Chamber of Commerce, City of Seward, Council, Featured, Politics

Six vie for three seats: Seward’s city council election

Seward Marine Industrial Center before North Dock breakwater completion
Seward Marine Industrial Center before North Dock breakwater completion

By Russell Stigall for Seward City News –

Three council seats came up for election 2016. Six Seward residents are competing for those slots. Voters will decide on October 2.

The city has a City Manager form of government, with a Mayor and six city council members who exercise all legislative and policy-making powers of the city and performs all duties and obligations imposed upon the city by law. The mayor and six council members form the Governing Body. They serve 2-year terms. The Governing Body, being the elected representative of the people, adopts all ordinances and resolutions and determines the general goals and policies of the city and appoints the city manager, city clerk and city attorney. — City of Seward  

In the following Q&A candidates were asked three questions. The questions fed one in to another, therefore each candidate’s entire set of answers are shown together. The order of candidate responses was picked by using a random number generator: Suzanne Towsley, Marianna Keil, Erik Slater, Dale Butts, Ristine Casagranda, John Hull Jr.

Questions

  • What sparked your interest in running for City Council?
  • What do you see as Seward’s main opportunities\challenges during what could be your first/next term? I.E. Seward’s role in access to an increasingly open Arctic Ocean, marijuana legalization, Seward’s housing shortage …
  • How would you tackle these issues during your time in office? Tell us about your relevant experience.

 

SUZANNE TOWSLEY

What sparked you interest: I’ve been encouraged the last couple of years to consider running and finally felt like I have the time and energy to give my best effort to the office, if elected.

Opportunities/Challenges: The same things that brought the Ballaine brothers and Lowell Family here more than 100 years ago remain true and create huge opportunity for us today. Seward is the northernmost deep water, year round ice-free port in the Pacific and when combined with the rail and road to the rest of the world our opportunities as a municipality and community include a diverse cross section of business, fishing, tourism, and shipping just to name a few.

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I very much support the Legalization of Marijuana and encourage the state to streamline their process and allow local small businesses to begin making back some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars required to open a MJ related business – and local municipalities some much needed revenue. Plus it helps us all mellow out. That’s a win-win.

The undeniable local housing shortage is a complex problem that the City of Seward should be on the front-line of and actively looking for solutions.

Relevant Experience: I have lived in Seward for 15 years and worked at City hall in the administrative office for seven of those. I’ve raised my kids here and enjoyed everything that is great about Seward while also slogging through some of the challenges we face.

If elected, I look forward to serving on City Council and helping to give a new perspective.

MARIANNA KEIL (i)

What sparked you interest: I have always been very interested in serving in various capacities in Seward. I worked for the local native organization prior to becoming Seward’s Legislative Information Officer and during the interim I worked as the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coordinator. I coached girls’ softball, was a member of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Advisory Committee for 11 years, was president of the Seward 2003 Centennial Committee, co-authored the All-America City application that won Seward the All-America City award in 2005, and served on the planning and zoning commission for many years.

Challenges: I believe the state’s fiscal uncertainties is the most pressing, balancing quality of life with potential growth, maintaining job opportunities to keep families here in Seward, affordable housing, maintaining a stable city council and city administration in order to keep all of the many projects we have on track and moving forward, maintaining healthcare, retaining state services in the face of the uncertain state budget; AVTEC and good schools, the Lowell Canyon Tunnel and affordable housing.

Opportunities: capitalizing on our geographic position and deep water port as a portal to the Arctic. The creation of the Seward Marine Industrial breakwater and boat harbor. In this area we can concentrate on attracting more marine businesses.

The city has been able to maintain a relatively stable financial position due to balanced budgeting and a watchful eye on expenses. Seward’s natural beauty and recreational opportunities are a draw for all sorts of tourism industries and is a magnet for many to live here. The people of Seward are great in their willingness to volunteer and help each other out. It makes me proud to be a Sewardite.

As a council member I have grappled with and tackled some of the issues that I named as challenges and opportunities. I am involved in promoting Seward anywhere I go. As a current council member, I had a lot of involvement in the creation of the Seward Community Health Center, and was successful in getting a site for the newly started Senior Housing units.

The city has completed a new water tank, de-sludged and repaired the sewage lagoons, completed the electrical generation plant, have nearly completed a total revamp of the Seward Boat Harbor, and next year plan to repair and repave streets along with repairs to the Lowell Canyon Tunnel.

More affordable housing is still an issue and I think we should look into some of the solutions other cities are doing, such as micro housing.

If the state continues to cut their budgets, it will trickle down to the communities. We did cuts to the 2016-2017 budgets during the biennial budget process and we will have to continue to save where we can save.

Relevant Experience: I have been on council for a while and believe that a certain amount of stability and consistency is an asset. Having a knowledge of what has or hasn’t worked in the past helps you in making better decisions and avoid making the same mistakes over again. Sometimes it’s not easy taking controversial or tough positions.

I find that Council cooperation and stability are very important to achieving Seward’s goals. The current council does work well with each other. I feel that compromise is a good thing and not a negative. I think government can work to achieve goals, but sometimes it takes a lot of work and may take a long time. I fully support the public process and am thankful when the public weighs in on issues.

ERIK SLATER

What sparked you interest: My interest sparked when the issue regarding the closing of the AVTEC gym and the contract came up. Feeling the frustration along with several of the other community members, I felt questions were not being asked and it was handled improperly. The community was not being heard. And the whole thing felt fishy.

Opportunities: One of the biggest opportunities is the now legal sale of marijuana.
The revenue that it will contribute not only to the state but also to the small communities is staggering. For a city not take advantage of this new and very lucrative revenue stream would put it at a disadvantage leaving us behind many cities in Alaska and the lower 48. Regardless of ones convictions and ideas on what they think of it, its now legal, its here to stay and the city can and will benefit financially from the revenue generated by the sales. Its been proven and it works.

Challenges: One of the biggest challenges is the housing shortage. This is a major crises happening right now. There is a need for both year round and seasonal housing. We depend on the tourism to sustain us for the long winters. We need people to come work those busy summer months and possibly stay. Right now there are very few to rent.

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It’s a vicious circle. If there is no place to live, there will be no one to work, there will be fewer businesses for people to visit and then there will be less people to visit Seward. We are growing. More successful business have opened in the past 2 years than any since I’ve moved here in 2000. We should be able to see even more in the future.

I feel the city needs to step in at some point and realize the situation. I’m not saying they need to build a complex to house folks, but there should be a creative solution that the city can help with.

This also rolls into the issue of an increasingly open arctic ocean. Where I see this is both a challenge and an opportunity.

More housing will be needed to meet the demands of this new situation. Our role as a port and on the road system will be to maximize our advantage with all the new traffic that will be in and out Seward to the interior and lower 48 and the new opportunities from companies wanting to set up shop here. The challenge will be to do it sustainably, environmentally and aesthetically.

Marijuana Legalization: There are bigger cities and communities that have embraced this change and are doing very well. As an entrepreneur part of my job is to see opportunities, recognize trends, change to meet the market demand and to maximize revenue. And as a parent and citizen of Seward, I want to make sure that I am doing everything I can to make sure that it is being controlled responsibly.

On Housing: A creative and collaborative solution must happen with small business owners, city officials and the rest of the community.

Possible incentives for private development or choosing to rent 6 months out of the year instead of nightly could be an option that the city can look at. But it needs to be a collaborative effort.

The advantage I have on this issue is I have worked for and own a business that depends on people coming to Seward to work .I know what will work and what won’t, I know the challenges, the needs and the impact of this situation.

On the increasingly open Arctic Ocean: We need to plan ahead for what’s to come, and it is coming. We need to be able to adjust and look to the future. Not just 1 to 2 years ahead. We need to be ready for the impact that this will have on our town, be able to jump on the opportunities it presents and at the same time, protect what is important to this town. We control the impact it will have. The advantage is ours.

DALE BUTTS (i)

What sparked you interest: I started off on the planning and zoning commission and then felt that I could do a little bit more by being on the city Council. I always like to stay involved whether through the fire department, through the high school, or with the city.

Opportunities and Challenges: In the next term I would like to expand more of our port capabilities, I am a firm believer an if we build it, commerce will show up. But we should make sure that we are always building off of the firm and sturdy foundation.

I also believe that we need to address the issue of fixing roads in Seward.

I feel that we need to develop more partnerships with private companies to help in our development of new and interesting businesses and Seward. I would hope that the voters of Seward would approve the bond that is coming up on the next election for road construction.

RISTINE CASAGRANDA (i)

What sparked you interest: I had volunteered to be part of the waterfront community playground project during the construction of the playground, I believe it was 2006. I was in awe of what community looked like when it shared a common goal and worked together. That was the spark.

Shortly thereafter, I became intrigued with local government. The more I learned the more I found myself complaining. Feeling powerless I began seeking how I could use my voice. Vanta [Shafer], former Mayor of Seward and passionate Sewardite, one day told me I should run for council. I quickly realized she was not joking and now, here I am.

Opportunities and Challenges: I see the next two years filled with opportunities.

Seward, like most other communities, is growing to meet the needs of a whole new generation. Millennial’s are a large generation and now is the time to start assessing their needs. Housing, affordable cost-of-living, strong infrastructure and community pride are what I believe will drive Seward’s success.

Seward has a seasonal economy. By encouraging year-round / winter business, supporting the quality of life (winter recreation and the arts) and creating incentives for folks that reside here year round we can begin to close the economic gap that we experience in the winter months.

We need to look to other communities that have it figured out and begin to make the necessary changes to support our unique economy. I believe this can be done with joint work sessions with planning and zoning and the city Council. Work sessions are a great way to get public involved in solutions.

We are currently in the beginning stages of our City Comprehensive Plan. The comp plan is an opportunity for our community to gather our ideas and our thoughts to create a vision for Seward’s future. I look forward to serving on city council during this process.

There are a lot of opportunities for public input during the comprehensive plan process and I hope to see the public process maximized to get as many community members involved as possible – including our youth.

Aging diversion tunnel inside view at low water flow, March 24th inspection. photo credit Corps of Engineers.
Aging diversion tunnel inside view at low water flow, March 24th inspection. photo credit Corps of Engineers.

A priority of mine will be the completion of the Lowell Point Tunnel repairs. Keeping our strong working relationship with FEMA, the state, the borough and the flood board will all be crucial during this process.

 

It is also very important to keep our maintenance replacement and repair funds (MRRF) healthy and strong so that when we do have infrastructure needs we have the monies to support ourselves.

I look forward to sitting on a council where the public process is witnessed and heard. I look forward to administration and council working together to support the public in their goals/needs/desires. I feel it’s important to ask questions. It is extremely important that the council works as a body with administration.

Council sets policies and passes the budget. There can be challenges in finding the sweet spot (balanced budget) where you are providing the community with opportunities while simultaneously taking responsibility for its needs. I believe it can be done. The budget is a public process and with lots of planning and opportunity for the public to get involved – Seward can indeed find a budget that works for the common goal for ALL of Seward.

JOHN HULL

Could not be reached for comment.

For an opportunity to ask questions and hear from the candidates, attend Meet the Candidates on September 15. Seward’s Chamber of Commerce is hosting the event at 5:30 pm in Seward’s Community Library Community Room. Seward High School teacher James Wayne will return as moderator. Snacks and door prizes provided.

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