Juneau voters rejected building a new city hall — but elected candidates who support it

Juneau's city hall
Fewer than half of Juneau’s city employees work at city hall. The rest are in four other buildings downtown, including the Marine View Building. (Katie Anastas/KTOO)

Juneau voters chose Paul Kelly and Ella Adkison as the newest members of the Juneau Assembly in the city’s Oct. 3 elections, re-electing incumbents Alicia Hughes-Skandijs and Christine Woll.

They also rejected a $27 million bond proposal to fund a new city hall – something all four winning candidates had favored.

Kelly thinks their victories and the city hall bond’s defeat show this wasn’t a one-issue election.

“I had a lot of conversations with people at the door – people who said they would consider voting for me but were against the new city hall,” he said. “I always had the caveat that if I get elected and the city hall passes, I’m going to make sure we do things differently.”

Voters rejected a $35 million bond proposal for a new city hall in 2022. The Assembly voted unanimously to put it back on the ballot, this time with a smaller bond, in July.

Hughes-Skandijs was on the Assembly during that vote, and said she’s still reflecting on the process. Like Kelly, she spoke to voters who supported her but opposed the bond. Some thought the city needed to explore other rental spaces, and some didn’t believe their property taxes wouldn’t go up. 

But others seemed to vote against it on principle, she said.

“If you talk one on one with someone, they agreed, ‘That’s a pretty good plan, your facts are good, you’ve convinced me. But I’m still going to vote no because I’m mad that you’d put it back on the ballot the next year,’” she said. “What I see from that is that people didn’t feel heard, and they didn’t feel respected.”

Hughes-Skandijs said one Assembly meeting kept coming up in conversation – the meeting where the Assembly voted to put the bond proposal on the ballot.

Assembly members can object to a motion in order to comment on it, even if they plan on voting yes. It’s a chance for them to explain their thinking and to acknowledge points made by members of the public who might have been opposed.

The vote happened nearly two and half hours into the three-hour Assembly meeting. No Assembly members objected. 

“I think the reason no one did that is we had a packed agenda,” Hughes-Skandijs said. “I wish someone had said something. I still would have voted, at that time, yes. But I wish I had done a better job communicating with the public why we were doing it.”

Hughes-Skandijs said between skepticism about the Assembly’s process with the city hall bond and several candidates’ calls for more transparency in city government, she’s thinking about how they can make the Assembly’s decision-making easier for the public to understand.

“Clearly we’re failing at making the process easier for people to follow,” she said. “We’re doing the work in public, it’s in committee meetings. But if people are only watching the Assembly meetings, it feels like, ‘Where are those decisions being made?’”

Hughes-Skandijs said that for now, she’s ready to step back from the city hall issue. Then-City Manager Rorie Watt pointed out that ballot propositions have gone before voters multiple times before, but Hughes-Skandijs doesn’t think the city hall bond will – or should – go on next year’s ballot.

“I think someday it should be,” she said. “I think we take a break from city hall and focus on other much-needed issues.”

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