Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:58 PM on Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Questions & Answers :
     Candidates for Homer Mayor

1. What do you see as the most important role of Homer's mayor and why do you want the job?

Beth Wythe: From my perspective, the primary function of the Mayor is to provide leadership. The Mayor represents the interests of Homer within the community and on the regional, state and national levels. The Mayor also acts as a host to visiting government dignitaries, visitors from our sister cities and other groups.

Homer is a community of great diversity and as the Mayor it is important to provide leadership that does not place the interests of one group above the interests of another. It is important that the personal interests of the Mayor and Council not unduly influence the long-term needs of the City as a business organization, which is often difficult in a small community. Everyone has the opportunity to invest their personal time and funds in supporting the non-profit groups and organizations that are important to them, but when we come to the Council table our personal interests should not be in the fore front of the decision making process.

Bryan Zak: The most important role of Homer's mayor is listening to, encouraging, and working with the citizens while maintaining and building onto the city's infrastructure. The Mayor and council should serve the people of Homer not the other way around. To this extent a lot can be accomplished with a little understanding and hard work. In 2013, the natural gas line will be connected to city buildings and residents of Homer will be able to begin tying into this line. Having a clear plan and executing this plan in a timely manner is going to be my top priority.

City services of roads, safety, and infrastructure are important but building community is just as important. This is why I will strongly encourage the city council to include the "Pratt Museum" as well as improvements to the old "West Campus Building" within the top ten of their 2013 capital improvement projects list.

2. What tops your city to-do list? Why?

Beth Wythe: I am an avid supporter of economic development. The downturn in the economy is having a sizable impact on Homer's tourist based businesses, which is intensified by the continual battle over charter fishing regulations. This will have an impact on the greater Homer community and it is necessary to explore undeveloped and under-developed economic opportunities. The Economic Development Commission was reactivated several years ago and is beginning to pursue what the economy of the future may look like for Homer. As Mayor, I will continue to support the active pursuit of economic development that will bring business and jobs to Homer, but also fits with the sensibilities of our diverse community. It is unreasonable to act like we are not going to grow and change, so it becomes even more important that the community take an active role in determining how it is done.

Bryan Zak: Listed below are five items that top my to-do list. I consider these strategically important to the ability to set goals, objectives and to take actions.

1. Maintaining the strong community relations that Mayor Hornaday has done such a wonderful job of.

2. Working with commissions and building community networks.

3. The build out of the natural gas line and the associated plan to connect city buildings. Along with this plan should be a financial projection of the conversion costs and a cost savings plan that includes where eventual cost savings will be applied.

4. Sharing with the citizens of Homer the plan for the new "Borough" waste transfer site. Asking the citizens to work on ways to decrease the materials going into the transfer site.

5. Including the "Pratt Museum" and the "West Campus improvements" in the top ten of the 2013 capital improvements list.

3. What are your top three budget priorities? If you had to cut the city budget, what's the first place you would cut?

Beth Wythe: Because I believe that government should only provide those services that cannot be accomplished without that organized structure for the collection of funds and completion of large scale projects, my top three budget priorities remain the life and safety issues; police, fire and roads maintenance. If budget cuts are needed the first place that I would look is to continue the search for a user of the old middle school that would not require a large investment of capital by the City (which we don't have) and that would eliminate the financial burden on the City of maintaining that facility.

Bryan Zak: My number one budget priority would be to spend a little to improve the economy. I would highly encourage the city council to allow a non-profit such as the "Pratt Museum" to be included within the top ten priorities of the capital improvement projects list. Next, I would continue to support the build out of the port and harbor facilities that support future economic growth. The third area of the budget where I would place a priority is turning the "West Campus" into an economic engine and key community asset. If I had to cut the cities budget it would be in the area of utility costs as those are going to be coming down next year as the conversion to natural gas takes place. I would also place a priority on working with community organizations to find the common ground, where we can prioritize objectives by working together..

4. What is the city of Homer's major strength? What is the city's major weakness? What would you do to build on the strength and fix the weakness?

Beth Wythe: Without a doubt the strength, and often weakness, of Homer is found in the people. The culture is very diverse but when there is any problem everyone bands together to help. Be it a neighbor that is burned out of a home, or an illness that places an unusual financial strain on a family.

Where differences collide, this diversity becomes a weakness. Instead of approaching conflicting interests with the same unity found in times of trouble and focusing every effort on finding a resolution that best accommodates everyone; too frequently these conflicts seems to divide the community, resulting in moving backwards as opposed to forwards. My interest in serving on the Council and continuing on as Mayor is to find areas of agreement that will allow Homer to progress and flourish.

Bryan Zak: The city of Homer's major strengths are it's creative and diverse citizens and their individual contributions making this world a better place for all. The city's major weakness is its lack of infrastructure and inability to connect to and empower its citizens. The current processes by which the city council prioritizes its capital improvements and its budget lack real public input. By the time the little public input that is provided filters through various commissions and then through the council the result is a weak product that historically has resulted in little return. In order to build on the city of Homer's strengths I will continue recognizing individual achievements while also encouraging collaboration. Encouraging community leaders to participate at the Alaska Municipal League, occasionally attend Kenai Borough Assembly meetings, and networking with other communities will go far when it comes to achieving results.

5. What, if anything, should the city of Homer do to boost economic development?

Beth Wythe: Homer has a need for sustainable commerce that provides employees with earnings that are equal to the cost of living here. We need affordable housing for young families; we need more users on our existing water and sewer infrastructure to reduce service costs; and the list goes on. None of these things are possible without adopting an "open for business" attitude and actively soliciting the types of commerce that can thrive in this area.

Bryan Zak: The city of Homer advocates through its borough assembly members and area legislators to communicate their needs using the capital improvement list. This list is limited so many economic development projects never make it onto the list. What the city needs to do to boost economic development is to find ways to work with and encourage the many area non-profits, businesses and community action groups to take on key projects. This should include placing one or two of their suggestions onto the CIP list. Right now a lot of great projects and ideas never get anywhere because "they were not on the CIP list".

Citizens have many great ideas but often it seems we do not listen. One such idea is that of one-way streets and right turn only lanes. This idea makes the most sense and is the cheapest solution to our long-term traffic issues, not expensive traffic lights or roundabouts.

6. When is it appropriate for the city council to adjourn into executive session? What changes, if any, would you make to ensure city government operates as openly as possible?

Beth Wythe: The Council adjourns to executive sessions when discussing legal matters that must be held in confidence until they are resolved and when talking about employee issues. In the years that I have been on the Council I don't believe that the use of executive sessions has been misused. Understanding that people may feel like there is more information that can, or should, be discussed publicly, there are strategies of legal council that if discussed in open meetings would reduce the City's potential for winning a case. Likewise, when discussing employee issues it is important that the conversation remain confidential to protect the reputation of the individual.

The Council is diligent to disclose information as soon as it can become public, so I don't know that any changes need to be made. Information that can be made public is available to the public by request through the City Clerk's office.

Bryan Zak: I am sure the city attorney could provide you with a definition of when it is appropriate to adjourn to executive session. I believe this question is being asked because whenever the council does go into executive session it is limiting the information available to the public by cloaking their discussions. It is my belief therefore that executive sessions should be avoided and only used as a last result. If the council thinks an executive session is warranted perhaps the parties involved could be asked for their willingness to not go into executive session. Whenever the public is limited from inclusion in the "public process" we are limiting the net result. Or, if the reason for going into executive session is to avoid disclosing the city's position on a business deal, then after the deal is complete the discussion that occurred during the executive session should be shared.