Botelho proposes censure for Danner over Law Dept. comments

Ruth Danner. Photo courtesy City and Borough of Juneau.

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho proposed a public censure of Assembly Member Ruth Danner last night (Wednesday) for testimony she gave to the city’s Planning Commission earlier this month, accusing the CBJ Law Department of having “misled” commissioners in the past.

Danner ultimately apologized in order to avoid censure, but only after Botelho and other assembly members expressed shock and dismay at her actions.

Last weekend, Danner tried to get a written legal opinion from City Attorney John Hartle, explaining the Law Department’s advice to the Planning Commission regarding a Conditional Use Permit for a rock crusher at a gravel pit on Montana Creek Road. The Planning Commission approved the permit at its April 10th meeting, where Danner made her comment alleging the Law Department had previously misled commissioners. The pit is located near Danner’s house, and in her testimony she said she was speaking on behalf of herself and not as an Assembly member.

In an email to Hartle, City Manager Kim Kiefer and Botelho last weekend, Danner wrote that she wanted the opinion so she could, quote, “shop it around to make certain it holds firm and… explore alternatives if it does not.” Botelho replied that Danner’s request needed to be vetted through the full Assembly. He also expressed concern about meddling in Planning Commission affairs.

On Monday, Botelho requested a transcript of the April 10th commission meeting, which led him to call last night’s special assembly meeting. The Assembly decided not to take up Danner’s request for a legal opinion, since the Planning Commission’s approval of the conditional use permit has not been appealed.

But the mayor said he was still troubled by Danner’s comment accusing the Law Department of being misleading.

“Because I don’t think that in any way is reflective of people I believe are of highest integrity of character in the Department of Law,” said Botelho.

Danner initially declined to apologize, saying she was just trying to understand the legal rationale for approving the conditional use permit.

“I cannot apologize for what I have done, because I am trying to represent the people and the people’s interests, and I will not apologize for that,” Danner said.

Assemblyman Johan Dybdahl said he vehemently disagreed with Danner’s characterization of the Law Department, and Assemblyman David Stone said he had never seen another member ask for a legal opinion on an issue that had yet to be appealed to the Assembly.

Botelho said if Danner failed to apologize he would make a motion to censure her.

“I believe it is appropriate for Ms. Danner to raise questions, to challenge as she sees her job,” said Botelho. “But Ms. Danner, I’m most deeply troubled that you’re not prepared to apologize for the remark about the department misleading the commission. And absent that, I’m going to request the body censure you. And I do this very reluctantly, and again, I’ve never confronted this issue in my years in city government. But I have to say, I’m so disturbed about this, I don’t see any other course.”

After asking for a definition of “censure,” Danner again said she wouldn’t apologize for doing her job as an assembly member. She also said she didn’t remember making the remark to the Planning Commission, but then took a minute or two to review the transcript. Finally, she apologized to both the city manager and the city attorney.

“The people of Juneau do have a great deal of faith in the work that you do, and with good cause. By and large, we have a great deal to be proud of here,” Danner said. “And to Mr. Hartle, to the degree that I have said anything that indicates any kind of bad behavior or intentional misleading, I truly do apologize. That was not at all what I was trying to convey. And I think I probably should stop there.”

Botelho said that settled the matter for him.

Danner quickly left the Assembly Chambers after the meeting was over.

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