Ketchikan’s governments all have to work together to some degree, and while officials from each appear to have the best interest of the community in mind, there are conflicts at times.
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough is a fulcrum of sorts, with direct connections to the City of Ketchikan, City of Saxman, and the Ketchikan School Board, as well as the state. Borough Assembly candidates Alan Bailey, Bill Rotecki and John Harrington addressed some of those relationships, with school funding as a top focus.
Each spoke in strong support of schools and doing whatever is possible, but add that there is a limit to local funding. That limit is the annual point of debate between the Assembly and School Board.
Incumbent Assembly Member Rotecki said, “I don’t relish the conflict, and I think some of the conflict can be reduced considerably. I think it begins with more conversations that ultimately end in more trust. As far as eliminating the conflict, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Harrington, a former Assembly and School Board member, agreed that the conflict will remain, at least until the state is convinced to fully fund education. The borough has been pushing for some movement on that issue, but there hasn’t been much positive response from lawmakers.
Incumbent candidate Bailey, who used to run Ketchikan Correctional Center, said he has a unique take on the value of education, and the cost to society and individuals when some are not able to complete their education. He added that the perceived conflict between the two bodies is merely the result of everyone doing their job.
“The School Board is responsible to advocate for the best budget they can,” he said. “That’s what they should be doing, and they do so strongly, and they do so with passion.”
That passion also was the reason given for some of the recent debate between the borough and city governments. However, Rotecki said those disagreements don’t really serve the public interest. He spoke in favor of unifying the borough and city, but said those who make the next attempt should investigate past failures in hopes of improving its chances of success.
Local voters have repeatedly rejected measures to combine the two governments, most recently in 2006. Harrington was a strong advocate of consolidating the borough and city, and said he still supports the concept.
“Consolidation; obviously that was a major passion of mine for a couple of years, and it was one of those regrets of my past political involvement that it fell flat on its face,” he said. “I thought we had a pretty good product, and I thought we did a pretty good job. It would have solved a lot of these problems.”
Bailey noted that the city and borough have been able to work together on some issues, such as harbor improvements and funding for the Whitman Lake hydroelectric project.
Library funding is the current topic under debate between the city and borough. All three candidates strongly praised the library and said they favor continuing the current level of borough funding for the city-run library. However, whether the borough should help pay for the bond debt related to the new library’s construction costs was more of a question.
Harrington suggested that the city should have had that conversation with borough officials before the bonds were issued.
The candidates ended the evening by encouraging local residents to participate in local government by voting on Election Day.
The entire Assembly candidate forum is posted under Local News. The election is coming up on Tuesday.