The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for Anchorage Assembly in the 2019 election to answer a series of issue questions. Many of the questions were based on suggestions from readers. Find all candidates and their answers here. We did the same thing with candidates for Anchorage School Board.
Candidate: Meg Zaletel
Occupation: Small Business Owner and Attorney
Current employer: Director of Anchorage Community House and Owner of Zaletel Law
Previous public offices held or sought/community leadership positions: I have worked in various capacities to be a community advocate in Alaska. This includes establishing Anchorage Community House, which provides a low-cost gathering place for Anchorage residents and providing discounted or pro-bono services through my law office. I’ve also worked as a volunteer in Alaska Legal Services, Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, and Alaska Center for Resource Families. I am also a foster parent and a strong advocate for improving our foster care system in Alaska.
Education: Certificate in Mental Health Law; JD; BS in Psychology
What steps have you taken to prepare for this job? What strengths do you bring to office, and what in your life demonstrates those strengths?
As a small business owner, attorney, mother, wife, & community advocate, I bring a diverse perspective to the Assembly. I’m nonpartisan, seeking a nonpartisan position. Anchorage faces many challenges & I am looking for real solutions. I’ve knocked on more than 1,000 of my neighbors’ doors to discuss about how to decrease crime and homelessness, address our city’s addiction crisis, and build vibrant neighborhoods for our families. I believe in listening and working together to get things done.
Describe an ordinance or legislative issue you plan to bring forward as an Assemblymember, and any funding it might require.
I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with the mental health community and know we must do more. As an Assembly Member, I would work to build community partnerships to protect this vulnerable population. One solution may include the expansion of the Mobile Intervention Team. Mobile Intervention could provide better care and free up our other public safety employees to deal with emergency and crime issues.
What is the largest budget you’ve managed? State the amount, length of time and your level of responsibility.
As a small business owner, I’m responsible for managing the budget of the Anchorage Community House, which we have intentionally kept small because I fundamentally believe in fiscal responsibility – doing more with less. Currently, we are able to provide a community space to over 300 people every month for about $1,000 in costs. This allows folks to meet for book club, children’s STEM class, cooking class, potlucks & dance and meditation classes – all with the goal of building a community.
Describe your position on policies that affect the way Anchorage grows in the coming years.
I believe we need to ensure that we are doing what’s best for Anchorage now as well as with a vision for the future. That means a thoughtful and strategic approach to long-range budgeting, infrastructure, public safety, and education. We need to empower local neighborhoods to develop community-drive solutions to problems that arise. We also need to streamline public processes to ensure that Anchorage can provide affordable, quality housing.
Do you support the alcohol tax proposed by the administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz? Why or why not?
I believe the alcohol tax is a straightforward way to address both the decreased state funding & urgent local issues without putting additional burden on property owners. Funding would allow us to develop a smart, coordinated strategy to protect residents and business owners, & free up our police and fire personnel to do their jobs. I support this tax because the funds are dedicated and want to absolutely ensure that the funding can only be used, now & in the future, to address these issues.
What should the city do to alleviate the problem of illegal camps in green spaces in the city?
I support a housing first model. I believe that Anchorage must work closely with partners to address homelessness. That means providing mental health support, addiction treatment services, & help to find jobs. There are nonprofits that are currently providing these services. We need to create opportunities to coordinate the private and Municipal services to eliminate redundancy and find populations that are not being served.
The cost estimate for modernizing the Port of Alaska recently doubled. What do you think the city should do?
The city must scrutinize the new costs and ensure it’s clear who will bear them. The port provides critical services well beyond Anchorage. It is essential to food security and national security. The port must be fixed. I’ve recently completed a tour. Loss of this port would be devastating to Alaska, not just Anchorage. Anchorage should not be required to be responsible for carrying the entire burden of a project that is essential to most of our state’s residents, businesses, & our military.
There could be tough budget times ahead with state cutbacks. What can the city do to make up for those cuts?
The city needs to do what every other city in a similar situation has done, which is to constantly reassess what’s necessary and re-examine how we do these things to find ways to do them for less. We need to figure out how to build a sustainable budget that supports a long-term vision of our city. The budget needs to have the flexibility to be reactive to uncertain state and federal funding.
What did you think about Alaska’s efforts at criminal justice reform, which began in 2016 with Senate Bill 91?
The intent of SB91 made sense, decrease our state costs for incarceration & decrease repeat offenses. Unfortunately, the law changes were rolled out before the supporting programs were put in place & the ones that were eventually put in place did not have full funding. The changes were also rolled out during an economic downturn where there is a natural uptick in crime, & there were many changes that had unintended & negative impacts in Anchorage that were not addressed quickly enough.
Describe your position on crime in Anchorage.
With decreased state funding, Anchorage needs to find innovative, community-based, & affordable solutions. Everyone should feel safe in their homes. Anchorage has added a considerable number of officers to the police department and has worked to strategize its patrols to best serve neighborhoods with a consistent police presence. However, public safety is not only up to Anchorage’s police department, but neighbors must engage with one another to foster vibrant active neighborhoods.
How do you feel Anchorage performed in the recent 7.0 earthquake? What can the city government do, or what would you do on the Assembly, to improve seismic safety or emergency preparedness?
Anchorage did an amazing job. Information was provided quickly & effectively. No lives lost to an earthquake of a magnitude is a great achievement & testament to our building safety codes. Our roads were quickly repaired so residents could return to work. And many public school children responded quickly and appropriately to the event because of recent in-school earthquake training. We can always do more to increase emergency preparedness & we should.
What do you think of the job Ethan Berkowitz has been doing as mayor?
The Mayor has led our city during a decrease in state funding and an increase in crime. I believe that he has worked hard to make good decisions for our current situation – like bringing police and emergency staffing back up to appropriate levels. At the same time, his team is looking for creative ways to reduce costs. Overall, I believe Mayor Berkowitz has been a good example of tackling hard issues, without losing sight of the people being affected by his administration’s decisions.
Overall taxation in Anchorage is....too low? Too high? Just right? Explain. If taxes are too high, what would you cut? If taxes are too low, what would you raise?
Anchorage property owners shoulder the burden of funding the majority of our city’s government. Considering the fact that there are currently very few other revenue sources for our city, and there is decreased state funding, we must look for opportunities to diversify our revenue sources and respect the property tax gap, while ensuring other user groups pay their fair share for city services.
Tell us your ideas about transit and infrastructure in Anchorage.
There’s still a lot to be done and the recent earthquake underscored the importance of safe, quality infrastructure. And in some areas, like the Port of Alaska, we must come together to insist that those that benefit from the Port of Alaska make funding a priority. We must also be conscientious as we move forward with major infrastructure projects such as roads to ensure that these projects will serve Anchorage for the long haul, foster community and livable neighborhoods.
What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
The importance of neighborhoods and knowing your neighbors cannot be underscored enough. Active streets with engaged neighbors are safer. I’ve knocked on over 1,000 doors and my neighbors have expressed a strong desire to feel like they are part of their community and to know the people who live nearby. By developing opportunities for community hubs, we can foster connected neighborhoods.
What is the most pressing problem facing your district?
Would you support a law allowing on-site consumption of marijuana?
Yes, re: public safety & health impacts.
What three places would you pick when highlighting Anchorage to tourists?
ANC Museum, Turnagain Arm, Spenard to shop local.
Would you take steps toward reversing Anchorage’s plastic bag ban?
No. The ban is in place and has passed.
Do you support the Berkowitz administration’s efforts to create a climate change action plan?
Yes, we must think of the future.
If you were asked to cut the city budget by 10 percent in the coming fiscal year, in which three areas would you recommend cuts?
Ask all depts. to look for efficiencies.