Jared Griffin officially joined the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly on Friday morning. Griffin was appointed to the Assembly at a special work session last week and sworn in on Friday. The KDM interviewed him to gain some insight about what is to come.
KDM: Can you provide a brief introduction about yourself?
Jared Griffin: I’ve spent about half of my life in Alaska. Grew up in Anchorage in the ‘80s, and then moved to Kodiak (from Texas) nearly 15 years ago to take a job with University of Alaska Anchorage at Kodiak College as an English professor. My academic background is in English and writing studies and education, with a PhD in 20th Century American literature and culture. I’m a former military brat, so I know all about that life (my mom had a framed sign in our house: “Home is where the Air Force sends you”), so Kodiak is the place I’ve lived the longest. I’m married to Katie Oliver, the Executive Director of Kodiak Arts Council and a school board member and in our blended family we have five children, who range from first grade to high school to college at University of Alaska Fairbanks. I’m also the Kodiak Middle School and high school drama coach and we are currently the two-time reigning state champions in drama. I’ve been helping out the KMXT newsroom and management during the pandemic to help produce news and keep the station running.
KDM: How many times have you run for office? For what positions?
JG: The Assembly is my first stab at public office. I have run successfully several times for nonprofit boards, and I am routinely inspired by my wife’s elected public service on the local, state and national school board groups.
KDM: Why did you want this position?
JG: The one-year seat was appealing because of the nature of the Assembly’s tasks over the next 12 months: hiring a borough manager, repairing relationships with staff and navigating a budget in these unique times.
KDM: What do you think you can bring to the table?
JG: Coming from my work with University of Alaska Anchorage and Kodiak College and in the nonprofit sector, I have accrued a lot of experience in executive-level hiring processes, balancing the vision of the board with the realities of staffing and listening to expert advice in budgeting. I’ve learned the values of listening, collaborating, heeding advice and compromising through my professional work, and even through my creative work with theatre. Do I always live up to those values? No — it’s impossible for anyone to do all the time. But I always come back to the fact that democracy is a process and those values are imperative to a functioning democracy.
KDM: How would you define the role of the Assembly in the borough government?
JG: The Assembly is the steward of the people’s resources: taxes, investments, land and time. What we say and do matters today, on into the next fiscal year, and even further through our investment in education, years from now.
KDM: What do you think is the most pressing issue that the Assembly is facing?
JG: Hiring a Borough Manager that cultivates constructive communication, work and projects; someone who believes in the potential of our people.
KDM: What is the biggest change you’d like to make while you’re in office?
JG: The appointment is only for one year, so I don’t imagine any kind of revolutionary change, but on a small scale, I hope to energize positive communication and efficient decision-making.
KDM: What is the first thing you will do once you’ve officially joined the Assembly?
JG: Get to know my colleagues. With only a one-year appointment, I have to hit the ground running and I can only be as effective as my relationships with fellow members are.
KDM: How do you think the Borough should address its budget concerns?
JG: The budget is a reflection of our values, but as stewards of the public’s resources, the budget must be a reflection of what we have agreed are our inherent powers and scope of services. That said, slashing a budget seldom leads to growth because, at the public level, a budget is the people’s investment in themselves. There are opportunities to diversify revenue and maintain a sustainable quality of life in Kodiak, but it will take an actively invested manager and a creative and brave Assembly.
KDM: How do you view consolidation?
JG: A slow work in progress still. I joined the consolidation committee a couple of years ago as a neutral voice — I had no proclivities toward consolidating or not. I still view it as a valuable research project that has the potential to enhance the quality of life in Kodiak, but we have yet to see any large-scale practical benefits, I believe. One week, we’ll have a good argument for consolidating services to expedite a process for, say, small businesses or zoning, but the next week we’ll run into representation issues that I still cannot resolve, followed by another meeting that might show some budget savings, but at the same time, those savings are arbitrary, and without the city’s engagement, it’s difficult to know how any given department or service will be affected. There are criticisms of the unelected leadership of the Emergency Services Council — despite the valuable and overall good work they are doing now — that a consolidated government would likely resolve. On that note, I’m also not convinced that the city’s plans for annexation of some large chunks between Abercrombie and the airport are in our best interests either; that doesn’t mean I can’t be convinced, though.
KDM: What other information is important for people to know?
JG: I have great book recommendations and always welcome recommendations, too.