Hopefuls offer willingness to act, listen: Merril Sanford

Posted: Monday, September 26, 2005

During his three years on the Juneau Assembly, District 1 candidate Merrill Sanford hasn't hesitated to stand his ground, sometimes alone.

Sanford was the only Assembly member who voted against asking voters to pick which projects should be funded with an extended 1 percent sales tax for a Mendenhall Valley pool, a renovated airport, an expanded sewer system and other projects. He said he worries that if all the projects are approved, the sales tax revenues will be tied up for nine years.

"Something bigger and more important might come up in five years," said Sanford, 58. "I am completely in favor of any one of the projects on the list. But we don't have money to do them all at once. We, as an Assembly, should have prioritized all these things and let people vote on them."

Merrill Sanford

Age: 58

Length of time in Juneau: 58 years

Professional experience: retired career and volunteer Juneau


Education: Juneau-Douglas High School

Community involvement:

Member of Juneau Rotary Club;

Planning Commission member for four years

Stated agenda


• keep property assessment under control

• build north Douglas crossing

• finish sewer system

• open city land to private sector

• work on affordable housing

Sanford was one of the four Assembly members who voted for a resolution supporting the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities' preferred alternative to build a road out of Juneau.

Instead of taking a stand on the road issue, the other five Assembly members decided to table the resolution indefinitely.

Sanford said Assembly members have an obligation to let residents know how they feel even if their decisions are not popular.

He said the road issue has become more personal to him recently after his wife was diagnosed with melanoma and had to see doctors in Seattle.

"My wife doesn't like to fly. That means we have to wait for three or four days for the ferry."

Sanford was one of the Assembly members who supported Police Chief Richard Gummow's decision to change officers' shifts from 12 hours to eight hours, adding work days to their weeks.

"He wasn't open-minded," said police union representative Paul Comolli. "We asked him to examine the documents we gave him but he said he had done his research by talking to two former police chiefs."

Comolli said the two police chiefs Sanford consulted didn't have experience working on a 12-hour shift. "I would say that was poor research," Comolli said.

Sanford said he couldn't comment on the issue because the Assembly decided on it in a closed executive session.

Sanford said he is running for re-election to complete his work. He especially wants to see the city's land-use code updated, making it easier for developers and planners to understand and use.

"We need to review the permitting process and give developers all the information they need at their first meeting with the city," Sanford said. "Then we will waste less staff time. We can get the process to run more smoothly."

Sanford was born in Washington state. His family moved to Juneau when he was a year old. He was a firefighter for 30 years.

Juneau Fire Marshal Rich Etheridge calls Sanford an exceptional leader. He has known Sanford since 1991, when he was a volunteer firefighter for the Glacier Valley Fire Station.

"If you mess up, he always lets you know you mess up but he doesn't hold any grudges against you," Etheridge said. "He is a community-oriented type of person. He is always concerned about doing the right thing."

Before being elected to the Assembly, Sanford served on the Planning Commission for four years. He has been applying his knowledge on planning and zoning on his current job.

During his term, the city has done many public improvement projects, including remodeling the Juneau-Douglas High School, starting the constriction of a high school in Mendenhall Valley and rebuilding Seward Street.

Sanford has evaluated and prioritized many of these projects as chairman of the Assembly Public Works and Facilities Committee.

He also has championed the expansion of the city's sewer system, saying that it will allow higher-density housing and provide more affordable housing.

"We've got a lot of high-end housing but we need more housing between $100,000 and $200,000. That's what we need for our kids and our grandkids to have for starter homes," said Sanford, who has two children and five grandchildren in town.

Sanford said he supports building a swimming pool in the valley but he isn't sure whether the aquatic center is as important as the city's infrastructure.

Assembly member Randy Wanamaker said Sanford understands basic issues, especially when it comes to infrastructure and public needs. He said Sanford is good at explaining his reasoning.

"No decision is 100 percent popular. But if you are able to explain to the public, the public will give you the benefit of doubt," Wanamaker said.

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

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