In Juneau, unexpectedly filling a mayor’s shoes

As Juneau’s mayor, Mary Becker is establishing regular office hours at city hall, attending meetings scheduled by the late mayor and educating herself on her new role. At the same time, she wants to follow through with some of Greg Fisk’s initiatives.

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Mary Becker sits in the office of the mayor at Juneau’s City Hall on Dec. 3, 2015. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
Mary Becker sits in the office of the mayor at Juneau’s City Hall on Dec. 3, 2015. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Since Tuesday, Mary Becker has been going to city hall every day and working in the office of the mayor.

“This is Greg’s office. This is the mayor’s office. And now that I’m in this position, this is my office now,” Becker said.

She hasn’t moved anything around. She’s barely touched anything.

Becker was re-elected to serve as deputy mayor by the Assembly in October. Per city charter, that position succeeds as mayor in the event of a vacancy

“When you say yes to being deputy mayor, you know that it’s always a possibility,” Becker said. “It’s not just a title. It comes with a responsibility.”

A lot of her time as mayor so far has been spent talking about Fisk. His death on Monday attracted national attention and for a couple of days she had reporters from all over the country calling her from 5 a.m. to midnight.

When Fisk was elected in October, Becker said he was a breath of fresh air for the community.

Greg Fisk on Election Night, Oct. 6, 2015. He won the mayor seat by a 2-1 margin. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
Greg Fisk on Election Night, Oct. 6, 2015. He won the mayor seat by a 2-1 margin. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“It was a new regime,” she said.

One of Fisk’s new ideas was how to run the annual assembly retreat, which will still take place on Dec. 14.

“Greg wrote such a well-thought-out method for us to use … . We’ll be honoring his memory to be doing this process,” Becker said.

In a Nov. 25 memo, Fisk wrote that he wanted the assembly to identify a big picture “common vision” for the community to work toward for many years to come. He didn’t want to just focus on current issues facing Juneau or to look only at the upcoming year.

In the past, City Manager Kim Kiefer said the assembly retreat has focused on 10 to 15 different priorities. This year, she said, Fisk wanted the assembly to establish just a few overarching goals.

“It was just a different way to approach a process that’s happened in the past, and put it more into the – let’s look at where we want to go and figure out what the steps are that we need to take now to get ourselves to that point,” Kiefer said.

Along with the memo, Fisk provided links to websites of cities that have established visions, goals and ideals.

Kiefer said she was excited for the changes Fisk had planned.

“He was also very respectful of the process that was set in place already. He made the determination not to change up committees because he knew he was the new person on the assembly,” Kiefer said. “So he wasn’t into ‘This is Greg Fisk as mayor, (this is) how it’s going to happen.’ It was, ‘How do we bring everyone along to that new vision?’”

Prior to becoming mayor, Fisk was co-chair of a NOAA Task Force formed by the assembly in 2014. The goal of the task force was to lure federal research jobs to Alaska. He had a meeting scheduled in a few weeks with local NOAA staff; Kiefer said that meeting will still happen.

“We need to continue to move that forward. Because of his expertise, he added a lot of knowledge, so we will miss that knowledge definitely. But we need to have that meeting. We owe it to him,” Kiefer said.

As city business continues to move forward with Becker as mayor, the assembly needs to appoint someone to the now vacant assembly seat. Then, the assembly can opt to call a special election for mayor or wait until the next regular election in October when both seats will be on the ballot.

Becker said she’s comfortable being mayor till October. A special election would cost the city about $35,000, Kiefer said.

The assembly’s next regular meeting is Dec. 21.

Lisa Phu is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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