My Turn: Squandering money, circumventing process

Posted: Sunday, September 15, 2002

The road issue is important to Juneau, and reasonably people can disagree about it. But Deputy Mayor Ken Koelsch's recent actions are reprehensible.

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I'm only a part-time Juneau resident, but on the issue of the Assembly's recent road vote, this may help me to offer some perspective. When I'm not in Juneau, I live in New Haven, Conn. - just a bit closer to New York City than Juneau is to Skagway. Unlike Juneau and Skagway, New Haven and New York are connected by a bewilderingly dense network of roads and rails. Let me tell you what I observed last Sept. 11 - the day after I returned from Juneau. First, there was no mass exodus from the city - the good people of New York did not jump into cars or trains or boats in an effort to leave the city as Koelsch suggests. While our deputy mayor would like to find a way out of Juneau, most New Yorkers stayed put. In fact, as I noticed when I visited the city several days later, much manpower was employed to keep well-meaning non-residents out. I've never been a fan of then-New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani, but which civic leader would you like to have around in a crisis? One who provides leadership, or one who looking for an escape hatch?

Next, given (1) the cost of a road (probably hundreds of millions of dollars), (2) the infinitesimal chance that Juneau (which doesn't rank in the nation's first few hundred largest metropolitan areas) would be a target, and (3) the small likelihood that a road would be helpful if such an unlikely event did happen, there is no sort of risk assessment that could reasonably lead to expenditure on a road.

As far as public safety is concerned, there are any number of things that would be more efficient at saving lives. One could probably buy every other car in Juneau and provide door-to-door electric taxi service. The risk reduction due to the drop in air pollution would far outweigh that due to road. Any number of silly ideas beats a road for the purpose of enhancing public safety.

If, in fact, one believes that our country and state need be more vigilant, a road would be not only wasteful, it would be an unpatriotic squander of federal and state resources. A true patriot would send his or her money to the FBI, the CIA, or would learn more about international political economy or foreign cultures in order to be a more informed citizen. One could fund the language acquisition and cultural training that are in such short supply within our security apparatus and the nation at large. Taking vast sums of limited funds to build a road detracts from these more constructive and practical activities.

Finally, I can't help but contrast the actions of our deputy mayor with those of civic officials in New York City (who really have something to worry about), who are bending over backward to engage the public in decision-making processes. What better way to "let the terrorists win" than to squander vast sums, and worse, circumvent public process and democracy itself, by calling a snap vote on an issue on which the voters have spoken. As several people have already pointed out, it is no secret that Koelsch called the vote for local political reasons. The road issue is an important one to Juneau. It had been settled through a very public process that included a citywide vote and commitment by the state to build fast ferries. Plans are moving forward, money has been spent, and the ferries are due to be delivered in the next few years. In attempting to reopen this issue, Koelsch did not even place the vote on the Assembly meeting agenda, nor was public participation solicited. This type of behavior is not what most Americans would fight to protect.

Ken Koelsch worries about how to get himself out of Juneau. His recent actions have made many Juneauites happy to offer him ticket.

Casey is a Ph.D. candidate at Yale University. He lives in Juneau during the summer.

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