Late last Monday, at the very end of our Assembly meeting, a resolution supporting road access into Juneau was introduced and passed. A resolution is a formal policy statement by the Assembly on behalf of the City and Borough of Juneau.
In split decision, Juneau Assembly backs road north
During my seven years on the Assembly, I can never remember an important policy resolution being introduced or passed without proper notice and public involvement. This issue however, was not on the agenda and neither the public nor other members of the Assembly knew it was going to be brought up.
Access to our community is a critical issue, evoking strong emotions on all sides. With the capital move vote coming up, and questions about air travel raised by 9/11 in our past, it was probably appropriate to revisit the issue. What was wrong, however, was for the Assembly to act by ambush without giving the public on whose behalf we are speaking, the chance for any involvement.
I understand the belief by backers of this resolution that it is important in connection with the capital move fight. The tragedy of the way it was done was the 5-4 split vote, which weakened the message. The mayor has been lobbying for the resumption of the EIS to consider the road, but she as well as several of us felt compelled to vote against the resolution because of the manner it was done. Had backers of the resolution been willing to follow normal procedures, willing to allow the public we represent to be involved, it is certain that the resolution would have passed by a stronger margin.
As Assembly members, we have a responsibility to act in the best interests of our community. That does not give us the right to maneuver our actions in a manner that excludes the citizens of Juneau, the very people who elected us and we are supposed to be representing.
On Monday night, after every attempt to put the resolution on the normal track to discuss the issue and to allow public involvement was rebuffed, I made a comment about the appearance of pre-arrangement of votes. I've been taken to task for my remark by those saying such remarks hurt the reputation of the Assembly. The reputation of the Assembly is precisely my concern. I know all of my fellow Assembly members well and have faith in their integrity. People, however, properly pay more attention to what we do, than what we say and appearances can create wrong impressions. When the public is excluded as a vitally important issue is rammed through without notice it creates hostility and suspicion at a time we all need to be coming together as a community.
At the Palmer State Fair I helped staff the Juneau booth. We explained to people how a vote to move the Legislature would also remove their right to know the costs of the move. Similarly, Assembly members owe the Juneau public the right to know about important issues before Assembly members vote on them. In light of 9/11 and the capital move, Juneau's opinion on building the road may have changed since the public's vote. To fix this situation, the Assembly should reconsider the resolution at the Committee of the Whole, allow the public to be heard and then act in the light of day.
Jim Powell holds an areawide seat on the Juneau Assembly.