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Against Consolidation in the North Star Borough, Fairbanks, Alaska

A local government-watcher comments on the latest insanity in Fairbanks.
Click here to read the editorial for yourself.

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The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editorialized yesterday that Don ("Quixote") Lowell's latest attempt to abolish the City of Fairbanks deserves the support of the public.

As in nearly every municipal issue, the News-Miner's editorial position is wrong. The problems at City Hall do not warrant the abolition of the city, and the "duplication" of which consolidation/unification supporters speak amounts to a handful of bureaucrats in City Hall as opposed to a much larger herd of bureaucrats at the borough building. History proves that bureaucrats in small, isolated populations are far less harmful to the civic environment than larger, inbred populations. The latter trample the countryside, asphyxiate the polity, and isolate elected officials from their constituents
so that accountability goes into alarming decline.

Past efforts by Lowell to concentrate Fairbanks' bureaucrat population in the refuge of a single, hypercentralized municipal government where they would be free to overpopulate, have failed due to lack of signatures. The 1998 version is essentially the same idea, and ought to put observers in mind of the old saw about the definition of insanity: expecting different results from the same old activity. Placing a borough the size of New Jersey under the unchecked control of a single administration makes about as much sense to people hereabouts as letting Bill Clinton and Bruce Babbitt rule by decree -- while the present crop of elected borough officials is better than some we've seen, only an idiot would expect that to never change.

Politically, the consolidation proposal has a flaw that the News-Miner has in its customary tunnel vision failed to acknowledge: in last October's election for City Mayor, Fairbanks city voters decisively rejected the only mayoral candidate, Juanita Helms, who did not equally decisively reject the consolidation proposal. Since the plan involves abolition of the city, a majority of city voters must support it in the special election being contemplated by Lowell and his cronies. Only an idiot would expect that support to materialize, absent some massive new city scandal.

And that supposes that the Local Boundary Commission will even find the consolidation scheme to be lawful. Given the principle of non-duplication that runs rampant in Alaska's philosophy of government, it's not inconceivable that the LBC will conclude that with unification available for city-borough combinations, consolidation cannot be used for such combinations. I'm confident that it was not the Legislature's intent to permit consolidation to be used as "unification lite." That practice has blurred the distinction between cities and boroughs beyond all reason, has no legitimate bearing on the application of Title 29 by the Local Boundary Commission; Title 29 explicitly treats cities and boroughs as municipalities of a different character, notwithstanding the idiotic law change that renamed borough chairmen as "mayors."

Speaking of which, in yesterday's editorial the News-Miner came right out and admitted that one of the reasons they support abolishing the City of Fairbanks is to have a single, uncontested office of Mayor of Fairbanks.

There are a lot of silly reasons for supporting consolidation, but this is the silliest.

November 11, 1998

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The ADVANCE ALASKA Network (c) 1998 KEVIN McGEHEE North Pole, Alaska
Permission granted to anyone wishing to forward, redistribute, or broadcast this article.

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Donna Gilbert, President  ITA Phone (907) 456-8031.
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