Friday, May 29, 2009

Anchorage's Lame Duck Mayor Matt Claman Under Fire For Attending Upcoming 77th National Meeting Of The U.S. Conference Of Mayors

Every year, the U.S. Conference of Mayors holds two annual mayoral meetings around the nation so that the different mayors can get together, compare notes, and get ideas which can be brought back to their home cities and implemented, often with significant benefit to local populations. Federal officials and members of Congress frequently attend these conferences to provide the mayors with valuable interface opportunities. And previous mayors of Anchorage have attended these conferences, without fanfare or criticism, and sometimes with only perfunctory local media coverage.

Thus it came as a bit of a surprise to me when Matt Claman's intended participation in the upcoming 77th National Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, to take place in Providence, RI from June 12-15, suddenly came under fire - primarily from those on the political right. Based upon input provided by Sarah Erkmann on May 28th and Dan Fagan on May 29th in their respective posts published on The Alaska Standard, it appears the criticism is driven by three surface issues and one underlying issue:

(1). This will be Matt Claman's third out-of-state conference in six months.
(2). Our municipal budget constraints do not justify spending money on this purpose.
(3). Since Matt Claman is leaving office on July 1st, he can derive no significant lasting benefit from his attendance.

And the underlying issue - Matt Claman is widely perceived as an unpopular and ineffective mayor. KTVA video in which Claman explains himself embedded below:

The U.S. Conference of Mayors is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more (only three Alaskan cities qualify). There are 1,139 such cities in the country today, each represented in the Conference by its chief elected official, the Mayor. They hold two nationwide meetings each year; a Winter Meeting, and a National Meeting during the early summer. The mayors are divvied up into different standing committees addressing specialized topical issues.

The draft agenda of the 77th National Meeting incorporates a number of pertinent issues. These include green jobs, summer jobs, securing block grants for energy conservation, public safety, and the impact of vacant properties upon neighborhoods. All except the latter are applicable to Anchorage. Thus Mayor Claman's presence will ensure that the voice of Anchorage be heard on these issues.

Precedence: Mayor Claman has indeed attended two previous national conferences since taking over:

(1). The U.S. Conference of Mayors 77th Winter Meeting at Washington, DC from January 17-19, 2009. Note that Matt Claman was the only Alaskan mayor in attendance. Full report on the Winter Meeting HERE. This is a standard meeting attended by all Anchorage mayors.

(2). February 20th Conference: This involved 80 mayors who were specifically invited to the White House under the auspices of the U.S. Conference of Mayors to learn details about how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will be implemented. Held a day before the National Governor’s Association annual meeting, the mayors’ session included Presidential Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and five Cabinet heads – Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. Claman was the only Alaskan mayor at this conference. Considering that the agenda involved an unprecedented piece of comprehensive legislation designed to address an unprecedented problem, Matt Claman's participation in this conference was not only justified, it could even be considered mandatory. But this was a special out-of-cycle national meeting necessitated by exceptional circumstances.

Justification: The value of this conference cannot be adequately measured solely in dollars-and-cents terms. There are numerous intangible benefits. Here's what Matt Claman can do at this conference:

(1). Promote the cause of Anchorage, and, by informal proxy, other mayors in Alaska. He can soften the negative perceptions about the state caused by misguided popular initiatives such as the 2006 Cruise Ship Initiative, which leads many to believe that Alaska is not open for business. He can further combat many of the other incorrect biases and stereotypes about Alaska that exist; namely, that we are undeserving of the high Federal investment in our state.

(2). Interface with members of Congress and with Administration officials. Claman can plead our case with these individuals and make sure we get our fair share of goodies. He can also interface with Alaska's Congressional delegation to further fine-tune their lists of earmarks for our state. Remember, "earmarks" do NOT increase overall expenditure; they merely redirect it to where it is most needed.

(3). Learn best practices and techniques which can be brought back to Anchorage for evaluation and possible implementation. This can save us from "reinventing the wheel".

Lame duck status: This is a valid gripe. It would be much more beneficial to the community if incoming mayor Dan Sullivan could attend. Unfortunately, Sullivan does not take office until July 1st. The National Meeting occurs in June, and is understandably restricted to those mayors actually serving in office at the time. So there's nothing that can be done about that. But the idea that Matt Claman can only "benefit" from this conference for two weeks is ludicrous; he can transmit all the necessary information to the incoming Sullivan administration.

As far as Matt Claman's personal competency is concerned, that should not be an issue. The primary issue is representation; ensuring that our city, and, by proxy, our state is represented in a major national forum is the prime concern. Matt Claman may not be the best representative we could send, but as the sitting mayor, he is the only representative who can attend. The benefits of his attendance still outweigh any burdens.

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