Juneau city officials met with Gov. Mike Dunleavy in a closed door meeting Wednesday. It was originally advertised as a special Assembly meeting, but city officials changed their minds.
City Manager Rorie Watt said the governor’s office extended an invitation to meet with the Assembly last week. The city accepted and advertised the public meeting in the Juneau Empire on Jan. 24, as required by law.
“We’re always putting ads in the paper, so it just got put in there before anybody had a chance to think about what that meeting might be and what it might accomplish,” Watt said Wednesday.
Mayor Beth Weldon said she and Watt made the joint decision to make the meeting private instead. She felt the point of the meeting was to have a candid conversation with Dunleavy about the impact of his budget decisions.
“I wanted him to talk to some of our department heads and talk to the people in the city government that it actually has affected,” Weldon said.
When they decided to close the meeting, no public notices were sent out, but the city’s online calendar was updated.
Watt, Weldon, Deputy Mayor Maria Gladziszewski and several city department heads went to the governor’s office Wednesday afternoon, instead of hosting him in the Assembly Chambers as originally advertised.
Both Watt and Weldon said they covered a number of topics in the hour-long meeting, such as concerns that shifting school bond debt reimbursement costs from the state could force municipalities to search for other sources of revenue.
“Raising property taxes, I think we recognize, is not preferred and not good for business development, which is something that’s important to him,” Watt said.
He said Dunleavy and his staff listened and took notes, occasionally asking questions. City officials also asked the governor if he had any suggestions for Juneau.
“He was very complimentary about the community, and he was complimentary about the diversity of Juneau’s economy,” Watt said. “He didn’t immediately have suggestions on how we could be a better capital city.”
Assembly member Carole Triem said she was disappointed that the decision to make the meeting private was not left up to the full Assembly.
“We should have made that call,” Triem said. “And I think we’re depriving Juneau residents of this access to the governor that has been pretty scarce over, you know, the 14 months of his administration.”
Watt said this is the first time city officials have formally met with the governor. In his experience, it’s fairly unusual for any administration to reach out to learn about the city’s concerns and priorities.
“Juneau has voiced displeasure with the impact of the governor’s budget cuts in the past,” he said. “I don’t think those issues were resolved.”
As for whether the city followed proper procedure in notifying the community about the public-turned-private meeting, City Attorney Rob Palmer said that’s a gray area.
The city is required to provide notice of any public meetings before they happen, but not necessarily of cancellations.
“I’m not aware of any law that requires us to do so, but we do try to make an effort to send out public service announcements,” Palmer said.
The governor’s office has also reportedly made plans to visit Wrangell and Petersburg next month as part of a listening tour.
Jeff Turner, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, confirmed in an email that there would be other community meetings but did not provide details. He wrote that a formal announcement with dates and times for those meetings will be released soon.