Homer Alaska - Elections

Story last updated at 6:29 PM on Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Assembly District 8 Candidates Cooper, Smith, Zak talk their strengths

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Kelly Cooper

Kelly Cooper

Communication and coordination are what Kelly Cooper, a candidate for District 8, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, said she sees as her strengths.

"Communication's really my leadership style," Cooper said. "I want to be part of the solution — get the right people in the room and utilize those skills and bring them all together."

A Kachemak City resident for nine years, Cooper works as a commercial insurance agent. After moving here with her family, Cooper jumped into the community by volunteering for organizations like the Boys & Girls Club and Little League. She now serves on the South Peninsula Hospital Inc. Operating Board, but said she would resign if elected.

She came to appreciate the hospital better when her late husband Jim Cooper got pancreatic cancer.

"I couldn't have been anywhere else and received the care we received," she said.

Cooper first thought of running for Milli Martin's old seat, but then realized she was just over the district boundary. When the District 8 seat came up for election, Cooper decided to run.

"I think we do need a voice like mine at the assembly level," she said. "I've always been fascinated by politics and threatened to do it."

Cooper's work on the SPH Inc. Operating Board has given her good experience in borough politics, she said. As an example, she mentioned an issue that came up with completing the enclosure for the MRI facility at the hospital. Some on the assembly balked at issuing a change order to allow the building to be finished.

"We lobbied the heck out of that. We came up with a solution for them before they could vote it down at the next meeting," she said. "I think you need to be ahead of the game, be proactive."

That proactive, forward thinking makes her a good candidate, Cooper said.

"I have a different way of looking at problems, thinking out of the box, coming up with solutions," she said.

If elected, Cooper said she would keep citizens better informed.

"I think we need to be more transparent," she said. "It's important to have more two-way communication."


Bill Smith

Bill Smith

Longtime Alaskan Bill Smith just celebrated his 50-year class reunion. A member of the Anchorage High School class of 1961 with fellow Homerites Al Waddell and Russ Grainger, Smith moved to Alaska before statehood and to Homer in 1974.

Smith has been a longtime volunteer for organizations like KBBI Public Radio, but didn't get into public service until he joined the Homer Advisory Planning Commission in 1997, serving until 2004.

"Before I got to the planning commission, I'd never spoken up at a meeting or gone to meetings or anything," he said.

Elected in 2007 to fill out the balance of former Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Deb Germano's District 8 seat, Smith was elected to full term in 2008.

Why's he running again?

"There's a question I ask myself when I get home at midnight or one o'clock in the morning and my alarm is still set to go off at 6:30," Smith said.

More seriously, he said he finds working on the assembly gratifying.

"I can do stuff for people," Smith said. "I can find ways to make positive differences."

Smith cited helping Kachemak City deal with zoning issues, getting salmon stream protection passed and straightening out borough hiring processes. For Homer's capital project request to extend a natural gas pipeline from Anchor Point south, Smith did the research to show how borough and other public buildings would benefit from going to cheaper natural gas.

"I put together that list," Smith said. "We needed to have that foundation of the benefits we could get out of that."

When he ran into philosophical differences with other assembly members like Charlie Pierce on issues like climate change, Smith said he looked for how to reach common ground.

"You pitch it on the basis of taking less dollars out of the taxpayer's pocket," he said of ideas like energy audits.

Rather than say why he's the best candidate, Smith said, "I can say what I've done and what I expect to do and let people be the judge."


Bryan Zak

Bryan Zak

In his six years living in Homer, real estate agent and rental cabin owner Bryan Zak has immersed himself in public service since moving here in 2005. A former member of the Homer Advisory Planning Commission, Zak was elected in 2008 to fill out the remaining two years of former Council member Lane Chesley's seat after Chesley resigned. Zak was re-elected in 2010. Zak also serves as director of the Southwest Region Small Business Development Center.

Zak said he decided to run for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly District 8 seat when he thought incumbent Assembly member Bill Smith couldn't run because of term limits. When the assembly passed an ordinance changing the term limit to two 3-year terms, and thus making it possible for Smith to run again, Zak stayed in the race.

"I know that I can represent the people here in Homer — the south peninsula — and serve this district well," Zak said.

Through his civic involvement, Zak said he has come to know many of the issues community members face. Recently, Zak unsuccessfully tried to get the Homer City Council to pass a resolution asking the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries to use new economic information before adjusting the guided sport fishing halibut allocation under the proposed catch sharing plan.

"It was tough to stand up and push for some sort of letter," Zak said of that resolution.

Zak said Homer needs to develop community leaders and people need to step up — another reason he's running. Voter apathy is a real issue in politics now, he said.

"I'm just hoping we can overturn that so more citizens start to have trust and get back involved," Zak said. "I'm finding that really involvement's the key to making great things happen to your community."