Capital creep lives

Half of Alaska's commissioners live elsewhere full-time

Posted: Sunday, December 17, 2000

Juneau is now the year-round home to only half of the state agency commissioners.

With Tuesday's appointment of Shirley Holloway to succeed Rick Cross as commissioner of Education and Early Development, there are seven commissioners who are full-time residents of Juneau and seven who are not. Just a few months earlier, Glenn Godfrey became the sixth commissioner without a permanent Juneau address when he succeeded Ron Otte at Public Safety.

The 50 percent landmark reached this week did not go unnoticed by Juneau Sen. Kim Elton, who immediately started pressing his fellow Democrats in the Knowles administration for an explanation.

Elton said he spoke with Holloway and with Gov. Tony Knowles.

Holloway, who lived in Juneau when she was education commissioner from March 1995 to April 1999, "committed to me to spend a substantial amount of time in Juneau" but did not define "substantial," Elton said. Knowles said he would have Holloway talk with Elton a second time to explain "the programmatic reasons behind the decision," the senator said.

"The personality of this administration is probably best described as one that does not focus on a central authority and is comfortable with a management approach that scatters management in different regions of the state," Elton said. "I think that has a leadership impact. ... You move forward by developing relationships."

While technology helps move information around, it can't substitute for face-to-face interaction, he said.

Holloway's appointment came just a few days after a local watchdog warned business leaders about the continuing problem of "capital creep," the gradual erosion of Juneau's status as the seat of government through incremental movement of jobs to other locations.

"I think it's pretty discouraging," said Win Gruening, chair of the Alaska Committee, the nonprofit group that promotes Juneau as the capital. Gruening, who spoke to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on the issue Dec. 8, said he cannot recall a time when more senior state staff were located outside of Juneau.

Bob King, press secretary for Knowles, said while Holloway will keep her home and family in Anchorage, she will find an apartment in Juneau and will be here full-time through the 2001 legislative session and part-time the rest of the year.

King said local leaders needn't worry about Juneau's status. "Juneau is the capital of the state of Alaska. (But) I think it's important for commissioners to be where they are needed. ...

"Many of these people are not willing to uproot their whole families for what is a temporary job. We've tried to accommodate that, but I don't think that diminishes the city of Juneau's role as a capital city."

Elton said he recognizes the difficulty of attracting the best and brightest when a commissioner's pay doesn't match what qualified individuals can earn elsewhere. It's "outrageous" some school principals earn more than the education commissioner, and salaries for the state's top management should be increased, he said. Holloway will earn about $87,000 annually.

But Juneau residents shouldn't be complacent about the loss of state jobs and the possibility for an actual capital move, Gruening told the Juneau chamber. "The threat does exist."

An opinion poll in July 1999 showed 56 percent of Anchorage voters would sign a capital-move petition, he said. Statewide, 31 percent of all respondents favored a capital move, 24 percent were undecided and 43 percent were against it, according to the poll. Another poll is planned next year.

Gruening encouraged chamber members to spread the word about "constituent air fare," reduced rates offered by Alaska Airlines for flights to Juneau during legislative sessions. The polling data shows that people who have visited Juneau are much less likely to support a capital move, he said. "When people come here and see it's an actual community and people live here and raise families, it's a shock."

Gruening said the Alaska Committee might do a study to quantify "capital creep" and has spoken to the McDowell Group about conducting it. It would be the first study of its type, he said.

Romer Derr, former chamber president, said Juneau's delegation has not been aggressive enough in fighting "a fairly serious case of capital creep."

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