Juneau Assembly rejects cruise invitation, citing possible conflicts of interest

The Norwegian Joy, Norwegian Cruise Line’s latest megaship, will visit Alaska for the first time this summer. (Photo courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line)

Norwegian Cruise Line recently invited Juneau’s city manager and mayor on a free cruise in April.

The four-day trip between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Los Angeles will be the Norwegian Joy’s inaugural U.S. voyage, but some Assembly members questioned the company’s motives before the Assembly voted to decline the invitation at their Monday meeting.

Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt thought it could be a good experience for him and Mayor Beth Weldon to go on the cruise.

“I think there is value that could be gained, and the value would outweigh the negatives, although I’m not going to push you very hard on this,” Watt said.

He also said he wouldn’t be disappointed if he got to stay home.

According to the city, Norwegian invited leaders from port communities all over the West Coast to drum up positive attention for the Joy.

Norwegian declined to share a list of the other communities invited when contacted for this story.

The new megaship will join its sister ship, the Norwegian Bliss, in Alaska this summer. The Joy will bring more than 5,000 passengers and crew each week. It also features a two-level go-kart racetrack and a virtual reality pavilion, according to Norwegian’s website.

Watt said the trip could be an opportunity to learn firsthand how other communities are dealing with growth in cruise tourism.

“Specifically, how they impose fees, how they expend fees, the types of services that they provide,” Watt said.

Watt also said the trip could be a chance for the city to improve its relationship with the cruise industry by talking to executives from Norwegian.

An appeal is still possible in the lawsuit between Juneau and an industry group over how the city spends money from its cruise ship passenger head tax.

Assembly member Wade Bryson said the trip could be an important step forward.

“To put our officials onto an inaugural trip lets them know we don’t have hard feelings,” Bryson said.

But Assembly members Rob Edwardson and Loren Jones both said they felt the offer was meant to influence city officials.

Jones said the city could find other ways to learn about the inner workings of cruise ships.

“It would be just as easy, I think, to have an all-day seminar when it’s docked all day in Ketchikan or it’s docked all day in Juneau and invite all those people,” Jones said.

The city’s conflict of interest code restricts accepting gifts of $50 or more.

According to the city, Norwegian offered the cruise for $99 to anyone who couldn’t accept the free trip.

Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski said she would support the trip only if the city paid for it.

“I think both the manager and the mayor would benefit from understanding all of that, and I also think that they should pay for that,” Gladziszewski said.

An amendment to have the city pay for the cruise failed by a vote of 4-3.

In the end, the Assembly rejected the invitation with a vote of 5-2, with one Assembly member absent.

Weldon recused herself.