Unofficial election night results give the Juneau mayor’s race to Ken Koelsch, 58.7 percent to Karen Crane’s 40 percent.
Initial results were initially reported with the names transposed. Koelsch has been in the lead.
Precincts reporting: 13/13
Voter turnout so far: 24.4%
Absentee ballots: 1520
Juneau elects its new mayor on Tuesday, March 15. Here are profiles of the two candidates and their responses to several questions they’ll deal with if elected. Their responses have been edited for clarity.
Family: Dan Fruits, husband
Previous government or other relevant experience: Fairbanks North Star Borough, 1979-1986: regional services librarian, library director, community services director responsible for libraries,transit, parks and recreation.
State of Alaska, 1986-2003: director of libraries, archives and museums.
City and Borough of Juneau Assembly, 2010-2016: Finance committee chair 2012-2016.
Family: Wife Marian Koelsch and children Karter, Deborah, Amber, Kaylee, Fiona and Kendell
Previous government or other relevant experience: City and Borough of Juneau Assembly, 1997-2003: Public Works and Facilities chair, Juneau School Board liaison, deputy mayor 2001-2003.
Juneau Schools, 1968-1996: taught American government, honors history and English, served as vice principal for one year and athletics/activities director for three years.
U.S. Customs port director, 1996-2003.
Would you support a detox center in Juneau? Yes.
Would you support a medication assisted facility for opioid use? Yes.
Would you support an ordinance banning discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people? Yes.
Is climate change caused by people? Yes.
Have you ever smoked or consumed pot? Yes.
Would support marijuana consumption at retail stores? Eating: yes. I’m going to have to say no to smoking in retail establishments until it’s clear to me it will not conflict with our smoking ban.
What’s on your iTunes playlist? I love Adele, so I have a lot of Adele. I have some country western. I like opera. I just like music period. But right now, lately, I’ve been listening to Adele. “Hello” is a fine tune.
Would you support a detox center in Juneau? Yes.
Would you support a medication assisted facility for opioid use? Yes.
Would you support an ordinance banning discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people? If needed.
Is climate change caused by people? Yes.
Have you ever smoked or consumed pot? No.
Would you support marijuana consumption at retail stores? It would depend on where the retail store was located.
What’s on your iTunes playlist? I don’t have an iTunes playlist. I listen to mostly classical. I like the 70s and the 80s. I like Kenny Loggins and that whole group.
CRANE: We’ve spent the last four years to try to put us in a good position to deal with these cuts. We’ve already cut $3.6 million out of the budget; we’ve increased revenues, increased our reserve accounts, reduced staff and looked for efficiencies. I think that we’re in pretty good shape to start to deal with it.
I don’t know whether the city can continue to afford all of the grant programs that we do: youth activities, Juneau arts, social services grants. That may be one place that we have to take a look.
The city manager has very carefully watched hiring at the borough over the last few years and tried to cut down there. I am committed to try to keep full funding for education, and we also need to make sure that we are funding our essential services. At the same time, we need to maintain those things in Juneau that give us the quality of life that keeps us all here. I don’t like across-the-board cuts. I think we just have to go into every program … and look at things programmatically and decide whether they can be reduced or need to be eliminated.
KOELSCH: We’re always looking for efficiency in government, and I think that with Rorie Watt coming in as the new (city) manger and working with Kim Kiefer, the two of them can come up with a list of efficiencies. I would like to keep as many positions — I’m a former union member, so that’s important to me — as we possibly can. I think there might be some higher paid positions in city government that can be consolidated, especially when positions come open.
There are some bright sides to look at. We don’t always have to look at the negative. We will, obviously, be looking at increasing efficiencies, but tourism is a growth industry right now. We need to capitalize on our strengths.
CRANE: We have to concentrate on local business. That’s where we get our best return on investment — helping grow businesses in Juneau, businesses that will stay here, who keep our profits here, who invest in their people.
Great big box stores take their profits and take them out of state. Wal-Mart wasn’t — to my mind — investing in training and promotion for employees. A local business invests locally, invests in local people, generally banks locally and buys services locally. We’re happy to have Home Depot, Costco and Fred Meyer, but I just believe that we get the best return on our investment when we focus (locally).
We have enormous human capital in Juneau, and we need to encourage entrepreneurs. There are a number of programs around the community that are working with people to help develop business. CBJ may not be creating the business but we can help create the climate that allows (it) to develop here.
KOELSCH: Wal-Mart closing was a bigger blow than people realize, and I’m hoping that the business community can absorb a lot of the employees and can pick up some of the services and goods Wal-Mart provided. As mayor that would be one of the focuses I would have. People need to realize that we need a very friendly atmosphere for businesses in this community to survive.
(You need to be proactive) bringing other jobs into town. We have the Juneau Economic Development Council and I think they’re very proactive and innovative.
CRANE: It doesn’t begin to meet the need, but it’s a start. And it was also an excellent project showing good public/private cooperation. The land was given by (The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska). There is money from the state, there is money from the Rasmuson Foundation, and there is money from CBJ. So it was a really excellent project in that way. We are hoping at some point there will be a second phase of that so they will be housing more.
I think that we just have a housing problem in Juneau at all levels: homeless, affordable housing — at all levels — we need more housing. And I would like to see more projects like this one, where there are a number of entities, nonprofits and others, who come together and try and meet the need.
KOELSCH: I think we need to congratulate the people that brought this forth. That was a phenomenal step, and I think a step in the right direction. I don’t know that we need to jump into anything right away other than to see how this works. And if it works, and if it’s a model, then move on. But before we do phase two, I think we better see how phase one works in our community. Most definitely, again, building on our strengths. And if this is the strength that we think it’s going to be and should be, determining what resources to put into the next part of it.
CRANE: Well, this is not an issue that the city can solve, but it’s one that I think we can help lead on. The police are involved and doing an excellent job. The fire department, the same. The hospital is a CBJ entity, and we need to have people at the table. The Stop Heroin, Start Talking Juneau group is an excellent start to this. But we need to be at the table, we need to be invested in this decision. And I don’t know how we do this. But if there is someone who wants help, when that person wants help, you have to be able to offer something right away.
And I don’t know whether Juneau is able to do a rehab center here or not. I think we need to get all of our nonprofits together, all of the people involved, and see what we can do. But whether we have a rehab center or not, we need to have some facility where someone says that they’re ready for help that they can enter into until we can find the help that we need. So I think it’s really important to be doing that. It’s really scary when you listen to the numbers. The police department says we have between 200 to 400 addicts in town. And we cannot just let this problem grow. It’s a national problem. It’s not a Juneau problem. It’s a national problem. And we really need to find the resources. We need to help people.
KOELSCH: Just going back a little, Juneau has always had a problem. In the ’70s, it seemed like it was centered on cocaine. We moved on to that. What is different about this is the deadliness and the seriousness and the epidemic with it. We need to wake up. We need to bring in a coalition to deal with it and see what we can do for recovery here. I’m fairly familiar from law enforcement from the law enforcement part of it. And there is more that can be done on that. We have a great coalition between the federal, state and local. But there is more emphasis that can be put on the prevention, but it’s the usage and the recovery that we need to work on — especially the heroin aspect of it. We need to hear more of the Stop Heroin, Start Talking and the Community of Compassion experiences. Identify needs, possible solutions. But above all, we need to act and we need to act now. And we need to put as much resources and personnel into the recovery portion of it as we possibly can. It is a very, very serious epidemic.
I got schooled on that one (treatment options) and I appreciated it. We need to provide as much here as we can. We need to look to our sister city Ketchikan to see how they’re providing it. And what is successful there and to bring it into Juneau.
The coalition I would look at would bring all the players into the same room. Something to aid the families. I’m learning a lot about this subject. I wasn’t aware prior to running that it was an epidemic, but Lt. Sell from the Juneau Police Department has been doing a great job of educating us. The Stop Heroin, Start Talking and Community of Compassion, too.
We need action now: needles. The city manager Kim Kiefer has done a great job reaching out, as well as the police chief. And we have some ideas in the works that they’re going to be trying to see if it meets the needs and revisiting that to see if that part is working. I just think bringing a mayoral focus group together, we have all the parts, we know what some of the needs are and we need to address them, and the action part needs to be put into effect.
CRANE: Since I’ve been off the assembly since the middle of January, I haven’t seen the budget projections for next year. But I know that fully funding education is not only a priority of mine, it’s pretty much been a priority across the assembly. I don’t know that the public knows and realizes how much money the school district has already reduced its budget by over $10 million. Even if they get the same funding this year that they got last year, it’s a reduction in the budget because of increased costs and other issues. And so, I think we really need to work as hard as we possibly can to fund education to the cap. It’s a priority.
KOELSCH: I think it’s always appropriate to fund education to the cap. I taught in the Juneau School District to 1968 to 1996, and I am passionate about education. I think that’s one area we need to always look at as a community need — not a want.
CRANE: Very shortly, we will have 20 percent of our population being senior citizens. I am a senior citizen. I still expect to have my roads plowed. I still expect to have police and fire service. I still expect many of the services that the borough provides. And we just cannot — especially in the era of cutbacks from the state, cutbacks from the federal government, less money coming in — continue to have a full 20 percent of our population not paying a portion of the taxes. For me, this is an issue of fairness. Why should I, who have a house paid off and a retirement, why should I receive an exemption when a young family just starting out with an entry-level job trying to buy a house, feed children, why should they support my exemption? But we want to keep seniors in town, and there are seniors who have a need. So I think that the solution that seven members of the assembly came to revamp the senior program, to keep it and revamp it, was a fair one. Fair to seniors and fair to others in the community that continue to have to pay all of those sales taxes.
Seniors ride buses free. The city offers discounts on almost all services, swimming pool and other services. And in addition to which, someone started the rumor going that I am opposed to the senior citizens property tax exemption. And that is absolutely not true. There has been no discussion on the assembly of tampering with that particular exemption at all. And I would vigorously fight to retain it and can say there would be nothing that would happen to that particular exemption on my watch.
KOELSCH: I opposed it for several reasons. There was not a grandfather clause in there that allowed people that made the decision to stay in Juneau, because of the sales tax exemption and property tax exemption, to retain those. There was not an explanation in June when 38,000 people signed up to get the exemption, those 38,000 people came in expecting that this was one of the methods of updating and working on, eliminating several people that were, who were no longer in town, or were from out of town getting the sales tax exemption. We did not give that an opportunity to see if that would fill the gap. Seniors are a treasure in this town. They provided child care. They’re the ones that volunteer at the visitor bureaus, at the hospitals. They’re the ones that have contributed so much to this community. I think that economically there was a reason that the assembly gave, but I think the message that it sent to the seniors in this town outweighed the economic benefits that the assembly wanted to gain.
There are several aspects going on. We want to keep that population, and we want to keep that population active. They’re just thinking that the Social Security checks, the retirement checks that come into this town through the senior population are circulated throughout the population. There are housing developments out by the Vintage Park area for seniors, for memory care, for assisted living that are going on and that’s kind of been exciting. The senior population — even the cruise ship population — contributes to Bartlett. The number of seniors that come off the cruise ship that receive medical care out there and the financial stability it gives Bartlett is pretty phenomenal. That’s the type, I guess, of benefit that I see for seniors and for the community.
I think we need to reach out to them and I think we need to, again, hear them. They have been heard at every assembly meeting that I’m aware. I think we need to recognize more of their support and benefit. Seniors are very loyal to this town, and I think will remain so.
CRANE: Well, there are so many questions tied up in this. For Juneau to have any ability to deal with marijuana establishments in Juneau, I think we’re going to have a license for those businesses. I hope that the processing will be simple, fast and easy. But if we aren’t licensing those businesses then we have to turn to the state for any action when there is any problem at all.
KOELSCH: Well, I’m still doing my homework on this — the marijuana issue. The Planning Commission passed the growing part and the sell. And I have a stack that is a couple of inches thick, and I’m reading through that. They have been dealing with that on the Planning Commission and now it’s passed on to the assembly, and it will probably be an assembly item in the near future. And when it does come, I will be prepared to work on it.
I want to make sure that the 62 percent of voters that passed it know that we are trying to accommodate their wishes and also accommodate the challenges with neighborhoods and the downtown locations so, somewhere in there is a marriage.
CRANE: I think this is a problem with the definition of neighborhoods and this is not the first issue for which we’ve had this difficulty. When the assembly decided this and the Planning Commission, they heard from community development that the best information they had gotten from talking to people in Colorado and talking to people in Washington was to keep it out of the neighborhoods.
Well, we are keeping it out of the neighborhoods in the urban service district, but we’ve thrown neighborhoods in the rural reserve and D1. They don’t have the same protection that neighborhoods have downtown. And I don’t think our comprehensive plan has kept up with this issue. We had the same problem when we went through the cell tower ordinance and developing that. There’s one set of rules for neighborhoods inside the urban service district and another set of rules for neighborhoods outside.
And so, we really need to look at the definition of neighborhoods. Let’s take Thane Road, for example. There are people on Thane that have no problem with this, and there are other people who do. So we need to look at some definition of what is a neighborhood? How close are the houses? What really defines a neighborhood? And a definition that can be used both inside the urban service area district and outside the urban service area district. I was on the assembly when we dealt with this, right at the last part of my service, and I argued that we needed such a definition. I don’t have any objection to growing marijuana in either D1 or rural reserve, but I do have an objection to doing it in neighborhoods in those areas.
KOELSCH: I’ve read the petition. I am not going to make any comment on that at this time. I don’t have enough information. I am a person that likes to listen, or feels you should listen, to what people have to say and get all the facts. There are always two sides to everything. I need to talk to the Planning Commission about why that particular aspect was put in there. There are legitimate arguments on both sides. I guess I am undecided. I need to hear more and find why it was brought forth that way. It seemed like it was an issue that had had public discussion, was settled, and now there are still some people that are looking to make changes. I think anytime people are looking to make changes, we need to listen to them and then acknowledge what they have to say and then decided where we are going.
Hopefully by the time I’m elected mayor, I will have had enough time to digest this. As a citizen, before running for office, I’m aware of what was going on, but until you start examining some of these issues and become involved in it, I guess you don’t realize the enormity of some of these decisions.
CRANE: I plan to be an active mayor. I believe that the job includes promoting Juneau at every opportunity with the legislature, around the state and nationally. I plan to be more visible in the community. I will hold regular and formal meetings throughout the borough for the public to come out and chat, to share their ideas or concerns, because sometimes it’s just intimidating for people to come to the assembly and talk, so I want an opportunity to really hear from the people of Juneau. I will welcome assembly members to join me in these meetings. My philosophy is inclusive. We make the best decisions when we hear all sides of an issue. If elected, I will be a mayor who will listen to the people, keep an open mind for better ideas and work tirelessly to represent all of Juneau.
KOELSCH: I hope to unify the assembly and the borough and coming up with a vision to drive us forward. My gut feeling is that we have deep divisions in the community and, in the end, it’s just really and truly Juneauites with differences of opinion and that’s what makes a horse race. But I think we can come to a consensus on a lot of items, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.