City and borough officials from one end of the state to another are gathering in Juneau this week for the Alaska Municipal League's 60th Annual Local Government Conference at Centennial Hall.
AML communications coordinator Charles Westmoreland described the conference as a chance for Alaska's municipal leaders to discuss common issues of concern that affect local governments. He said the conference also provides an opportunity for local elected officials to vote on resolutions and policies, set legislative priorities for the 2011 legislative session, and decide on common key issues that need to be brought before the Legislature.
"This conference allows them to have workshops to become more knowledgeable in aspects they deal with, such as open meetings or oil and gas. For newly elected officials, this gives them an introduction to local government in being a municipal official," he said.
Conference sessions and workshops, lasting Wednesday through Friday, will cover a variety of issues. Some of these include revenue sharing, renewable energy, Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS), transportation systems, local government financial disclosures, community sustainability and others.
"This week basically allows everyone to come together and to cement out our priorities and polices for the upcoming legislative session," said AML Executive Director Kathie Wasserman. "Our priorities are made up of issues that affect all municipalities."
The conference provides an area for all walks of city employees. Westmoreland and Wasserman said everyone from mayors, city managers, planners, assessors finance officers, attorneys, clerks, council and assembly members and others can learn more about important policies for the state and about working as part of local government.
Westmoreland said another advantage of the conference is for newly elected officials to network and learn more about the workings and issues that go along with being part of a municipality. He said it can be impossible to understand everything about such workings until one is actually in that capacity. This where the chance to network and train with those same types of employees from different areas can be invaluable.
"All of these problems they go though have happened somewhere before," Wasserman said.
Some notable speakers will include Wednesday's keynote speaker Jeff Johnson, of the Western Fire Chiefs Association. At 1:45 p.m. Thursday, Larry Persily, federal coordinator for Alaska natural gas transportation projects, will discuss the Alaska North Slope gas pipeline.
Pre-conference activities will go on through Tuesday.
Westmoreland described the role of AML as a nonpartisan organization that lobbies on behalf of issues decided on by its members. Wasserman said they try to limit those issues to three or four a year.
"We're here to give all communities throughout Alaska a unified voice. Mayors, councils, assembly members, they find out what their needs are, and we take these priorities and lobby on their behalf for legislature," Westmoreland said.
Wasserman said issues AML lobbies for are those that affect all communities, such as transportation or energy costs. It does not lobby for capital projects or those for individual municipalities.
Westmorland said there are 157 municipalities in the AML, including those from Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Kake, Barrow, Yakutat, Unalaska and others representing every corner of the state.
Details of the conference workshops and agenda are at http://bit.ly/9CCNMu.
The conference rotates between here, Anchorage and Fairbanks. It was last in the capital city in 2007. Westmoreland said between 350 and 400 people from across the state are expected to attend.
There other two annual AML meetings will be a Legislature meeting in February, which will be here, and a summer meeting in Sitka.
The Alaska Conference of Mayors, whose president is Juneau Mayor Bruce Bothelo, is also meeting in Centennial Hall on Tuesday. Westmoreland said many of the mayors will also attend the AML conference.
• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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