Taking a look at some of the big stories this year in Juneau
2012 winds to a close
In Juneau, 2012 was marked by changes in leadership at City Hall, a lengthy double murder trial, and the tragic deaths of several young people.
Kim Kiefer replaced a retiring Rod Swope as city manager in April. Kiefer grew up in Juneau and worked her way through the ranks of the city, serving as deputy manager for six years before being promoted.
“I’ve been very humbled by the outpouring of support I’ve gotten from the community, whether it’s been in the grocery store, walking on the street, people stopping and saying, ‘Hey, we think you’re the best.’”
The Capital City also got its first new mayor in nine years. Former Assembly member Merrill Sanford was elected to the top post in October, after running on a pro-business platform.
“We want people to come here and we want people to open stores here, no matter what the store is, and we want jobs here.”
Voters also elected two new assembly members: Loren Jones and Jerry Nankervis.
Outgoing Mayor Bruce Botelho came up with an unusual way to fund more than $60 million in capital projects through a temporary sales tax extension and municipal bond package. Despite opposition from some in the business community, the measures were approved by voters.
Botelho had a busy last year in office, leading a failed effort to re-start the state’s coastal management program. Several prominent Juneau officials joined the cause, including Representative Beth Kerttula, a former coastal management attorney.
The city’s Bartlett Regional Hospital cut all ties with its longtime management company, Quorum Health Resources. The hospital’s board of directors hired Chris Harff as CEO. She moved to Juneau in August from Minnesota.
“It’s been awhile without a permanent CEO so part of it’s a learning process. What am I like? And I’m trying to learn that about the board members and the physicians, so we can have optimal communication.”
For two weeks in October, the news in Juneau was dominated by the trial of John Marvin, Jr. The Hoonah man was convicted of ambushing police officers Anthony Wallace and Matt Tokuoka in the Chichagof Island community in August 2010.
Marvin’s attorney is challenging whether Officer Wallace was actually performing official duties at the time he was killed.
A sunny weekend in June turned tragic, when 16-year-old Savannah Cayce died after a jet ski accident on Auke Lake. Cayce’s death sparked a review of motorized use on the lake that will continue in 2013. Her step father, Glenn Haight, addressed the Juneau Assembly on the topic earlier this month.
“Auke Lake is a wonderful place to be on a warm day. It also invites careless behavior, simply because fun, fast water craft are allowed open access in a relatively small area, with very few restrictions and no enforcement.”
Cayce was not the only young person from Juneau to die under tragic circumstances. In late November, brothers Casey and Kelly Newman drowned when their boat capsized near Tenakee Springs. Less than two weeks later, the Newmans’ hunting partner, Jimmy Brown, Jr. — who survived the boating accident — died at a North Douglas house. Police said alcohol was a contributing factor. Brown’s body was sent to the medical examiner’s office in Anchorage for an autopsy.
Former Juneau Assembly member and Alaska Department of Labor Deputy Commissioner David Stone also died unexpectedly in November at the age of 55, about a month after his final assembly meeting.
On November 5th, an entire city block on Franklin Street was threatened by the Gastineau Apartments fire. Will Muldoon was one of approximately 50 residents displaced by the blaze. He awoke from an afternoon nap to a police officer pounding on his door.
“Just had enough time to grab my shoes and my dog and that was about it.”
An investigation determined the fire was caused by an unattended candle. The building was deemed a total loss.
Mayor Sanford acknowledged the recent tragedies to strike the Capital City at an Assembly meeting last month
“Hopefully we’re done with a few of the catastrophes that we’ve had in our community.”