There’s a lot on the ballot for Ketchikan this October: the borough mayor is up for re-election, plus three City Council seats, two Borough Assembly seats, and two seats on Ketchikan’s school board — and three ballot propositions.
Here’s a rundown of what’s on the ballot in Ketchikan:
Borough Mayor (pick one)
Rodney Dial (incumbent) is seeking a second three-year term in office. Though the mayor’s office doesn’t have a ton of formal power in Ketchikan’s weak mayor/strong manager form of government, the retired state trooper touted his commitment to advocating for Ketchikan as a “full-time” mayor during a KRBD forum this month.
“I believe that years ago, we outgrew a ceremonial mayor — probably sometime after the pulp mill and we started transitioning into tourism,” Dial said.
During the roughly 80-minute forum, Dial refused to say whether he supported or opposed Proposition 2 — a measure that’ll go before voters outside Ketchikan and Saxman city limits that would prevent the borough from collecting a tax that provides roughly 40% of the Ketchikan Public Library’s funding. (More on that under Ballot Propositions at the end of this voter guide.)
“If I, as an elected official, said something, either for or against it, people would say that I’m trying to influence the election,” Dial said. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to do that.”
But Dial did say that if Proposition 2 passes, he would not use his veto power to prevent the Borough Assembly from funding the library another way.
“The assembly, which represents everybody on the island, can make the decision that we’re going to fund it a different way. And that would be their call,” he said.
Dial said he’d use his veto sparingly, adding that he’d only used his veto pen on two occasions. One of those was a veto of a resolution asking the Alaska Legislature to protect LGBTQ civil rights, and more recently to eliminate a $1,638 borough grant to the Ketchikan Pride Alliance for education and outreach events. The assembly overrode his veto both times.
Katie Parrott, the school district finance official who’s challenging Dial, took aim at the vetoes.
“I’ll admit and be quite frank that it has felt sometimes that an organization like Ketchikan Pride Alliance is kind of unfairly characterized in ways in community conversations that have come up,” she said. “Other organizations in this community haven’t had to combat the same kinds of concerns about their group being too political.”
Parrott also explicitly opposed Proposition 2, the library funding ballot question.
“The library provides so many critical resources and services to this community that go so far beyond being able to check out a book,” she said. “Literally, for some people, for young families and vulnerable people and people who can’t necessarily afford maybe Internet services and those kinds of things, the library is a lifesaver.”
Parrott, who already has a full-time job as the school district’s business manager, says the mayor’s role should be nonpartisan and ceremonial — a sharp contrast from Dial’s vision of the position.
“While I know that having a very active mayor is a benefit to the community, we do have a strong manager form of government,” she said, adding that advocacy for federal funds and other community priorities should be done in concert with the borough administration and the assembly as a whole.
And speaking of Parrott’s day job: her role has been the subject of some scrutiny, since the borough partially funds Ketchikan’s school district. Though Parrott and Dial didn’t spar on that topic during the forum, Dial previously said Parrott’s job creates an unavoidable conflict of interest that could prevent her from participating in discussions about the borough’s education funding and other related subjects.
Parrott, for her part, doesn’t see a conflict, as she said in an interview last month.
“Whether it’s in my capacity serving the community at the school district, or in my capacity as an elected official in this community, I serve one master, and that one master is the citizens of Ketchikan,” she said.
There are two separate races for City Council: two full three-year terms are up for grabs, and there’s a separate race for a lone one-year seat.
KRBD held a forum with the three-year and one-year candidates on Sept. 15. The roughly two-hour forum is available to rewatch on Facebook.
Three-year City Council candidates (pick two)
Lallette Kistler (incumbent) is looking to build on her one year of experience on the City Council. She was appointed to the council last year to fill a vacancy.
One thing she’s got her eye on is restructuring the city’s sales tax cap. Currently, only the first $2,000 of most purchases are subject to sales taxes, and sales tax is only charged on the first $1,000 of residential rent — so someone paying $2,500 a month pays the same in sales taxes as someone making $1,000.
“The people that are getting the most relief are the people that are at the higher income brackets, and the people that are at the lower income brackets, assuming because they’re in the lower rent categories are paying 100% on taxes on their rent. And so it really just doesn’t make any sense,” Kistler said shortly after filing for office in August.
Kistler pitches herself as a problem solver with a wide variety of personal experiences.
“I have a background in a lot of different things: insurance, banking, securities, the arts, self-employment, construction, grocery and restaurant business,” she said.
Mark Flora (incumbent) has been on the council for six years and says he’d provide a steady hand during a time of transition for the city.
“With a new city manager coming in and the amount of turnover that we’ve had in some high level staff positions, I think there may be some value for the community in having some continuity on the council,” Flora said last month.
Flora says he’s proud of his accomplishments on the council so far — he points to a new lease with hospital operator PeaceHealth and the city’s work securing a federal grant for a new domestic violence shelter as highlights.
“I think what I’m most proud of actually, though, is I’ve tried to be very prepared, I’ve been objective, I’ve got no agendas, I’m not aligned with any special interest in anything, and I think that’s actually maybe one of the very best things I bring to the council,” Flora said.
Dion Booth is a political newcomer, and he says homelessness and public safety are top of mind.
“Our homeless issue is a big one for me,” he said. “It’s not just the local guys who are down on their luck or whatever. It’s a lot of new faces and a lot more of them, and it’s scary as a parent to let your kid go play outside by themselves.”
He says the city should study the issue to come up with a solution.
Booth says too often, City Council members vote against the will of their constituents.
“Most recently, the property tax issue — that was very obvious, people didn’t want that, and it was still a close call,” he said. (An effort to raise property taxes to fund raises for city workers failed by a 1-6 vote in May, and the council ultimately instituted a seasonal sales tax plan instead.)
Asked for other ideas to raise revenue, he suggested an unconventional approach: writing tickets to people who leave shopping carts from the local Safeway grocery store on the docks of the nearby Bar Harbor marina.
Kevin Kristovich, another first-time municipal candidate, is appealing to voters as a voice for change. He says he opposes the council’s recent decision to raise sales taxes during the summer to capitalize on visitor traffic, then cut them in the winter — he says he would prefer to place the tax burden more squarely on visitors instead.
He also says Ketchikan’s city government should not expand its downtown port. He says that with four downtown berths and two north of town, it already feels too crowded and congested when cruise ships are in town.
“As my father would have said, they’re trying to make a booming metropolis out of this little whistle stop town. And that’s exactly what happened,” he said last month.
And Kristovich says he’s looking for solutions to Ketchikan’s housing crisis — he suggested taxing vacant homes and apartments to encourage landlords to rent to locals.
“Just vote for the name you know,” he said. “My family name has been here a long time — we go back a long way. I’ve seen this town develop over the decades, and it seems like it’s getting out of control.”
Jamie King is also seeking her first elected office. She says she’s lived in Ketchikan for most of her life, save for a stint in the Navy’s Construction Battalion and some time as an exchange student in Sweden. These days, she’s an administrative assistant for the Ketchikan borough transit department.
King says she thinks a seat on the City Council would be an interesting job and a way to serve the community. She says she doesn’t have her eye on any particular key issues, but she says she wants to help shape Ketchikan’s future.
“The future should look like a riot of ideas and things to do, and new businesses and opportunities — while really looking at what works for Ketchikan,” she said. “We, as a city, I think, are so personable and innovative, and I feel like not everybody gets to experience that even amongst our community.”
She says she’s relatively satisfied with the City Council’s recent work — she said she couldn’t name an issue she would have decided differently. She says she’s a hard worker who’s ready to serve.
Amy Williams’ name will appear on the City Council ballot, but Williams told KRBD in an email this month that she has ended her campaign.
“I’m really disappointed and I hope next year will be better timing for me,” she said.
One-year City Council candidates (pick one)
Jack Finnegan is a sport fishing guide and first-time candidate, and he says he’s especially interested in addressing Ketchikan’s housing shortage. He says it’s clear there are no easy solutions, but he says he’d like to do something about the proliferation of short-term rental properties.
“I know it’s been a useful source of income for a lot of people. I know there’s a lot of attraction for people who want to come to Ketchikan and visit. But I think there’s an adverse and unintended tradeoff if, in the pursuit of getting short term rentals going, we eliminate or restrict the number of rentals that are available to people who want to live here and make this place their home and contribute to this community,” Finnegan said.
Finnegan says he’s always open to hearing new and different points of view, even from people whose politics don’t align with his own. He says he’s a good listener and is willing to compromise to get things done.
Christopher Cumings, a teacher’s aide at Ketchikan Charter School, has run for office before — he entered statewide races for U.S. House in 2018 and U.S. Senate in 2020, but he’s still looking for his first victory.
Like other candidates, he says housing is a pressing problem the city should address. Cumings also points to mental health as a top issue and says the city should partner with other organizations to improve treatment in Ketchikan.
“I’ve experienced what it’s like to be in a mental health crisis and get sent out of town to try to get better from breaking down. Because we don’t have anything to offer people here — we can only help them for a couple of days, and then we’ve got to send them out,” he said. “We’re setting a really vulnerable population up for failure.”
He says he’s also interested in limiting the impact of tourism on residents.
Cumings pitches himself as an unconventional candidate, someone unlike most others on the council.
Borough Assembly (pick two)
KRBD held a forum with the candidates for Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly on Sept. 15. Listen to the whole forum below, or watch the video on Facebook.
Austin Otos (incumbent) is seeking his second three-year term in office, and housing is his No.1 priority.
“I kind of want to focus, refocus our efforts, what we have been doing on housing in particular,” he said. “Looking at some new larger subdivisions, to use some of the infrastructure money to build roads, and then increase your housing stock.”
He says he’s also proud of the programs the borough put in place during the pandemic to help keep local businesses afloat and ensure renters could afford to stay in their homes.
Otos says he’d also like to close a deficit in the borough’s education funding account with the roughly $1.2 million the borough receives annually from the federal government through the payment in lieu of taxes program. That money currently goes to the borough’s general fund.
He said at a recent meeting that he’d like to increase the sales tax cap to $4,000 to raise additional revenue.
Josh Titus is a base manager for Guardian Flight, a private medevac provider. He’s a newcomer to local politics — he says an assembly seat would be his first time in elected office.
“Some of my biggest things are the economy and housing. I’m interested in a sustainable government, and so that would be decreased spending,” Titus said.
He says he’d also like to cut taxes. Though local government races are officially nonpartisan, Titus pitches himself as a small-government conservative.
“Smaller government, conservative thinking,” Titus said. “I want to return the power and control back to the people in the community, not have it in the hands of bureaucrats.”
Michael Iann Martin says he’d like to see the borough promote the development of more year-round businesses in Ketchikan, possibly with loans to small companies. He says he’d also like to boost school funding and increase Ketchikan’s supply of housing.
“Opening up new land is great. I know we’ve been looking at that. But initial development is really cost-prohibitive to a lot of people,” Martin said. “So, beyond just opening up land, we need to make sure we’re developing land and making it accessible to everybody.”
Martin is currently an appointed member of Ketchikan’s Planning Commission, but an assembly seat would be his first time in elected office. Martin says he’s worked with youth in the community for the last 20 years. He’s currently with Residential Youth Care, a local behavioral health nonprofit.
“I really enjoy this community, I fell in love with it the moment I got off the airplane, and I want to continue to see it grow and thrive. I want it to be a place my children grow up to love, and either want to stay in or at least come back to visit in my old age,” he said. “I think we have a lot of resources available to us to continue to grow. And I’d like to be a main piece of helping that happen.”
Glen Thompson is looking to make a comeback in local elected politics. He’s seeking a fifth three-year term on the assembly after a few years away from local government. He pitches himself as a budget hawk.
“We need to be fiscally responsible,” he said. “We need to figure out how to make sure that the budget is solid and sustainable over time.”
Thompson, who also served on the school board for just under two years before resigning in 2019, says he’d like to keep the borough’s funding to the school district about the same or slightly higher than it is.
But he says he’s concerned about the state of the borough’s deficit-plagued education funding account and wants to balance the fund by dedicating more of the borough’s revenue towards education.
Thompson does take issue with one major line item in the borough’s budget. He’s among the roughly 300 people who signed a petition to ask voters to cut borough funding for the Ketchikan Public Library.
“I think the library should be paid for by city taxes, and they can pull it out of the sales tax that everybody pays into,” he said. “Now, if the city believes that that’s not adequate, or not fair, and they decide they want to charge folks who don’t live inside the city limits a fee to use the library, I’m fine with that.”
School Board (pick two)
KRBD held a forum with the candidates for Ketchikan’s school board on Sept. 15. Listen to the whole forum below, or watch the video on Facebook.
Tom Heutte has been appointed to two partial terms on the board in prior years. He touts his experience on nonprofit boards — including, for full disclosure, KRBD’s board, which does not direct news coverage.
Heutte says he has a knack for listening, organizing and making decisions.
“I enjoy the process. I enjoy rolling up my sleeves and working on topics that are really important for the functioning of the school district in our schools,” Heutte said. “Sometimes it’s behind the scenes stuff, like working on finding the best insurance plans for school district employees, and sometimes it’s more controversial, upfront issues that come before the board from the public.”
He says he sees serving on the school board as public service.
“I want to give back to the community that has welcomed me and has been such a great place,” Heutte said. “And because I understand to keep our community working well, we need a broad base of people from the community, helping out and serving in roles that they’re well suited for.”
Melissa O’Bryan says she would bring a unique perspective to the school board — she’s a parent of four kids, a graduate of Ketchikan’s school system, a former teacher’s aide and a disability advocate.
“I feel like I have a well-rounded balance of issues that the district faces,” she said. “I just really want to figure out the best way to support the kids in our district and support the staff we have and the families we have.”
O’Bryan is currently in project development for Ketchikan Indian Community’s housing department.
She says she’s focused on helping students continue to recover from pandemic disruptions.
“I think the biggest thing right now is how it looks coming out of COVID,” she said. “What it looks like for supporting staff, burnout, how our kids are doing — the pandemic was hard on everybody, virtual learning was hard on everybody.”
She also says she supports the use of Southeast Traditional Tribal Values in schools. That’s currently the subject of a lawsuit against the district by two parents, including a teacher, who argue that the values’ mention of a “creator” make them inappropriate for public schools.
Robb Arnold is seeking his first elected office. He’s a chief purser for the state ferry system who says he’d like to improve teacher retention and student graduation rates.
“They’re just begging for teachers and aides and all that kind of stuff, so I’m wondering what’s going on,” Arnold said. “And that’s the other thing — I think there’s a lot of politics in school now. And that’s one of my things is to keep politics out of the classroom and let the kids learn.”
Arnold says that means he’s opposed to things like mask mandates and school closures. He says more needs to be done to understand why it’s difficult to recruit and retain teachers.
He also says he supports the use of tribal values in school.
“I don’t have a problem with that. I’ve seen that poster, and I think it’s great,” he said.
Arnold also says he’d like to expand Ketchikan’s vocational education to teach students how to work in trades like carpentry, plumbing and electrical work.
Ginger Yeił Atoowu McCormick says she’d like the school district to bolster its science, tech, engineering and math education in an effort to better prepare students for college.
“I’m running for the school board, because I’m very passionate about transition, whether it’s elementary school, to middle school to high school, but my main focus is in high school to higher education, whether it’s a trade school, or a university, even a community college,” she said.
She says she’d especially like the school district to implement a “Running Start” program where students can graduate with both their high school diploma and an associate’s degree.
McCormick is currently a community navigator with the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, connecting tribal citizens with resources. She says she was born and raised in Ketchikan, just like her parents and grandparents.
“I’m here for not only this generation,” she said. “I hope I impact the future generation and help uplift them to succeed.”
She says she supports the use of traditional tribal values in schools — and says the district should do more to tell the public about why they’re an important part of the curriculum.
Ballot propositions (vote yes or no)
Borough ballot propositions are listed on the borough ballot along with the borough mayor, assembly and school board races.
Proposition 1 (borough-wide)
Proposition 1 asks voters whether Borough Assembly members should continue to be elected on an at-large basis — under the current system, assembly members represent the borough as a whole and are elected by voters all across Ketchikan rather than representing certain districts. The at-large system was first approved in 1980 and has been in effect ever since.
The borough is required to ask voters whether to change the system of representation after each decennial census.
If approved with a yes vote, there would be no change to assembly representation. If more than 50% vote no on the proposition, the borough would be required to ask voters how the system should be modified in a special election. There are more details on page 4 of the borough’s voter information pamphlet.
Proposition 2 (for voters outside of Ketchikan and Saxman city limits)
Proposition 2 asks voters whether to repeal the borough’s “nonareawide library powers.” That would remove the borough’s ability to collect a property tax on homes and businesses outside city limits that is specifically earmarked for the Ketchikan Public Library. Sponsors of the initiative, which collected more than 300 signatures to place the item on the ballot, say it’s a response to the library’s decision to host a storytime with a drag queen during Pride Month in June.
The tax, currently set at 70 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, provides about 38% of the library’s annual funding, or about $516,000.
Without that funding, city officials say the library would be forced to dramatically cut its hours, lay off half its staff, eliminate most programming for children, teens and adults, and restrict residents who live outside city limits from checking out books and end and would require “major changes” to the library’s agreement to share books and online resources with the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District.
A yes vote would remove the library tax. A no vote would retain the library tax.
If the measure passes, the Borough Assembly could fund the library through other means.
City ballot propositions are listed on the city ballot alongside City Council races. There’s just one this year.
Proposition 1 (city-wide) asks voters whether to create term limits for the mayor and council members. The mayor and council members would be limited to a maximum of three consecutive terms, including partial terms.
Council members would be eligible to run again after a year out of office.
Advocates say term limits would create urgency for the council and make government more efficient. Opponents of the ballot measure say it could push out elected officials with institutional knowledge.
A yes vote would impose term limits. A no vote would not impose term limits.
Early voting runs from Sept. 19 to Oct. 3 at the city clerk’s office at City Hall (334 Front Street) and the borough clerk’s office at the White Cliff Building (1900 First Avenue). Early voting is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday until October 3.
Election day is October 4. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Voters are required to show ID.
Your voting precinct is determined by your residential address. Voters who show up at the wrong precinct on election day can still vote — but they have to vote a “questioned ballot,” which will be reviewed after the election.
Precinct locations are as follows:
Ketchikan No. 1 Gateway Recreation Center 601 Schoenbar Road
Ketchikan No. 2 The Plaza 2417 Tongass Avenue
Ketchikan No. 3 AMHS Ferry Terminal 3501 Tongass Avenue
North Tongass No. 1 North Tongass Fire Station No. 6 7550 N. Tongass Highway
North Tongass No. 2 North Tongass Fire Station No. 8 13110 N. Tongass Highway
Saxman Saxman Community Center 2841 South Tongass Highway
South Tongass South Tongass Alliance Church 376 Old Homestead Road
Thanks for reading — don’t forget to vote!