Consultant: Tourism talks need more than the usual voices

Posted: Friday, October 25, 2002

Polarized, divisive and without direction. A clash between economic development and the environment. Hurt by a lack of trust, a lack of civility and an inability to go beyond personalities.

About 30 people used those terms to describe Juneau's civic culture at a meeting Thursday at Centennial Hall. The discussion, led by civic consultant David Chrislip, focused on collaboration as a way to deal with tourism questions in Juneau.

Chrislip, who worked with Sitka residents in 1999 to address solid- waste dilemmas, advocates a collaborative approach to solve community conflicts. For collaboration to work, the right people need to be involved. And they need good information and a constructive process, he said.

"The magic of collaboration is you can do those three things, and guess what comes out of it? You get good answers," he said.

The idea of collaboration, especially in the arena of tourism, is a sensitive topic in Juneau. The Juneau Assembly has been trying for months to put together a panel to lead tourism discussions but hasn't been able to agree on the structure. Chrislip met separately with Assembly members on Thursday afternoon.

"You can't bring people into a room and throw an issue to the table and say, 'Have at it,' " he said. "There has to be a constructive process that goes with it. It's not just a debate."

The usual voices, such as elected officials, business and community leaders, and unusual voices, described as people who aren't normally heard from, need to be involved, he said. The group should seek consensus, but unanimity isn't necessarily required, he said.

Juneau resident Wendy Wolf, who attended Thursday's meeting, helped facilitate collaborative discussions in Talkeetna this year about tourism growth. People in small towns have to keep talking to each other, even if they don't agree, she said.

"I truly believe it can work here if the process comes to fruition without it looking like the same old thing - the city picking a group of people to do it," she said. "If it's more of those unusual voices participating and feeling like equals."

Mayor Sally Smith said the Assembly will continue the discussion during a retreat early next month. It would be better if a push for collaboration came from the community, not Assembly members, she said.

"There's a certain factor of 'who got me elected' versus 'who got this person elected,' and we feel a loyalty to that constituency that's only normal," she said. "If you build a new constituency that comes to a conclusion, a constituency outside your own, you're likely to salute their flag.

"We've heard from the same groups for years and they're at loggerheads. So if they're willing to sit down with new eyes, let's go for it."

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