Tennis Decision Postponed, Assembly Questions Funding

The Anchorage Assembly heard final testimony Tuesday on what has become a controversial proposal to build a rec center in the city with indoor tennis courts.

The Assembly never asked for money for the project and accusations flew about how the tennis appropriation came about.

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The tennis issue could not have come at a worse time for the Assembly. They’re finalizing their 2014 operating budget and preparing a capital budget request to send to Juneau, among other things.

The Assembly reordered the agenda to take care of more pressing issues and put tennis off until nearly the end of the night on what was a marathon day for the body. So at around 10 o’clock, a woman waiting to testify on tennis walked up to the podium without giving her name.

Photo from The Alaska Club.
Photo from The Alaska Club.

“I don’t know what the heck this even is but I am absolutely horrified at the way you guys are passing this around and not doing things in order. We’ve had the tennis people down here. We’re here to testify on something important … (Hall:) M’am we’ll get to you. Thank you. Thank you.”

The woman then walked out. About an hour later testimony was allowed. Assembly Chair Ernie hall acknowledged the delay.

“Now, Ladies and gentleman, our apologies,” Hall said. “We know that a lot of you are here to talk about tennis courts.”

“This is what we run into sometimes when we have a lot of testimony and we get things backed up.”

The Assembly has been considering whether or not to fund the Northern Lights Recreation Center, which would include indoor tennis courts. The Legislature approved millions of dollars for the project, but the Assembly never asked for it.

Tennis Association officials admitted they spoke with Mayor Dan Sullivan about the project and then lobbied Juneau directly, but did not consult the Assembly.

Racing the clock toward midnight, testimony from bleary-eyed supporters sounded like this:

“My name is Matt Henry. I think the Alaska Tennis Association did everything that we thought we were doing correctly to pass this through the public process.”

“My name is Scott Kolhaus. I’m also currently serving as the president of the Alaska Tennis Association. The issues that are being decided tonight are going to be decided this fall and tonight are the issues of whether or not high school tennis as we know it is gonna live or  whether we’re gonna let it die.”

“I’m Zarina Clendaniel and I support building a public indoor tennis facility.”

But assembly members didn’t sound convinced and had questions about the appropriation.

Anchorage representative Lindsay Holmes, who holds a seat on the House Finance Committee reportedly secured money for the project.

Assembly member Bill Starr said he’d been doing some research on how the funding came about, and spoke with Republican Representative Bill Stoltz, co-chair of the House finance committee.

“I reached out to Bill Stoltz and he agreed to meet with me today along with chairman hall and Mr. Trombly and when I gave him the story that I had, and maybe it is a story,” Starr said. “I said what’s your story Mr. Stoltz. They said that Lindsay Holmes was told that she could have $4 million for that project. Does that make any difference in terms of legislative intent coming out of Juneau?”

Mayor Sullivan admitted that it was his office came up with the $10.5 million amount.

The Assembly chair says the body will likely take a vote on proposals related to the issue at their next meeting, Tuesday, Dec. 3.

The two proposals on the table would allocate less money for the project.

Earlier in the evening, the Assembly approved requesting $10.5 million for the facility in next year’s capital budget request to Juneau.

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Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.

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