From left, David Landis, Jeremy Bynum and Austin Otos particpate in a Chamber of Commerce assembly candidate forum at the Sunny Point Conference Center on September 16 (KRBD staff photo by Eric Stone).

Three candidates are vying for two seats on the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly. All participated in a recent Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce forum.

The three candidates are David Landis, Jeremy Bynum and Austin Otos.

Landis is the current borough mayor but is unable to run for that position due to term limits. In addition to serving several terms as mayor, Landis previously served two terms on the borough assembly. He has also served on local, regional and state boards, and on the local planning commission. Landis touted his experience.

“I know the issues. I’ve been here for almost 50 years and watched the community grow. My family lives here. I’m invested in the community and I know the people and know how to listen well.”

Landis is general manager of Southeast Alaska Regional Aquaculture Association.

Jeremy Bynum is an engineer with Ketchikan Public Utilities’ electric division. He says he’s spent his entire career in public service and is running because he wants to serve in a different capacity.

“And I’m hoping that through this opportunity I can help the community make decisions that are best for our future.”

Bynum served in the U.S. Air Force, worked for the Army Corps of Engineers and made Ketchikan his home three years ago.

Austin Otos works in the hospitality industry with a background in tourism. He has been involved with Ketchikan Youth Court and the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition.  Otos is in his mid-20s and says he’s running to give a voice to younger voters.

“I know I’m young and inexperienced. But the only way to become experienced, I think, is to run for office, to get involved in local politics and engage with the community.”

Otos says, if elected, his focus would be on tourism, energy and housing.

The candidates were asked what they see as the largest challenge facing the borough.  Otos says it is affordable housing. He says one barrier is the cost of development, something the borough could help with.

“The borough can provide, I think, certain property tax breaks for new development in the subdivisions. It can help developers with road costs in the new service areas, and the borough can also sell off land at a reasonable rate to new developers to produce new homes.”              

Bynum says challenges are multifaceted and include tourism, housing costs and funding issues.  He says all relate to communication and collaboration with state and local agencies. Bynum says maintaining a stable workforce is key.

“Having a good, qualified workforce is one of those things that will help with affordable housing. Get incomes up. Bring industry in. But all that takes the element of appropriate funding levels and appropriate planning and development within the borough.”

Landis says the greatest challenge is state budget woes. To respond to state budget cuts, he says local government needs to reduce expenses and use resources wisely. Landis says relationships with legislators and advocacy in Juneau are important.

“I do have that experience. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get the community get through this hard time.”

Candidates also were asked what they saw as the greatest opportunity for the borough.

Bynum says he believes this is to work with the community, and city and state governments to develop a long-term plan regarding tourism and housing. He says the borough can use its planning powers to facilitate development.

Otos says he agrees that collaboration with other governments is an opportunity, especially with respect to tourism. He says the borough’s transit system can be used to move people and capital around the community.

Landis says things perceived as challenges or threats, such as housing, can be opportunities. He says the borough can explore ways it can help develop the area.

In his closing remarks, Landis says he’s enthusiastic about Ketchikan and its future.

“I think that we have a lot to look forward to. I think our best days are ahead of us. I don’t think you have any bad choices sitting up here in front of you.”

However, Landis says, each candidate offers something a little bit different and he offers experience.

Otos says he feels the borough has potential to improve tourism, energy and housing.

“The borough should take initiatives on these, and, if elected, I look forward to helping younger people get involved in politics and have a voice in the community.”

Bynum says, whether elected or not, his goal is to continue to work with community members and collaborate. He spoke about public service, likening it to being a basketball official, something he’s done for over 20 years.

“One of the things that you have to face is that you’re not always going to make the popular call. Sometimes people are going to be frustrated with you in the moment. But you have to do what’s right. You have to do what’s best for the game. You have to do what’s best for the community.

He says, if elected, he would try to do what is right, even if not always popular.

Which two candidates will serve on borough assembly will be decided soon. Municipal elections are Tuesday, October 1st.

For full disclosure, Austin Otos hosts a volunteer program on KRBD.