decades, some political leaders and residents think its community-based approach could make a difference.

"Although it is still too early to tell whether it is going to work, I think the process is worthwhile because nothing else seems to work," said Margo Waring, a steering committee member of the group.

As early as 1988, conflicts arose between tour providers and residents, and the Juneau Assembly appointed an ad hoc committee to determine ways to decrease flight-seeing noise. As the number of cruise ship passengers rose steadily between 1992 and 1999, the Assembly appointed four other committees to address downtown congestion, flightseeing noise and cruise-ship emissions.

"Although many well-meaning citizens spent countless hours in committees and meetings, no widely accepted solution to any of the problems was crafted by any of the groups," according to the progress report.

"In fact, the groups themselves often became the focus of controversy over persons appointed and not appointed, perceived or actual conflicts of interest, lack of public process and input, voting blocks and the appointees' lack of authority to represent the views of and make decisions for other citizens," the progress report said.

Assembly member Jim Powell said the statement accurately reflected the frustrations some residents had with previous efforts.

"Collaboration Juneau provides some hope because they are not perceived as a biased group," Powell said.

Although its major sponsor is the city, Collaboration Juneau prohibits politicians from directly participating in the meetings. Assembly members are only allowed to observe. David Stone, who originally sat on the group's steering committee, had to resign after being elected to the Assembly.

Participants of Collaboration Juneau represent a microcosm of the community. The steering committee itself consists of people from the tourism industry, various neighborhood associations, business groups and nonprofit organizations.

Despite their diverse backgrounds and interests, the participants and committee members don't represent their organizations. They call themselves stakeholders.

"In our first meeting, the facilitators asked us to introduce ourselves only by our name and where we live. We speak on behalf of ourselves," said Paula Terrel, co-chairwoman of Collaboration Juneau. "We don't represent any groups, to avoid polarizing situations."

Meetings have had 30 to 60 participants, who were divided into random groups of eight to 10 people per table. Newcomers were asked to go to the meetings 30 to 60 minutes early to review principles of collaboration and the work accomplished to date.

David Chrislip, author of "Collaborative Leadership," and his fellow consultant Stephen McCormick were the facilitators of the meetings.

The group made decisions, even the meeting dates, through consensus. The process is based on Chrislip's belief that "if you bring the right people together, in constructive ways, with good information, they will create authentic visions and strategies for addressing the shared concerns of their organizations and communities."

The consensus-building process was time-consuming and added some frustrations on the participants.

"It is just the nature of the process," sad Lorene Palmer, president and chief executive officer of Juneau Convention and Visitor Bureau. "

The group's second phase will start in September and focus on reducing tourism-related congestion and flightseeing noise.

"If the group can find a common ground, maybe the community as a whole can," said resident and participant Dehnke. "It certainly won't be a slam dunk, but it is important to try."

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