Wheeler pushes for cooperation, new projects

Posted: Sunday, September 15, 2002

As a Juneau Assembly member who often falls on the losing side of 5-4 decisions, Marc Wheeler admits that "sometimes things don't always go the way you want them to." But he has pushed for collaboration and compromise during his first term and will continue to do so if re-elected, he said.

Marc Wheeler

• Age: 30

• Lived in Juneau: 7 years

• Immediate family in town: Wife Jessica Paris, sister Monique Wheeler

• Occupation: Executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Alaska

"In this community, we may have 30 percent on one side and 30 percent on the other and 40 in the middle. How do you bring the middle more in the picture?" he asked the audience at a Juneau Chamber of Commerce lunch on Friday. "We're trying to do that on tourism. ... Maybe it's possible on the road (out of Juneau)."

Since joining the Assembly two years ago, Wheeler has purchased a home, gotten married and taken a job as executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Alaska. He'd like to finish some projects on the Assembly before starting a family, he said, among them a high school and a swimming pool in the Mendenhall Valley.

"In a couple of years we'll have paid off the hospital improvements with sales tax and will have the opportunity to devote that once again," he said in an interview. "I'd like to suggest we build a Valley swimming pool and a recreation center with that sales tax money."

He'd also like to keep working on the city's tourism plan and push for improvements to, or the replacement of, the Capitol, he said.

For more Juneau Empire coverage of the October 1 municipal elections, please visit the Juneau Empire Elections Guide.

Wheeler has been registering voters as he campaigns door-to-door and at the University of Alaska Southeast. The effort will help in Juneau's campaign against a legislative-session move, he said.

"I think it's a simple way to help keep the capital here, to make sure as many Juneau folks as possible go to the polls," he said.

Wheeler voted against a motion before the Assembly this month that called for completing a Juneau Access study and its preferred alternative - a road. Some Assembly members have said a road would reduce pro-move sentiment in the rest of the state, but Juneau residents narrowly supported ferry service improvements over a road in a fall 2000 advisory vote.

"It's such a divisive issue and we really need to be a united community to fight the capital move and it's not going to help to bring up these divisive issues when we don't have to," he said. "I think it's more of a near-term way to improve access to improve ferry service. And I don't think we've done enough to make the fast ferry in Lynn Canal a reality."

Wheeler supported an amendment that called on the state to complete the study but deleted reference to a road.

In another key Assembly vote this year, Wheeler did not support awarding a bid for the Juneau-Douglas High School renovation. He sided with the Juneau School Board members who wanted to build a Valley high school first, against the Assembly majority.

"It was a tough decision, but we acted too quickly and we missed some things," he said. "I would have rather gone with the Valley high school first. And we left money on the table. If we would have waited for the fall bond measure, we could have been reimbursed for more of the cost of the renovation, at least a couple-million dollars."

Inflation has added to the cost of a new Valley high school, but Wheeler said opportunities to shave dollars from the project may exist. If there's a legal requirement to take the Valley high school cost back to voters, he would support doing so, but doesn't want to "rehash the same issues over and over again," he said.

"The thing about the renovation is that it's going to make things a little better in the high school, but it's not solving the fundamental problem of overcrowding and that's what I was afraid of," he said.

The Assembly can improve its relations with the school district through respect and by "really listening" to board members, Wheeler said. "It's really terrible ... the folks that are going to end up hurting are the kids."

Wheeler voted against putting a $15 million bond proposition for harbor, water and sewer improvements on the ballot this fall because he felt the proposal was rushed through and the city's fiscal situation is uncertain with a legislative-move vote pending. One of the components, a commercial vessel loading facility, could be funded with cruise ship passenger fees, he said.

During his time on the Assembly, Wheeler has advocated for a Juneau coastal trail and a federal fisheries research center at Lena Point.

"We need to continue to work with the neighborhood to address their concerns. ... They're asking for more green space, zoning and a master plan - all reasonable requests," he said. "It's vital for our future to have the NOAA facility there."

Wheeler voted for a citywide smoking ban last year and didn't support an exemption for restaurants with bars.

He's raised about $10,000 so far for his campaign, about halfway to his goal, he said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.

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