By Heidi Zemach for SCN-
The Seward Chamber of Commerce’s candidates forum, held last week in advance of the Seward City and Kenai Peninsula Borough Regular Municipal Election Oct 6, was uneventful, although it did highlight some of the views and priorities of the candidates running in an unopposed city council race, a contested mayoral race, and a race between two assembly candidate challengers for District 6, running to replace Sue McClure, whose term has been limited-out.
McClure is running for one of three councils seat along with Deborah Altermatt and incumbent Councilmember Dave Squires. Christy Terry and Iris Darling are not running for reelection. McClure promised to be a calm, sane voice, as she has been on the assembly. Squires promised to always do his homework.
Altermatt, a retired teacher and business owner of Alaska Sailing Inc, apologized in a written statement that she could not participate in the forum as her husband had recently undergone surgery. She’s served on the Seward Port & Comeerce Advisory Board, as its chair for six years. She’s been president of the Seward Chamber of Commerce Board, and Seward Rotary Club, and has served on the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce board and Seward Harbor Business Association.
What might have been a contentious debate between Tim McDonald and incumbent Seward Mayor Jean Bardarson over the city mayor’s race, lost some of its potential punch when a time allotted in the format, near the end of the segment, when the two candidates are allowed to ask one another their own questions, have them answer, and then respond to their answers, never came to pass.
Neither Squires nor McClure chose to participate in the question, so it was skipped over in advance. But when it came to McDonald and Bardarson’s turn, the Seward Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forum moderator, James Wayne, skipped over that section at the bidding of Cindy Clock, the chamber’s executive director, and asked for two minutes of concluding comments from each candidate.
Bardarson was the first to go. She didn’t question the last minute debate change, concluding her comments with the fact that she loves Seward; that she and her husband raised their children here, and now have a grandchild; and that she wants to move Seward forward in a positive direction, especially now that is at the cusp of a great many development opportunities.
McDonald had apparently chosen to save his best for that moment. When his turn came, McDonald pointed out that according to the format, the candidates were meant to be allowed to question one another, and he asked to do so. He was abruptly told that there wasn’t enough time, and was urged to go ahead and say whatever he wanted to say in his concluding remarks. Clearly flummoxed, McDonald attempted to address an issue he had raised several times at previous council meetings—Seward’s $30 million shipyard facility at Seward Marine Industrial Center, SMIC, which the city leased out to Seward Ships Drydock for the past 30 years, and which was recently leased to Vigor. The city-owned infrastructure there includes a large synchro-lift, used to raise and lower vessels, that Seward also leases out free of charge in exchange for the company taking care of its maintenance and insurance.
Neither contract had gone out to public bid, McDonald said. Nor had the city received compensation for their ongoing use, or for the profits they realized. Many other harbors and municipalities regularly charge operators for using their infrastructure, McDonald has said, contending that the Seward contracts represent a giveaway of valuable resources that should belong to the taxpayers.
Regarding the last-minute change in format, Clock told SCN later that she had apologized to McDonald and also apologizes to the public for what she called a mistake, due to timing concerns. The forum had been well attended by about 25 residents, but they had allowed too many questions to be asked by the public, she said. When she realized near the end of the half-hour that they were running out of time, Clock felt they needed to wrap things up to give the two assembly candidates, neither of whom are known to the voting public, their full 30 minutes to introduce themselves.
She denied it was to avoid unpleasant debate, although most citizens who pay attention to council meetings know that McDonald’s views often are presented in an accusatory manner, sometimes accompanied by veiled threats of legal action, and are met with harsh rebuttals by council, administration, and attorneys. Clock also said she regrets that she didn’t do away with that segment in advance of the forum, as it hasn’t been a very successful part of the forum.
The most interesting part of the forum, was the District 6 assembly candidates’ section, as neither has made an appearance at borough assembly or city council meetings, and they have only recently begun getting out to the to the small outlying communities in the district during funding priority meetings with McClure.
Kenn Carpenter is the procurement officer for AVTEC. Born and raised in Eagle River, he has also lived in various other Alaskan communities including Cordova, Wrangell and Petersburg. Carpenter moved to Seward in 2005, initially as a charter boat captain on a halibut boat, before getting his job with AVTEC. A father of four, he and his wife Linda are now raising their four-year-old grandson, Derrian. Aside from coaching little league or working with Boy Scouts in the distant past, he has no political experience, he said. “We’re all armchair politicians. That’s where I’m coming from,” he said. He said he does have opinions though, and wants to help the borough and City of Seward.
Carpenter said he believes strongly in government, but also that people should be more involved in that government, and that their voices should be heard instead of a few select individuals making choices for everyone. “Taxes, property taxes, right-of-ways and property ownership are all issues that I believe need to be addressed,” he also states in the voter information pamphlet.
Carpenter supports Proposition 1, which would only apply to a small area of Sterling in District 6, if passed, and would not affect Seward. Prop 1, the proposed repeal of KPB Ordinance 2008-28. If approved, it would require Homer, Seldovia and Soldotna to exempt the sales of nonprepared food from sales tax, as long as the borough does so. It would not apply to Seward or Kenai, home-rule cities, which can exempt those taxes on their own if they chose to do so. Carpenter said he’s a strong supporter of seniors, and seniors advocate. Many seniors created and contributed to Alaska’s municipal governments, he said. He has suggested that a senior sit in at assembly meetings as a volunteer to represent their views.
Carpenter said he’s also very concerned about education funding, as he knows funding is tight, and he often sees children come to his door fundraising. He did not directly answer the question asked, whether he would fund education to the cap, if elected. Without actually being on the assembly, and learning more details, he also could not say how he would balance the budget, although he understands that the borough is in for some hard times over the next few years.
The issue he revealed strongest sentiments about came in response to a question about whether the candidates supported anadromous fish stream protections in the borough, and in particular, the 50’ setback or buffer zone. The topic has been a contentious one, generating much discussion at assembly meetings in Soldotna over the past few years, although it has no relevance for Seward streams, none of which are included in the Anadromous Fish streams listed.
“I don’t support it,” Carpenter said, adding that he’s also an avid sports fisherman and hunter. Changes in the direction that channels run have been going on naturally for billions of years, he said, and “sediment actually feeds small fry,” he added. “Putting a dock on your shoreline is not going to hurt fish.” Properties along the shoreline had been unjustly “taken” by the borough, which had offered property owners less than fair market value for their land, he said. In rare cases in which it be necessary to purchase private streamside land, Carpenter said he would want property owners to at least receive their fair market value.
Brandii Holmdahl, a corporate quality manager for Icicle Seafoods, who has worked in the commercial fishing industry, and served on Governor Murkowski’s Salmon Task Force in 2003, had a different opinion.
“I do support it,” she said. “I think a lot of our livelihood in most of the borough communities have sport fishing, and that anything to protect the habitat for all user groups is a good idea.” She summed up her comments: The ability of people to feed their families depends on a healthy salmon habitat.”
Holmdahl grew up in Soldotna, graduated from Skyview High School, and attended a private women’s college in Missouri. She lived in Sterling and Nikiski, managing quality control at fish processing plants before relocating to Seward four years ago for her current position with Icicle Seafoods. She has five siblings who still live on the Kenai Peninsula, and her three children attend high school in Seward. One child has special needs, and one is on the other end of the spectrum, she said. Both are areas that tend to lose funding when education budgets tighten, she said.
Holmdahl said she’s mainly running for the assembly seat because she doesn’t want the unique voice of the east side of the peninsula to get lost in KPB assembly debates and decisions, realizing how easily their voice is diminished when citizens don’t travel the two-hour distance to attend meetings in Soldotna. Local issues of particular concern to Holmdahl, she said, are flood mitigation, addressing the lack of available housing for workers who may move to Seward due to expansion at SMIC, and finding a way to help those underserved by critical emergency health care.
Holmdahl also supports the repeal of the borough grocery sales tax measure, even though it only affects a small area in Sterling in her district.
“It’s a really important proposition, one that definitely affects our senior population,” she said. It also affects a lot of the underrepresented population, she said. “I think we need to do all we can to protect those people.”
Holmdahls’ political and civic experience includes serving two years on the board of directors of the Economic Development District in her former area of the peninsula, and serving on the Governor’s Salmon Task Force in 2003. Since moving to Seward she has joined the Rotary Club, became a member of the rowing team, and started up a Seward chapter of the PEO, a woman’s organization created to empower women worldwide though education.
When it was the assembly candidates’ chance to question one another, Holmdahl chose to do so, but merely to ask Carpenter to clarify which Olympic sporting event he had once excelled in, a fact he had alluded to earlier in the forum. The answer was skiing. Carpenter passed up the opportunity altogether, finding it unnecessary.
Remember, the election is October 6th. Vote! if you can’t vote on that day, vote absentee. Absentee ballots can be sent by mail or in-person at the Seward City Clerks office.