Assembly rejects proposed ballot measures for October ballot

Members of the Juneau Assembly listen to public testimony on the New JACC during a Committee of the Whole meeting on Aug. 21, 2018. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

Members of the Juneau Assembly listen to public testimony Aug. 21, 2018, on the New JACC during a committee of the whole meeting. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

Juneau residents will not vote in October on public spending for a new arts and culture center, Centennial Hall upgrades or raising the hotel bed tax.

The Juneau Assembly voted down three separate ballot measures Monday night, largely because of the unusual influence of an Assembly minority.

Fourteen community members testified in favor of letting voters decide whether the city should partially fund the new Juneau Arts and Culture Center through a bond measure.

Bud Carpeneti co-chairs a volunteer committee for the New JACC, which is what they’re calling the roughly $31 million project.

“If our plan is successful, and we believe it will be, the New JACC will be funded by the public between 20 and 30 percent,” Carpeneti said.

A $12 million bond and a $7 million bond were the options before the Assembly. Each would partially fund the New JACC and Centennial Hall upgrades.

Assembly member Jesse Kiehl voiced support for the first proposal and for letting voters decide.

“I hope that we will put our faith in the same folks who put us here, especially when there aren’t nine of us on the Assembly to consider it,” Kiehl  said. “At times like that, it makes sense to give it the electorate.”

Kiehl referred to the fact that the normally nine-member Assembly lost two votes recently when members Beth Weldon and Norton Gregory resigned to run for mayor.

Any motion needs five “yes” votes to pass, which allowed a minority of Assembly members — in this case Mayor Ken Koelsch, Deputy Mayor Jerry Nankervis and Assemblywoman Mary Becker — to block anything.

Nankervis made it clear he would not support either version. He proposed an amendment to the second option, reducing the bond to $2 million.

“We are spending far too much money right now, and this allows us to do a little — a little — and still reduce the costs to everybody that lives here,” Nankervis said.

His amendment didn’t go anywhere, and both JACC propositions failed.

Juneau Arts and Humanities Council Executive Director Nancy DeCherney was unsurprised. but said she wasn’t discouraged about plans to rebuild the JACC.

“There’s no harm, really, in putting something forward to the voters to make a choice, so, oh well! We’ll keep going,” DeCherney said.

The other proposition before the Assembly would have asked voters to raise the city’s hotel bed tax from 7 to 9 percent. Proceeds from the tax help fund Centennial Hall and Travel Juneau, the city’s tourism bureau.

Travel Juneau previously raised concerns about the impact increasing the tax might have on large meetings or conventions coming to town.

Kiehl joined the minority voting bloc in opposing the measure.

Assemblywoman Maria Gladziszewski said she felt it was wrong for seven people to decide on issues of importance to Juneau voters.

“When I was thinking about my colleagues who oppose putting this on the ballot, I tried to imagine ballot measures that I would personally oppose but also keep it off the ballot,” Gladziszewski said. “I really couldn’t think of any.”

Gladziszewski later unsuccessfully attempted to bring a measure aimed at expanding access to affordable childcare back for reconsideration.

The advisory ballot question failed at last week’s Assembly meeting.

Association for the Education of Young Children and its partners have tried repeatedly to get the Assembly to address Juneau’s child care shortage.

Southeast chapter executive director Joy Lyon had choice words for the members who voted against the measure.

“It’s also I don’t believe a very good example for our high school civics students who are looking at, a very unusual opportunity where a minority is ruling,” Lyons said. “In our democracy that is not usually the case.”

Nankervis said after the meeting that he felt it was his responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the voters who elected him.

“Some things go out to the public and some don’t, and this was a night where I didn’t think any of those needed to go to the public,” Nankervis said.

Come Oct. 2, the ballot will feature candidates only.

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