Candidates for Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly shared their views in a forum hosted by the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce in mid-September. Here are some highlights.
Five candidates are vying for two 3-year terms on the Assembly. They are Jason Button, Darlene d-Svenson, Grant EchoHawk, Jaimie Palmer and Carlos Weimer. Button and Weimer were unable to join the Facebook Live event due to medical emergencies. In the interest of disclosure, EchoHawk is KRBD’s board president.
Candidates were asked how the borough can best exercise its limited power. Palmer said the borough should consider reviving its economic development fund to invest in local businesses.
“That’s one section that for sure we need to foster and build up, and work on planning and our economic development powers. Maybe tying in again, looking at our connection to Prince Rupert and what does that look like for expanding, exporting and trade relations that way. What’s happening with Gravina? The access over there? We need to think about it.”
The Borough Assembly eliminated the fund in 2018. It hadn’t had a reliable source of funding in nearly a decade, finance officials told the assembly at the time.
EchoHawk said the borough should involve a wide variety of stakeholders when it sets economic and business policies.
“That includes the city, that includes KIC, that includes the Ward Cove (Group), Saxman. Basically getting everybody involved into a single conversation to then talk about – What is the future of our community? What do we want it to look like? What resources do we have throughout the community? Not just within the borough mainframe but throughout the entire community.”
d-Svenson said, as a second-class borough, Ketchikan’s assembly already has a great amount of power and said she doesn’t believe it should have more. She said the borough needs to learn how to manage the powers it already has.
“And the Borough Assembly and members and all people involved need to start stepping out of their own way and allowing the residents and citizens of the borough to expand their business opportunities. To have more entrepreneurial (opportunities).”
Candidates were also asked what they would do to address the potential economic shortfall should there be a reduced cruise season in 2022.
d-Svenson said most of the community’s eggs are in one basket. She said she does not see bringing in large corporations and is not sure how to attract small businesses if revenue is lacking. She calls it a conundrum.
“It’s a circle question as far as I’m concerned because that’s where we are in our society. To put a whole lot of information into a hypothetical on cruise ships is talking to air.”
Palmer said she feels the borough has been conservative in the budget process and said she’s encouraged by projections for next year’s cruise ship season.
“When we speak to our cruise line partners, they are really excited and hopeful about Alaska actually. Because Alaska has already proven that we can have a cruise ship season and not have a crazy amount of COVID coming in on those ships. And so it’s been a really good and successful relationship so I’m pretty hopeful about having a season.”
EchoHawk said the borough should prepare for a worst case scenario. He said he believes a new city-owned fiber optic internet link with Canada will open opportunities. And he said many good things are happening in Ketchikan such as community gardens and farmer’s markets.
“These are new things that are popping up that are generating local revenue that’s staying within our community. That’s helping smaller businesses.
In representing all borough residents, candidates were asked how they would deal with people with differing opinions.
Palmer said it’s important to work with others and listen.
“We might have neighbors who might wave a different flag politically than we do at our home, but at the end of the day you go ask for an egg or some butter and you keep living. I think that it’s important as anybody on a policy body like the assembly that we just act as humans and neighbors and do the best thing that we can for the island at large.”
EchoHawk said it’s important to lower the temperature in contentious debates to allow the community to come together to achieve common goals.
“Of course we’re never going to agree 100% on all things, but that is one of the great benefits of having a representative democracy like this, where we have multiple people at the table, multiple people talking about what is the best course of action, and then us all deciding on that course.”
d-Svenson says she would respect the will of the people and do research before making decisions.
“My touchdown whole vote would be what would be best for the citizens and what would be best for the long-term health of our municipality in Ketchikan.”
Candidates also gave their thoughts on the borough’s strategic development plan and education funding, among other topics.
Municipal elections are next Tuesday, October 5th. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The top two vote-getters will serve three-year terms.
You can listen to the entire one-hour forum hosted by chamber executive director Michelle O’Brien here: