Candidates address community issues

Posted: Thursday, September 25, 2008

Candidates for the Juneau School Board and Juneau Assembly expressed their opinions on community issues Wednesday at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

In addition to all the candidates for the Oct. 7 municipal election and those helping to host the event, about a dozen people sat in the audience at City Hall.

Three candidates for two open School Board seats - Ed Flanagan, Dick Monkman and Sally Saddler - have children in the school district, and all said they decided to run for office as involved parents.

They also agreed that while graduation rates have improved - to 73 percent, it was recently announced - the dropout rate still remains the biggest issue facing the local school system.

To address the issue, Saddler suggested surveying students to find out why they are leaving. Monkman noted the dropout rate is disproportionately high among Native Alaskans and those from low-income families.

Flanagan added that "there's much more work to be done," and said it's important to not slide backwards. He supports more funding for vocational education.

"We can't prepare everyone for college," he said. "We need to prepare some for the world of work as well."

If given additional state money, Monkman said he'd fund preschool throughout the community to support high literacy as children enter school, which would lead to future success for more students.

Saddler said the district assessment being done to address the dropout rate is the best action taken in the past year.

"I'd like to see goals with performance measures we can evaluate," she said.

The three candidates support a covered play area with basketball courts at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School being put to voters on Oct. 7.

"This town brought Carlos Boozer to the NBA," Monkman said, adding that everyone should vote for it.

Saddler said students should have the opportunity to exercise, but she also thought it's important to "live within a budget," so she supports the project going to voters for approval.

On the subject of school projects costing more than projected, Saddler suggested the School Board could have better communication with City Hall so the district knows "what's going on" as projects proceed.

Monkman said more planning is needed so that projects are not "crunched" into the same time period, and Flanagan said the problem the past few years was due to unexpected increases in the cost of construction materials and the price to ship them as fuel prices rose. Flanagan also suggested more bidders for each project.

Candidates for the Areawide Assembly seat, incumbent Bob Doll and challenger Wade Bryson, fundamentally disagree on the state of the city, their remarks revealed Wednesday.

Citing high housing prices, the exit of young people from town and "capital creep," Bryson said he is running "to make it easier to live in Juneau." Doll described the city as an appealing place to live "despite the gloomy things you might hear."

Doll listed the school and recreational systems as "superior" and said he is dedicated to maintaining Juneau's quality of life.

On housing, Doll said the city has laid the foundation for higher-density development and it's up to the private sector to take advantage of it.

Bryson said the city should "step out of the way" and make it easier for developers to build homes. He suggested that amenities such as curved sidewalks increase costs, and dropping such requirements would help the housing situation.

Candidates for the District 2 seat, representing the Mendenhall Valley, had similar views on housing. Incumbent Jonathan Anderson cited recent action taken by the Assembly such as extending sewer lines and dropping a parking requirement for downtown apartments, as doors opened for more affordable housing.

But Anderson's challenger, Karen Taug, said the permitting process for developers is too cumbersome.

The candidates offered different ideas on what to do about high energy costs.

Taug said she supports the Southeast intertie project, which would bring Juneau's cheap electricity to other communities in the region. She also supports a reduction in the sales tax on heating fuel, an item currently under consideration by the Assembly.

Anderson said the city should look more closely at its own operations to save on energy costs. He suggested reviewing energy efficiency in city buildings, using alternative fuel in buses and using ground-source heat pumps in new projects such as the Mendenhall Valley pool and at the airport.

Bryson said the city should "keep an open mind" as new technologies become available to address energy dependence. He also supports a reduced heating fuel tax.

Doll said the city should take steps to conserve by doing what Anderson suggested and also conserve water, which uses energy, but Doll said it's important to prevent the electric company from burning costly diesel.

The candidates were asked what to do about Juneau's garbage problem.

"We need to do something about the odor," Taug said. She supports recycling but is not sure how much it might cost. "If nothing else, we should move the dump so it's not right in the middle of town."

Anderson supports a boroughwide, mandatory recycling program to reduce the flow of trash into the landfill.

Bryson said he didn't think a mandatory recycling problem was the answer.

"I think the citizens will balk at it," he said, predicting greater participation through a voluntary program.

Doll, involved with the Southeast Conference Regional Solid Waste Authority, noted that recycling would extend the landfill by 20 years. Beyond that, trash will have to be shipped out or burned, he said.

"The city will have to decide if it wants to pay to reduce the flow into the dump," he said.

Merrill Sanford, representing District 1, is running unopposed for his third term. The former firefighter grew up in Juneau and has five grandchildren living here. He said he'd like to see them have "good jobs and affordable housing" in Juneau.

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