The public had an opportunity on Tuesday to hear the four candidates for Homer City Council give answers to five prepared questions at a forum sponsored by the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. Held at the Kachemak Community Center, Corbin Arno, Justin Arnold, Gus VanDyke and incumbent Bryan Zak took turns answering questions from moderator Aaron Selbig, news director for KBBI.
A flip of the coin decided the order that set the evening in motion, beginning with three-minute introductory statements. Each candidate was given two minutes to answer a question and a one-minute rebuttal or response before Selbig presented the next questions. The evening concluded with each candidate given three minutes for a closing statement.
The questions were designed to spark discussion of the candidates’ attitudes toward economic development in Homer, the influence city council should have in promoting development and what the candidates would do to make Homer a better place to own a business.
With five years of service on the Homer City Council, Bryan Zak said he has an awareness of what the council has done during that time. Not all of the actions were supported by Zak.
“I try to express my concerns and I get those from what I hear from members of the community that come to the city council and share with me,” said Zak.
VanDyke is a 17-year Homer resident and the owner of Scruggs Automotive.
“Basically I’m here to give a different voice to the city council that hopefully will steer us in the right direction and make it a better place for all of us to live,” said VanDyke.
Justin Arnold is a life-long Homer resident who became involved in the campaign “because I felt disenfranchised by the current political system. I didn’t feel I had a voice other than voting and half the time I didn’t feel that mattered.”
He led the petition drive to put repeal of the plastic bag ban before voters in the Oct. 1 election and is running for office “to stop the ramrodding of laws, the nanny government that tells everyone what to do and a council that decides how to punish or praise those who do as they say they want it done. It’s time to stand up against it. Most of all, I believe the city council needs to be the voice of the people.”
Born and raised in Homer, Arno said, “I’ve been watching politics here for awhile, mostly nationally, and have started getting concerned about the way the country is going, not only nationally, but city politics, a government getting carried away with itself,” said Arno. While he knows the value of a dollar, Arno said “I don’t see government spending our dollars with the same respect that I do.”
Question No. 1: If Homer’s economy is to grow, which sector or sectors would you emphasize, and how might the city government encourage that growth?
“I’d first have to ask the question, why is Homer even here?” said VanDyke. “Basically I can tell you they came here because of the economic opportunity. There were resources available in and around this part of the country that allowed people to come here, to band together, watch each other’s back and develop financially as a group.”
He pointed to seafood and the sea as the area’s backbone.
“I think what really needs to be emphasized is the people who make their living by the sea, the people who came here to spend money because they want to be on the sea, whether the fishing industry, sports fishermen, cruise boats, that type of thing. I think we have a pretty darned good infrastructure started, but that’s primarily the focus I would work on.”
Arnold said he doesn’t believe it is the city council’s job to emphasize one sector over another. Referring to hurdles his family faced trying to rebuild after fire destroyed their business, Arnold said, “I think it’s more important government get out of the way of someone trying to make a living.”
Arno said he believes the private sector should decide what the city needs.
“If there’s a demand for it, someone will build it,” he said. “If private citizens build a company, it’ll produce. If not, it goes bankrupt. When the government doesn’t produce, it just keeps taxing people to make it go.”
Zak said he would emphasize sectors that already are doing well, such as fishing, tourism and technology, but he doesn’t believe that’s what the city council is doing.
“Right now they believe in providing services like safety and parks, but I’m often carrying a torch for thinking outside the box a little bit,” said Zak. “If we’re going to grow the economy, we have to invest in the economy.”
Question 2: Do you think there are city rules and regulations that make it hard for a business to operate? If so what are they?
In addition to the plastic bag ban, Arnold listed a limit on what percent of property can be developed, the development on steep slopes and the city’s sign ordinance.
“I’m still researching and learning,” said Arnold. “If I’m elected, I’ll find the worst one and get it out.”
Arno’s list began with the bag ban, and included the sign ordinance and a requirement for green zones around buildings.
To those noted by the other candidates, Zak referenced the required asphalt on parking lots.
“Yes, there are a few things that need to be changed, that need to be brought up before the council to solve them, take action to get them resolved so they don’t keep popping back up,” said Zak.
VanDyke said regulations imposed on businesses make it clear the city “needs to get out of the micro-managing phase it’s in and provide only those fundamental services that government was originally intended for, police, fire protection and public works.”
Question No. 3: How do you think the city handled the issue of the natural gas distribution network? Do you think the special assessment district was fair to everyone?
“Poorly,” said Arno. “Us, the citizens, are paying for someone else’s infrastructure. That’s unacceptable, uncalled for and the way they went about doing the vote was uncalled for also.”
Zak doesn’t think it was fair to everybody, but couldn’t come up with a system that was fair to everybody.
“Being on the city council, seeing how it was done, knowing every lot in Homer was served by natural gas … it was not fair to everybody, but it was in everybody’s best interests,” said Zak.
While VanDyke agreed with Zak that it was good for the whole city, he said, “I don’t know of any other municipality, state agency, government agency that has ever paid for infrastructure to get a product and then given it to someone because they agreed to do. I don’t agree it was done correctly.”
Arnold said this is a question with “no perfect answer.”
“Why didn’t we form an HEA-like group where we own it? It’s so ridiculous the way it was done,” said Arnold.
Question 4: If a big box store was eventually to come to the Homer area do you think the competition would be good even if it meant long-established businesses go out of business?
Zak’s answer was clear: He does not believe in big box stores.
“One thing the city has done is limit square footage, but (a box store) outside of Homer, that competition would not be good,” he said. “I hope they don’t come.”
VanDyke said he would hate to see any long-time established business go out of business.
If a box store expressed interest in coming to Homer, VanDyke said he would have to “do some deep soul-searching” whether he would vote to let them come into town.
Arnold said this is another question without a perfect answer.
“We already have a box store in town: Amazon,” he said. “It’s cheaper to order on Amazon than it is to drive to Anchorage. It’s cheaper and it comes to my door.”
Arno considered this a “loaded question.”
“Everyone should have competition. Unfortunately, I’m in dirt work and there are more and more people that think they get can get rich with a dump truck,” he said. “Competition is good. It keeps the costs down for individuals.”
Saying he isn’t opposed to box stores, he added it isn’t government’s responsibility or duty to say who can or cannot come to Homer. “You can spend your money where you want to spend your money.”
Question 5: Now comes a question that is the talk of the town these days. Knowing that the number one complaint from cruise ship
passengers and other visitors is the lack of
public restrooms in our town, how would you solve this necessary need?
“That’s actually a moot question considering the city’s contracted to have big bathrooms made here in town,” said VanDyke. “I would have taken that money and put in a string of summer-only restrooms that don’t have to be heated, don’t need art sitting inside them, won’t be vandalized because in winter they’re locked up.”
Unable to count the number of businesses that post “no public restroom” signs, Van Dyke said, “If someone comes into my business and needs to use the restroom, they’re more than welcome.”
Arnold recalled when he was 5 years old and his grandmother took him to the restroom at Anchor River Inn.
“We bought a candy bar because I needed to use the bathroom and I still practice that today. They provide a service and you provide something back,” he said.
He objected to the use of “free money,” cruise ship head tax dollars, to build the restrooms.
“It’s not free money. Somebody paid for it. We need to back off spending someone else’s money like it doesn’t matter,” he said.
Drawing a laugh, Arno said, “We live in Alaska. We’ve got lots of trees around here.”
Comparing the $1 million cost to construct four public restrooms to the $260,000 he spent to build his home, Arno said, “That’s craziness.”
Zak said this is one of those matters when he was the lone dissenter on the city council.
“Just because it’s someone else we obtained the money from, do we necessarily need $400,000 bathrooms?” said Zak.
He also said he is “a little miffed” that a restroom was put in the WKFL Park. “I don’t think that was a good idea at all. That was a real disservice to what that park was originally intended for,” said Zak.
In closing, Arnold reminded the audience of his efforts to get the initiative to repeal the plastic bag ban on the ballot.
“I’m pretty proud of it and hope people will look at it and take the chance to vote,” said Arnold.
Arno pointed out he is running because he is tired of government waste.
“This is probably one of best towns in the world to live in,” said Arno. “I’d like to be a voice for the people. Even if you don’t vote for me, get everybody out there to vote. It’s our voice and we need to make it heard.”
Zak said he is encouraged that two of the four candidates would be elected and there are opportunities for the other two to serve on commissions or boards or in some other capacity.
“What can we do to create sustainable businesses? Growth from the bottom up, community members supporting business,” said Zak. “I appreciate your vote, have enjoyed serving you for past five years and I’ll keep in there fighting for you and your voice.”
Echoing Zak’s comments, VanDyke said, “I think that any pair of us will be a great asset on the city council. … If you feel the same way I do, vote for me. And tell everyone you know.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky.homernews.com.