Bill Falsey

Age: 41

Family: Jeannette Lee (wife) and our children, Stella (age 7) and James (age 5)

Occupation: Municipal Manager, Municipality of Anchorage (2017-2020); ended service Dec. 1, 2020 to focus on the campaign

Previous government experience or community involvement: As municipal manager (2017-2020), I was effectively the city’s second in command, responsible to the mayor for the overall conduct of the administrative functions of the municipality. I directly oversaw nine departments (police, fire, health, employee relations, traffic, public transit, public works, maintenance & operations, project management & engineering); three utilities (solid waste collection and disposal, water and wastewater, and municipal light & power); two enterprises (the Port of Alaska and Merrill Field); and four offices (emergency management, transportation inspection, risk, and equal opportunity). As municipal attorney, I was responsible for providing legal services to the whole of Anchorage’s municipal government; managing all civil litigation to which the municipality is a party; and providing judicial prosecution of misdemeanor criminal offenses in direct support of enforcement activities. I oversaw the municipality’s civil law division, prosecutor’s office, and administrative hearing office. I have served as a board member, or in a leadership role, in many civic organizations, including: United Way of Anchorage; CIVICVentures (the municipal non-profit that oversees the capital program and bonded indebtedness of Anchorage’s convention centers); the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness; the Anchorage Police and Fire Retirement System Board; the Alaska Municipal Attorneys Association; the Alaska State Society; Alaska Common Ground (a non-profit group aimed at improving the quality of Alaska’s civic dialogue); and the Arc of Anchorage (from which my brother receives services).

Highest level of education: Juris Doctor

What is the latest book you’ve read? Or, what book do you recommend and why?: I just finished Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller, who contributed to Radiolab and co-founded Invisibilia. It’s partly a biography of David Starr Jordan, who is credited with classifying fully a fifth of all the fish known to science today (but who was also an ardent eugenicist); and partly a memoir of the author’s own upbringing, relationships and finding happiness through new ways of seeing the world. It mostly worked for me — and I didn’t previously know that the common notion of “fish” doesn’t correspond to any single, discrete segment of the evolutionary tree. A quick read; I enjoyed it. (As a former physics major, a book that has really stuck with me is Richard Feynman’s The Character of Physical Law for its discussion of how symmetry relates to conservation laws. . . but I recognize that’s kind of niche topic.)

COVID closures, cancelled civic and culture events and the decline of summer tourists have turned Anchorage’s downtown into “a ghost town.” How will you revitalize downtown Anchorage?

A vibrant, clean and safe downtown is critical to Anchorage’s success. Investments and partnerships that ensure downtown continues to thrive, and that make downtown more walkable and active will serve all of us well. Anchorage will need to ensure that the local conditions needed for a robust return of tourism and a thriving restaurant scene are met. That will include everything from encouraging new construction; to using the mayor’s bully pulpit to encourage residents to patronize recovering businesses; to new marketing initiatives with Visit Anchorage and increased convention-center bookings; to working with the Anchorage Downtown Partnership and other organizations to engage in strong placemaking, space-activation and other revitalization efforts.

Do you support a minimum wage of $15 for municipal workers? Why or why not?

I support workers earning a living wage. The municipality currently pays, or by the end of the year will pay, all of its fulltime workers $15/hr and benefits. (The vast majority of the part-time workers making less than $15/hr are election workers, of whom there are approximately 45.)

What ideas do you have to ensure that the make-up of the municipal workforce reflects the diversity of the Anchorage community?

The city’s workforce and leadership should reflect the community it serves. As mayor, my executive appointments will meet that standard, and I will commit to an ongoing assessment of the municipality’s recruitment and hiring practices. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, so I prioritized completion of the first update of the municipality’s affirmative action plan in over seven years; the plan highlights the specific job classifications where persons of color and women are underrepresented, as compared to availability in Anchorage’s local labor pool and recommends strategies to improve recruiting and retention. Part of the mayor’s job has to be to grow the bench and create more opportunities for all.

With steep declines in revenue sharing from the state of Alaska, how will you support essential city services? Will this level of support be enough to attract future investment?

Over the past five years, the municipality worked to reduce the city’s reliance on state revenue to deliver city services. The municipality used to receive tens of millions of dollars from the state annually in the form of unrestricted “revenue sharing”; in 2020, it received less than $5 million. As a result, the city’s direct provision of traditional services is now largely untethered to the state’s budget (other than where the city receives program-specific grants), and remaining reductions in revenue sharing may be partly offset by growth in the sustainable dividend that the municipality receives from the MOA Trust Fund (the local “permanent fund” into which the proceeds of the municipality’s sale of ATU and, more recently, ML&P were deposited); additional receipts from Chugach Electric will be made into the Trust each year for the next several decades, increasing the size of the dividend. As mayor, I will not let the quality of city services decline, and the city will maintain an attractive investment climate.

Do you have a commitment to incorporate and utilize renewable energy sources?

Yes. Over the course of the last five years, I worked with others to, among other things: (a) install the State’s largest rooftop solar array on the Egan Center; (b) install a solar-energy system on the fire station in Bear Valley, which now operates entirely off the grid for more than two weeks each summer and reduced its electricity costs by 16%; (c) in partnership with Chugach Electric, establish an electric vehicle charging station to help promote the transition to electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles; (d) reduce local natural gas consumption for electricity generation (the sale of ML&P to Chugach Electric allowed the consolidated utility to retire less efficient turbines); (e) shift the Anchorage Police Department over to hybrid police-interceptor vehicles; and (f) develop and authorize Alaska’s first “C-PACE” program, which is designed to increase the deployment of renewable and energy-efficiency technologies at commercial properties. I also worked to develop the package of solar projects—chiefly, at fire stations–that is being submitted to voters as part of this year’s Prop. 1. If approved by voters, it would represent the city’s most significant investment in renewable technologies to date.

Anchorage has a shortage of housing at multiple income levels. What can you do to mitigate the problem and how will you influence housing development toward what the city needs?

The quality and availability of affordable housing in Anchorage remains a critical issue. Foundationally, we have to ensure that Anchorage’s permitting department operates quickly, and predictably, and with a culture toward finding workable solutions—and we have to be willing to innovate. In the last few years, I worked with the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility to make real a new approach to affordably financing the costs of water and sewer lines that had high-centered some new residential construction projects. We should continue to use and improve that process. I also drafted ordinances that led a first-of-its-kind bond proposition to build secondary life/safety access roads to mitigate wildfire danger; a side benefit of finally, actually building those roads is that they can bring online for development parcels that have been stranded for years for want of access. Further, the state legislature in 2017 through SB 100 newly invited municipalities through its tax system to incentivize activities that ultimately grow the economy and tax base. As first steps, I drafted ordinances to make use of that power to reward construction of residential units downtown, and affordable and workforce housing units in transit corridors. The next steps are both to work closely with the community of builders to see where projects are now failing to pencil, and to determine if the SB 100 tool can be used to incentivize renovation of some of our substandard housing that it just beyond its useful life.

The homeless crisis in Anchorage is persistent, disturbing and humanly tragic. How do you plan to help the municipality solve this crisis?

In Anchorage, homelessness should be brief, one-time and rare — and no one should be sleeping on our street corners or in our greenbelts. After years of largely leaving the issue to our local non-profit and religious organizations to solve, homelessness in the municipality is now off the charts — we have 200 more people in the shelter system than we have ever had in prior years; we have nearly 400 people living in the Sullivan Arena; another nearly 50 in the Fairview Recreation Center; and more than 100 in other settings around town. We need a comprehensive solution — one that reduces the inflow of people into homelessness, including by increasing the availability of substance-misuse treatment; involves a safe and appropriately sized shelter system in new locations, selected through an open, transparent and community-driven process that involves credible business plans and no surprises; a rapid, more effective camp-abatement program that connects people to services; and housing-first investments that get folks up and on their feet again.

Anchorage is a university town with two institutions, one public and one private. What opportunities does this represent to the municipality?

All thriving cities in America have at least one world-class university. We should foster greater innovation and stronger alliances between UAA, APU, and our city government. The benefits run both ways: UAA has been a key part of Anchorage’s COVID response, and greater involvement with the universities, generally, will help Anchorage make smarter, better decisions. Meanwhile, data the city is sharing with the universities, including through a new partnership that is assessing rain-on-snow, wildfire and other climate-change impacts, is opening new research frontiers for professionals, and expanding opportunities for students. Beyond benefiting the institutions, strong universities also help our economy; investments in our human capital ensure we have a pool of well-qualified job candidates and healthy culture of local innovation and entrepreneurialism. And by supporting our local arts and culture scenes, thriving universities also generally improve local quality of life, making Anchorage a more attractive place to live.

Can the mayor influence the tone of community dialogue? How?

Yes, through leading by example. The mayor has the opportunity, and responsibility, to set a tone of civility and respect. That means proactively reaching out to key stakeholders, welcoming everyone into a collaborative effort of joint problem-solving, really listening, and, after arriving at a decision, explaining candidly, not just what the decision is, but the reasoning behind it. It also means working to maintain a relentless focus, not on waging political battles, but on the essential business of the municipality: solving problems and delivering real, on-the-ground solutions for residents.

Local builders continually complain about delays in the municipal permitting process, and that Title 21 requirements make homes expensive. The complaints are old. Will you make changes?

Like the vast majority of American cities, Anchorage has local zoning and building code laws to promote the public health, safety, welfare and economic vitality. Those are worthy and appropriate goals that the community, acting through the municipality can and should pursue. But I recognize that title 21 requirements also come with a cost, and we have to constantly invite a public and community reassessment of, first, whether the benefits justify those costs; and second, whether the requirements are economically attainable at all. So, I am also open to exploring, now that we’ve had a few years to see how the new Title 21 has played out in practice, whether some of our requirements are, despite being we well-intentioned, ultimately holding us back from improving on what we have. I’d explore revisions on a provision-by-provision basis.