I was at the borough assembly meeting last night and it warmed my heart to hear the outpouring of song and testimony given in sup- port of keeping the Mary Siah Recreation Center as a wellspring of hope and healing. Not even
40 years old, the building, like many, just needs some love. While it is a difficult thing to manage on a shoestring budget, vital services are what
the average person expects for their tax dollars. Beginning with the acknowledgement of Nanci Ashford-Bingham for her years of service, the good vibrations carried through the meeting, including over 3-hours of public testimony. Even with an issue as contentious as the budget, people for the most part were supportive and respectful of each other on both sides of the Mary Siah issue. The packed assembly chambers radiated enough heat to be noticed as an opportunity to save money in the budget, and this kind of jovial humor kept the mood light.
However, it was not all rainbows and sunshine and we never got to Kumbaya. Along with the budget issues of repair and maintenance, the main point of contention was the general feeling of distrust of government. Based on years of experiences with corruption by career politi- cians, people were uneasy with the validity of the information provided by borough representatives regarding the factual state of the facility. Some felt there was a rush to close the building in support
of a bond measure that kicks the can of financial responsibility for delayed building maintenance down the road to another generation. As one person testified, “why would we support a bond
to build new facilities when we cannot afford now to maintain the ones we have”? A more pragmatic response was from a newlywed who stated that because of the decisions being made, her family would be leaving. A sentiment repeated over 1000 times in the last year across Alaska.
Another topic that came up on the budget radar was the expense related to the “junkyard” issue and the general waste of perceived govern- ment oversight. There no clear definition of what
separates someone’s trash and treasures. It is equally ambiguous to demand citizens bare the expense of air quality when the issues of coal ash and vehicle emissions, both dangers to public respiratory health, conveniently get ignored as part of the problem. We have the worst air qual- ity in the country and the highest cost of energy. Anyone with a second-grade education can see a correlation. The public is growing increasing frus- trated with a government that does not listen to its citizens and is blind to the fake news of scientif- ic fact.
The general mentality of most Alaskan’s is resourcefulness. For a community so far removed from the mainstream supply of the material econ- omy, reclaiming discarded materials is for many
a way of life. Or at least it was, until the Borough decided they had the expertise and experience to get into the business of recycling. The establish- ment of community scale transfer stations was
a creative way to organize our wasted resources but then they went too far. Without realizing the potential of technologies available in this, the third industrial revolution, there was is a general lack of fundamental knowledge to understand how this technological evolution changed the economy of scale.
Properly developed, those transfer stations could become profitable, job creating, reclamation centers that move us closer to energy indepen- dence, self-reliance and a zero-waste economy. Instead, the powers that be chose to ignore the experts and accept that “out of sight, out of mind” is a recycling solution. Despite the loss of jobs, the loss of wealth, the loss of resources and our ability to be self-reliant in a long-term supply disruption they pushed forward. Hiring a great guy to run the entire Borough recycling program that has military logistic experience but absolutely zero experience in recycling. Certainly not the minimum 4 years called for in the job description. No one seemed more surprised than assembly member Quist, who asked the question of the mayor. Without a word, the mayor turned to the Chief of Staff who reluc- tantly confirmed this reality but stated he was do- ing a great job. That’s not how the budget reads.
If it is possible at all, the only hope to restore the faith of the public is to make some radical changes to business as usual. If the current body cannot accomplish this, voters, looking at their bills and their kids, will remember that come October 2nd