Candidates running for City of Ketchikan elected office participated in a forum Wednesday, hosted by the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce. With nine people running, and only one hour for the forum, answers were limited to 30 seconds, requiring some fast thinking from the candidates.
It’s a crowded field this election season, with seven people running for three seats on the Ketchikan City Council; and two candidates vying for city mayor.
First, let’s introduce each candidate, starting with City Council. Running for a one-year seat are George Lybrand, a longtime resident, business owner and former City Council and Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly member; Chuck Slagle, also a longtime resident and business owner, but new to the election ballot; and Julie Isom, a former aide to Sen. Bert Stedman, and a former mayor and city council member in Thorne Bay.
Running for the two three-year Council seats are incumbent Bob Sivertsen, a lifetime
resident and retired city employee; Sam Bergeron, a local business owner, also born and raised in Ketchikan, and a former Council and Assembly member; Janalee Gage, born and raised in Ketchikan and new to politics; and Spencer Strassburg, a local business owner who moved here about 18 years ago, and is wading into local politics for the first time.
And finally, the mayor candidates: Incumbent Lew Williams III, a former City Council member, local business owner and longtime resident; and Ed Plute, a charter fishing operator who moved here about 15 years ago, and has run unsuccessfully for public office previously.
One of the biggest issues the Council deals with every year is the budget, and the candidates were asked how they would deal with likely budget shortfalls, due to less revenue sharing from the state.
Plute said he would push to get rid of the city manager.
“Karl Amylon, our city manager and bookkeeper, etc., etc., the thing I don’t understand is, half his projects go over by millions of dollars,” Plute said. “The budgets are scaring me. This man ought to be alleviated from office. That’s the start of budget on him. As far as state goes, we’re going to have a great fall. And the cruise industry will not last forever, so we better understand how to build a better budget all over the board.”
Other candidates suggested that the city try to do more with its own workforce rather than contract out for projects, work with local organizations to provide services, ask community members for ideas on how to save money, and seek new revenue options.
The candidates were asked whether they support a tobacco tax. That’s a recent proposal that has been tabled by the Borough Assembly, but will come in front of the City Council soon. Most of the candidates support the idea, but some, like Plute, say it should be up to the voters. Strassburg and Lybrand oppose a tobacco tax, at least as it’s currently written. Isom agrees, and said the proposal needs reworking.
“When I first saw it come out and it was $3 a pack, and you’re taxing one group of people,
it left a sick feeling in my mouth,” she said. “I didn’t see it as a good thing. I don’t even know how much a pack of cigarettes (is), but $3 seemed like an excessive tax.”
An audience member asked whether the candidates would support a new effort to consolidate the city and borough governments, and nearly all the candidates said they would, because it would save the community money. Strassburg, though, said he can see why some might oppose such a move.
“I think there’s differences we have with our water and some of our services that maybe the people that are outside of our area, don’t have the same impact and same concerns, so I’d have to really consider this a whole lot more and ask about a billion more questions before I weigh in,” he said.
Marijuana was another topic that came up. While pot is legal for personal use throughout Alaska, communities do have the ability to opt out of commercial marijuana.
The candidates were mixed on the topic. Williams said he’s opposed to allowing edible products, Lybrand said legalization put a lot of black-market dealers out of work, Plute said alcohol is much worse of a societal problem, Slagle and Isom say pot is distracting people from more important issues, Sivertsen said he’s waiting to see what regulations the state comes up with, Bergeron said it’s a great potential source of revenue, Strassburg said it’s legal now and the community should try to benefit, and Gage said that while she’s opposed to the use of pot, she thinks the state is doing a good job figuring out how to regulate it.
Gage adds that she likes to stress a more positive economic potential for the community.
“I actually pulled this out the other day, and it’s from 2013, but local artists raised, non-art-employment included, $57 million in Southeast Alaska,” she said. “We have a ton of non-profits, we have some amazing artists in our community. We need to tap into those things.”
Below is the entire Chamber forum, if you’d like to listen to all the candidates’ answers. It’s been edited for clarity only, such as removing extraneous background noise and long pauses.
KRBD has scheduled our own on-air candidate call-in forums leading up to the election. City Council candidates will be on the air Sept. 10; School Board candidates are Sept. 11; Borough Assembly candidates are set for Sept. 22; and the forums wrap up on Sept. 24 with the city mayor candidates. All KRBD forums start at 7 p.m.