Business seeks shift in Assembly

Former chamber leader says he's happy to see Wheeler go

Posted: Sunday, September 04, 2005

With two incumbent Juneau Assembly members leaving office, some business boosters say they hope for a power shift.

Deputy Mayor Marc Wheeler and Assembly member Stan Ridgeway announced that they will not run to retain their seats in the Oct. 4 city election.

Wheeler is executive director for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Ridgeway is a retired state employee.

Scott Spickler, former president of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, said he is happy to see Wheeler go.

"I am disappointed that Marc didn't support the road resolution," Spickler said, noting Wheeler's vote to indefinitely table a resolution supporting the state's proposal to build a road from Juneau to Skagway.

Mayor Bruce Botelho and Assembly members Daniel Peterson, Jeff Bush and Ridgeway also voted to table the resolution.

Spickler said he opposes spending revenues from the optional 1 percent sales tax for a Dimond Park Community Center, a project Wheeler has championed.

"The water park project is a want, not a need," Spickler said. "It is not time for Juneau to have that kind of project when it needs sewer and other basic things.

"Sewer is not as sexy as the water park but it is definitely a basic need," Spickler said. "Juneau should get realistic about what our needs are for the immediate future."

Spickler said he hopes the new Assembly will change the 5-4 deadlock that has become common during the past year.

"Johan Dybdahl, David Stone, Randy Wanamaker and Merrill Sanford are on the short end of the stick," Spickler said. "I hope the tide can swing the other way."

Wheeler said he doesn't like a 5-4 vote and has been trying to compromise.

"Having a 5-4 vote breeds divisiveness," he said. "If you are on the losing end this time, you will try to beat the other side next time. But if you try to have a compromise, you build a better relationship and get things done."

Ridgeway agreed that during the three years he has served on the Assembly, he has seen a lot of 5-4 votes.

"The first year was the worst but it has gotten better," Ridgeway said. "Mayor Botelho has worked really hard to get the Assembly to come to a consensus on many issues.

"I would assume the new Assembly would continue to have a lot of 5-4 votes. The thing about Juneau is that the community is divided on almost every issue. It doesn't surprise me that the elected officials are the same way," Ridgeway said.

Chris Wyatt, executive director of Juneau Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber appreciates the contributions of Wheeler and Ridgeway but she hopes that those who replace them can see more eye to eye with the chamber on issues that affect business.

Wyatt said the chamber believes it is important to show the rest of the state that Juneau supports better access to the capital.

Wyatt said the Assembly's decision to ban smoking in all bars starting in January 2008 will hurt business. Ridgeway was one of the five Assembly members who voted for the ban. Wheeler was absent that day.

"It's not that we support smoking," Wyatt said. "It's about letting business run the way they want to without unwanted regulations."

The Assembly's new tendencies will depend on who gets elected.

Four people are competing for Wheeler's seat. They are Mara Early, chairwoman for the Juneau Coalition for Youth; David Summers, outgoing president of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce; Bob Doll, former director of the ferry system; and Julie Morris, a member of the Juneau School Board.

Doll, who has Wheeler's blessing for his seat, said he doesn't think the Assembly will have a major policy shift if he replaces Wheeler's seat. Doll said Wheeler and he agree on many issues.

Early said she doesn't see a power shift but, an issues change. "The current Assembly focuses on issues like the waterfront, sewer and the recreation facility," Early said. "I will look hard on our schools and youth."

Efforts to reach Summers and Morris on Saturday were unsuccessful.

Former Juneau Mayor Sally Smith, who had worked with both Wheeler and Ridgeway, said it is hard to predict how the new Assembly will vote on major issues. She also hesitates to categorize the two men's roles on the Assembly.

"As an elected official, you tell people what you believe and you listen to people in your community. You have to be willing to change your mind when you find your opinion is not correct," Smith said. "Both of them have represented their constituents well."

Smith said Wheeler has never put his own interest ahead of the city's.

"He sees them as one," Smith said. "He often has a different view and he is always able to say what he believes."

Current Mayor Bruce Botelho said Wheeler often serves as a cautionary voice on the Assembly, asking questions other Assembly members may shy away from.

"He is fearless in his willingness to question the wisdom of a particular course of action the Assembly is considering," Botelho said.

Recently, Wheeler was one of only two Assembly members who voted against selling developer Hugh Grant 31 acres behind Fred Meyer for almost half-million dollars less than the assessed price.

In late August, the Assembly reconsidered the sale but eventually voted 5-4 to approve the sale again.

Wheeler said he wasn't comfortable that the land sale didn't go through an open-bid process, as other city sales have.

Assembly member Randy Wanamaker said both Wheeler and Ridgeway have made great contributions to the city.

"Stan was instrumental in getting the second high school," Wanamaker said. "Marc is helpful in getting various social service programs funded and recognized by the city."

Wanamaker also credited Wheeler for creating the city-funded program that recycles junk cars.

Wanamaker said people who think the Assembly is locked into 5-4 votes overlook the fact that the Assembly has had many unanimous votes.

"The things we don't agree on tend to be philosophical," Wanamaker spoke of the Assembly's split on building a road to Juneau. "We have different views on how to solve problems."

Wanamaker said it is difficult to predict whether the new Assembly will have a policy shift.

"People see things differently once they get elected," Wanamaker said. "As an Assembly member, you get more information. You talk to more people. That allows you to make a better decision. You might vote in ways you don't anticipate."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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