Three candidates are running for two three-year seats on the Ketchikan City Council. Incumbents Julie Isom and Judy Zenge both filed for re-election; and challenger Spencer Strassburg is taking another run for office.
Strassburg, a local business owner, ran unsuccessfully last year for Council. That was his first bid for public office. He said the Council needs more business-minded members.
Isom works at Ketchikan Title Agency, and previously worked for Sen. Bert Stedman and for the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce. She is completing one year on the City Council after she was elected to finish the term of a Council member who resigned.
Zenge manages The Plaza Mall and has a transcription, court reporting and process-serving business. She is finishing her first three-year term on the Council.
Zenge said her top priorities if re-elected would be working on the city’s budget, and continuing to help guide the emerging local marijuana industry.
Strassburg said his priorities include looking for inefficiencies to see where the city could trim costs. He said he’d also like to investigate how to get more revenue from tourism.
“There’s got to be ways we can maximize tourism permits,” he said. “There’s like six permit spots and 57 tour vendors. We could make more out of that industry. I also think we need to re-look at our current laws – some of the outdated stuff that we have. We don’t have lunch trucks. I think that’s something we need to start looking at.”
Strassburg said lunch trucks would offer a speedier option for locals and visitors during the busy summer lunchtime rush.
All three candidates mentioned the need to move forward with establishing wheelchair-accessible taxi cabs. Isom added that the city’s overtime costs are a priority for her, and she would look into that issue during the upcoming budget process, along with grants for non-profit agencies.
“That’s, in my opinion, it is our quality of life in Ketchikan,” she said. “It’s the non-profits. It’s the things that we put money toward that I guess you could say bring us joy.”
Isom said those non-profits provide great service and she wants to help their programs continue, if she can.
Zenge said she, too, is concerned about excess overtime costs and how that affects the city’s budget. She also is worried about how raising water rates, for example, negatively impact family budgets.
Strassburg said metering would be a good way to fairly charge people and businesses for water. He and Isom agreed that everyone would be more careful if they paid for how much they use rather than a flat rate.
Marijuana is an ongoing discussion item as the community figures out regulations for that brand-new industry. One issue that the City Council is discussing now is a limit on the number of retail pot shops allowed in city limits.
“I just think we can do this – we can start with two,” she said. “See how it works. See what we have to regulate. See what we don’t, and maybe have a sunset clause on it. But I think it’s important that we take our time with this.”
Isom, who at a recent Council meeting said she only wanted one retail pot shop, said she’s changed her mind and would be willing to allow two — for the sake of competition — but no more. Isom said the borough can allow more retail marijuana stores outside of city limits.
“I wouldn’t want that to be the face of Ketchikan,” she said. “I would like it available and I’d like to see it available for medicinal use, which is why I voted for it in the first place, but I wouldn’t want to get that reputation: ‘Go to Ketchikan. It’s everywhere. It’s on every corner. It’s not regulated.’”
Strassburg owns a business that offers marijuana paraphernalia, and he’s been an outspoken supporter of legalized marijuana. He said limiting retail pot stores doesn’t make sense, because the already small local market will determine how many of those stores can survive.
He said limiting it through regulations will affect potential cultivation businesses, and could discourage a testing facility from opening in Ketchikan.
“There has to be working pieces of this thing and if you limit those pieces, you’ve effectively employed a political move to stifle this industry,” he said.
Another issue addressed during the forum was whether the city should raise taxes to maintain services. The two incumbents said no. Strassburg said he’d consider it, but he’d rather try to raise revenue through expanding the tourism industry.
A caller asked about consolidating the city and borough governments. The candidates all agree it’s a good idea, but now might not be the right time.
Another caller asked about term limits for City Council members. Zenge and Isom say they would need to see what that looks like, but they’d be willing to consider it. Strassburg said his first reaction is to let the voters decide whether to keep candidates in their seats, but he’d like to think about it.
If you’d like to listen to the entire one-hour City Council candidate forum, click the audio file posted below.