KRBD file photo

KRBD file photo

Candidates for Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly joined KRBD’s Leila Kheiry for a live on-air forum on Tuesday. Here is a summary from that event.


Two seats are open on the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly and neither incumbent can run for re-election because of term limits. So, there’s no incumbent advantage for the five Assembly candidates on the Oct. 4th local ballot.

Rodney Dial is a retired Alaska State Trooper; Judith McQuerry, also retired, was the Ketchikan Public Library director for many years; Sue Pickrell works with elders at Ketchikan Indian Community and served previously on the Ketchikan School Board and KIC Tribal Council; David Timmerman works for the City of Ketchikan Port and Harbors Department, and is about to complete his second full term on the School Board; and Keith Smith – a former KRBD employee — works for Southeast Alaska Independent Living and previously served as an appointee on the School Board.

A recent issue that came before the Borough Assembly is whether to create a charter for the borough. The Assembly agreed to start that process, but some of the candidates questioned whether such a move was necessary.

Smith said he hasn’t yet heard a strong argument for creating a charter. The main reason he’s heard is that the borough shouldn’t fund social service agencies because it doesn’t have social service powers, and a charter would help spell out limitations of what the borough can fund.

“So many of the social service agencies and what they do in this town directly relate to education, directly relate to economic development,” he said.

And, Smith said, the borough does have education and economic development powers.

McQuerry agreed, and said spending $16,000 on a special election to potentially change a system that isn’t broken is unnecessary.

The process to create a borough charter requires an elected charter committee that would draft the document. If at least seven candidates sign up to be on that committee, a special mail-in election would take place in mid-December.

Timmerman said he’d like to learn more before making a decision. Pickrell said she also is interested in seeing the document, but she’d be in favor of it if it gives more decision-making power to the public.

Dial said he’s in favor of moving forward with a charter, because those who proposed it have said that a charter would clearly identify what services the public wants.

“The government has a pretty good idea of the will of the public. If they get it in their mind that they want to do a project that the public will not support, they’re going to do it anyway,” he said. “If this charter were to clearly identify, for example, that the public should have a say in these projects, then I would support that. That’s what we need to get back to in this community, is a community that is run by the people and for the people.”

For the past few years, a recurring argument on the Borough Assembly has been whether to approve an appropriation for the City of Ketchikan’s library. That money is collected through a tax approved by non-city voters many years ago, but some have argued in recent years that non-city residents don’t have enough input into how the library is run.

Timmerman said he’s a big user of the library, and supports continued borough funding for the service. But, he said, there needs to be more communication between city and borough officials on that, and other topics.

Smith notes that the library is heavily used by non-city residents, and those people likely are in favor of continued borough funding for the service. He and others on the panel agreed, though, that there should be a way for borough residents to have a voice in major library-related decisions.

Pickrell said she supports continued funding for the library, but she’d like to review the funding program.

“That’s one of the things that we’re charged with as an Assembly member is to make sure News Tilethat our monies are spent prudently,” she said. “I’m not saying, being involved in the day-to-day decisions of what books are purchased and those kinds of things. I’m just saying that, the amount of money that’s put towards the library, just to make sure that is appropriate.”

McQuerry, not surprisingly, supports continued borough funding of the library. She said borough residents are getting a great service for the amount of money provided.

This year’s borough appropriation for the Ketchikan Public Library was about $400,000.

One question focused on what the candidates believe was the biggest mistake the Borough Assembly made in the past year.

McQuerry said the lawsuit over school funding was a huge mistake, and she would not have voted to move forward with it.

“I think that it has damaged the reputation of our entire community across the state,” she said. “It continued and continued and we kept throwing good money after bad. I think that was just a big mistake.”

The borough won its lawsuit challenging the statewide education funding formula in Superior Court, but that ruling was overturned by the Alaska Supreme Court.

Dial said he doesn’t have any issues with recent Borough Assembly decisions. Smith questioned the borough’s choice to potentially use leftover Gravina Access funds on projects unrelated to Gravina. Pickrell said the borough should not have made nonprofit agencies compete against each other and, she said, “grovel” for funding.

During the forum, the candidates also talked about retail marijuana, economic development and the Assembly’s relationship with the School Board. You can listen to the entire one-hour program here.