Three incumbent council members and one challenger are vying for votes to win three two-year seats on the Seward City Council in Tuesday October 1st Municipal Election. All of the people up at the dais Wednesday night were familiar to council watchers, however, and it’s not a very heated race as witnessed during the Meet the Candidates night at City Hall.
David Squires, the recently-retired Seward Fire Chief is running for a seat against incumbents Christy Terry, Vanta Shafer and Bob Valdatta. Perhaps because incumbents are usually favored to win reelection, unless there’s a good deal of public controversy, only Squires and Terry, a relative newcomer, submitted their photographs and candidates statements for the 2013 Kenai Peninsula Borough Voter Pamphlet. Valdatta and Shafer, on the other hand, probably began serving on the council when the high school students taking questions from the audience were still in diapers.
Questioned about his lack of a campaign, Valdatta, 75, told SCN that most residents already know him, and that if they don’t reelect him, he’ll just call it his time to retire. He doesn’t even remember how long he’s been on the council, but guesses about 14 or 15 years.
Valdatta, a bus driver, told SCN he’s just in there to throw his own two-cents into the mix, and to support the council. He often makes passionate statements about a topic, often off topic, but even when he argues strongly against a certain council proposal, Valdatta generally votes with the majority, explaining later that he went along because he lacks power and influence. “I was hamstrung” is a favorite expression.
Valdatta said council members shouldn’t second-guess the newest city administrators hired, or stand in their way. Referring to former manager Philip Oates, a retired general, Valdatta said Seward now has a good team (Jim Hunt and Ron Long) who listen to the public. He urged citizens to quit complaining about what the city can do for them, but think about what they can do for the city. If a pothole needs filling, don’t complain, just go out and fill it yourself, he chided, eliciting chuckles from the audience.
In similar fashion, he recently shocked an audience of Lowell Point residents, when he suggested that old sludge created by the Seward wastewater lagoon simply be dumped into Resurrection Bay, like they already do in Anchorage under a similar wastewater permit.
David Squires, a newcomer to politics, but one who has seen the running of the city as one of its department heads for 28 years, stood in contrast to Valdatta and Shafer, the other long-term incumbent. Squires said decided to run for council because he’s tired of seeing the same faces on council again and again.
“I will vote what the majority of the community wants, and what’s best for the community,” Squires said. “My opponents do that already, but have gotten to the point where everything is a problem, problem, problem. For 28 years I’ve had to face them, and had to live with it. I will make sure that the will of the people is met.”
Also frustrating for the Fire Chief was watching the city fail to stay on track in reaching its goals. If elected, Squires hopes to have the council set clear goals, with community input, and then create a sort of report-card system to hold them accountable for those goals.
In answer to a number of audience questions, all council candidates said development at Seward Marine Industrial Center (SMIC) would be a top priority. They also agreed that having the airport repaired, fixing the city streets and sidewalks, addressing problems at the Seward Lagoon and other critical infrastructure also was important to them. Shafer and Terry both mentioned the numbers of young entrepreneurs in town these days, and said they hoped to assist the next generation in building community businesses, and to not allow city government to stand in their way. They also promised to promote growth while balancing industry with the need to maintain a clean, scenic Alaska environment.
One audience question dealt with the public perception of a divided council over the past few years, and asked what candidates would do to change that perception, or to deal with divisions.
Squires said it was “very embarrassing” to watch the public wrangling between outgoing Mayor David Seaward, and the council and administration over the past two years. If uncivil internal bickering occurred under his watch, he would call for an executive session “right off the bat” where they could work their differences out behind closed doors, he said. He also would hold public work sessions, to allow the public to express their opinions on certain matters.
Vanta Shafer and Christy Terry said the council was not divided, but agreed that the disputes with the City Mayor have been an embarrassment to the city, and both blamed Seaward for intentional hostility and highly accusatory behavior toward his colleagues. Both said they expected everyone to work well together with Seaward no longer there.
Valdatta defended Mayor Seaward, however, calling the unprecedented city censure that the council imposed on him in late February 2012, after a trip to Juneau, unduly harsh for an uneducated guy with little political experience. The mayor was forbidden to travel on city business for six months after he voiced support for the Friends of Jesse Lee Home renovation project while in Juneau.
Individual city voters have a good deal of influence in these elections as voter turnout has become so low. In the last election for example, the top council vote-getter, Jean Bardarson received fewer than 250 votes, and only 344 ballots were cast on election day of the 1,800 registered voters in the Seward precinct.