SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Small-town politics and Rainmen
By Dave Person


August 26, 2007

The recent controversy over the veneer plant simply emphasizes the fact that small-town politics and administration can be a mess. Important issues are clouded by personal relationships because everyone knows everyone else. Borough assembly members' kids are best friends with borough staff's kids, spouses of borough staff work for businesses trying to strike deals with borough government, realtors and contractors are close friends with planning commission members, etc., etc. Even the government watchdogs have baggage. Under those circumstances, it may be difficult for borough staff, assembly, and commission members to separate official business from personal matters. The mere appearance or perception of conflict of interest or corruption is toxic to public trust. The mess is worsened by economically desperate town officials who constantly fall prey to bad boyfriends and rainmen. We must have growth they say. Growth to what, a healthy body or a cancerous tumor? The tumors seem to be winning. Our borough government cannot think of any path other than the one that leads inevitably to the same industrialized cesspool found all over the lower 48 states. The same kind of souless development that many folks moved to Ketchikan to escape.

We need several things to get out of this morass. We need a borough government that nutures and supports a diversity of small local businesses founded by creative people instead of one that focuses only on large industrial flops. I would rather see 100 small businesses each employing five people than one big business employing 500. Not only would that create a more diversified economy, it also would prevent a single industrial monopoly from dominating and exploiting local government and resources.

We need borough assembly members who are willing to hold staff accountable for their actions. We need salary levels high enough to attract and keep competent and reliable senior borough (and city) management staff and we must make sure they are committed to serving us rather than their own agendas.

We need borough staff and council members to do a much better job communicating information to the public. For example, seldom do assembly members or staff ever post information or explain decisions on SitNews, an excellent medium for communication.

Finally, we need open government to enable citizens to see what is going on. To that end, we should all thank John Harrington for pushing through a policy change that will allow local television to broadcast planning commission meetings. The planning commission resisted that policy for a long time but now citizens can see how much influence real estate developers and contractors have on planning commission decisions that affect their lives without having to attend inconvenient commission meetings.


Dave Person
Ketchikan, AK

Received August 25, 2007 - Published August 26, 2007

About: "Worked and lived in southern Southeast since 1992."


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