MacKinnon enjoyed his 12 years serving on Juneau Assembly

Second of two profiles on outgoing assembly members

Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2001

John MacKinnon walked out of his last meeting at Juneau's Assembly chambers Oct. 15 with his nameplate in his back pocket. It had labeled his desk at City Hall for the last 12 years.

First elected to the District 2 Assembly seat in 1989, MacKinnon won re-election in 1992, 1995 and 1998. He was ineligible to run again this fall because of term limits.

"I enjoy it. I don't play softball or soccer, and this minimizes it, but it's my recreation. I've been doing it long enough that I got a lot of pleasure out of it," he said in an interview this week.

A staff reception for outgoing Assembly members MacKinnon and Cathy Mu-oz is scheduled Thursday. Newly elected Assembly members Jeannie Johnson and Randy Wanamaker were sworn in Oct. 15.

A local contractor, MacKinnon joined the Juneau Planning Commission in 1985 and became the chairman in 1988. He served on the Planning Commission and the Assembly with Dennis Egan, who was mayor from 1995-2000.

"John was one on the Assembly and the Planning Commission who always did his homework," Egan said. "We used to drive around together and look at sites for people looking for variances and permits. He was very thorough."

MacKinnon said what he'll miss most is participating in the action. He leaves behind plenty of unfinished business, he said.

Both the Assembly and Docks and Harbor Board will need to be involved in upcoming port projects, in particular, changes in the Marine Park area, MacKinnon said.

Improvements "would provide better moorage for ships on the north end as well as the ability for buses to get passengers in and out of town without having to cruise South Franklin and turn around at the ferry terminal," he said.

The challenge with port projects will be funding, especially with the tonnage fee sun-setting this year, he said.

Although the city's general government spending has remained fairly steady, MacKinnon said the budget has increased from about $89 million to $160 million during his tenure. The increase comes from the school district, ports and harbors, the hospital and other enterprise funds, he said.

"Keeping taxes at a palatable rate and keeping services at an acceptable level, that's always one of the tough things. When I first got on the Assembly in '90, '91, '92, we had some really tough budget years," he said. "Last year was fairly easy, but I think if property values remain flat, in a year or two it's going to be difficult."

MacKinnon often advises people who have complaints about the Assembly or the city to write a check for property taxes at the end of September, balance their checkbook and vote the first Tuesday in October.

"It might give people a different perspective on the city's end and how they spend money. I don't mean the Assembly spends money irresponsibly, but there are times when better decisions could be made," he said.

MacKinnon sees discussions continuing about Juneau's business climate and the city's land base. He expects the fight against moving the Legislature to be just as tough, if not tougher, as the 1994 capital move ballot question, he said.

He's not ruling out run for local office in the future.

"It's a possibility, everything's a possibility," he said.

Mayor Sally Smith, who joined the Assembly last year, said MacKinnon and Mu-oz helped make the transition smooth. As deputy mayor, MacKinnon provided background on issues and passed Smith notes during meetings that kept things on track, she said.

"It's hard whenever you lose one of our family, and that's what they've become one of our family," she said.

Jamie Parsons, mayor between 1991-94, lists MacKinnon's sense of humor and ability to remain cool under fire as attributes.

"Having grown up here, having served on the Planning Commission prior to coming to the Assembly and with a background in business, he added a wealth of practical knowledge to the body. As time went on, he was the keeper of the history," he said.

At least one MacKinnon legacy will continue. Since 1992, he has kept a list of malapropisms and questionable phrases uttered at Assembly meetings. Some entries are complete quotes, such as this one from an Assembly member: "How much is it going to cost for you to give me the answers you think I want?"

MacKinnon has turned over the list, now four or five pages, to new Deputy Mayor Ken Koelsch.


Joanna Markell can be reached at

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