Homer Alaska - Elections

Story last updated at 6:53 PM on Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Candidates for Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly District 8, Homer


1. The borough assembly has recently been questioned about how it weighs public testimony versus informal comments or emails. How will you base your decision making, if elected?


Kelly Cooper

Age: 50

Occupation: Insurance

Family: Children — Leo Cooper, Veronica Weiters, Carla Hurn and 3 granchildren


Organizations and special interests: South Peninsula Hospital Operating Board, Past President; Homer Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Past President;

Ways for voters to contact you: 226-2110 home, kellyforassembly@hotmail.com and on facebook, search "Kelly Cooper for Borough Assembly"

Kelly Cooper: Both are equally important. Due to the distance our district has to travel to personally testify, it's important for our assemblyperson to give frequent updates regarding pending and future assembly business as well as having a forum for our constituents to give their input. The assembly packets and agenda are available to read online but few people enjoy reading every item in a 250 page document like I do. A summary of upcoming business and items particular to the southern peninsula would be topics included in this forum. Transparency is vital to making our community feel involved and encouraged to participate in assembly matters.

Bill Smith: Decision making benefits from having a process to follow as opposed to processing everything into an ideology or set belief.

Does a comment by a citizen at an assembly meeting count for more than a citizen who talks to me at the post office? Must the assembly obey public testimony which is clearly at odds with the facts? When a citizen complains the assembly is not listening, does he mean we are not obeying like children who must obey their parents? If a dozen citizens express opinions, should those opinions determine assembly actions affecting the other 56,000 residents of the Kenai Peninsula Borough?

The answers, of course, are that it all depends on the substance and facts at issue.

My process is to first observe; which means reading, listening, asking questions and doing research. Next is orientation whereby the totality of available information is processed within the context of responsibilities, life experiences and, within the framework of assembly actions, legal requirements. Closely following orientation is making a decision and finally to act upon that decision.

This process is not a singular event, but must be followed again in a loop as the results of the act bring new information into the consideration. New information may initiate the loop even before an action is taken.

Assembly members do owe to the public an openness about their thoughts and explanation for their positions. Be open, be fair, be square.


Brian Zak

Age: 55

Occupation: Owner Alaska Adventure Cabins, Director Small Business Development Center

Family: Karen

Education: Master's degree from Eastern Washington University

Organizations and special interests: Rotary International, Economic Development District Board of Directors, Homer United Methodist Church

Previously held elected office and experience: Homer City Council

Ways for voters to contact you: bryanzak@aol.com or through my Kenai Borough Candidate website at www.bryanzak.com

Bryan Zak: You may contact me regarding any issue by meeting with me in person, through my website at bryanzak.com, by phone or email, or in person by providing your public testimony. As many of you already know I will listen to you and I will advocate for your concerns. Listening to you and taking action for you to me means that serving as an elected official comes with the responsibility of leadership. As an elected official I have always based my decisions on the combined information available.

When making decisions, I rely on a comprehensive strategy that is based on the best interests and betterment of the community. This comprehensive strategy serves as my strategic compass. Backing up my strategic compass is my own moral compass that I counted on throughout my Air Force career in ever-increasing leadership responsibilities. I believe that our community government has not only the responsibility for the life and safety of its citizens, but also the education and the creation of opportunities. In the Kenai Borough today, our government has the responsibility to step back when it comes to over regulation, or to recognize and support the local community when a higher level of government is severely impacting that community, and then to take action to prevent over regulation. I do believe in conservation of resources as long as a resource is not only being transferred through regulation to another economic entity resulting in no real conservation.

2. The assembly often makes decisions affecting the whole Kenai Peninsula, yet members are elected to represent specific areas. What is your philosophy regarding that balance of responsibility?

Kelly Cooper: First and foremost our assembly members need to stay away from the "us" versus "them" mentality. Our assembly members have a responsibility to advocate for our district but must also have the ability to be open-minded to the needs of our entire borough. Part of the balance of decision making for the entire Kenai Peninsula is to determine the level of need and potential outcome regardless of the area when prioritizing items on the assembly's goals and objectives for the year. Empathy is an important trait to have in this position. The ability to collaborate with other assembly members to bring success to projects in each district while being fiscally responsible requires the ability to bring others on board with a willingness to listen to all sides prior to final decision making. Our representative needs to maintain positive relationships throughout the state year round so when it comes time for lobbying, we've already developed a good foundation.

Bill Smith: The question conjures circumstances wherein the needs of a district may be at odds with the interest of the borough at large. Assembly members should weigh the best interest of the entire population of the borough when making decisions.

To me, this means having a sincere interest in the issues of all areas of the borough and making the effort and investment of time to explore and understand the needs of other areas besides the one I represent.

When it comes to representing the interest of my district, it means I should thoroughly understand the issue and, when presenting it to the assembly, do so in the context of the larger interests of the borough. It takes a majority of the assembly to make any decision, and that majority needs to agree the decision is in the best interest of the borough at large.

A clear example of this was the positive response from the assembly to my request to place the natural gas line to Homer on the capital project priority list for the borough. The supportive efforts of the assembly resulted in support from the House Finance committee and subsequent submission to the Governor.

My tenure on the assembly has seen the elimination of the old north/south divide on the assembly. This has taken work, an open mind, and respect. I respect all the other assembly members and have worked with all of them on various issues.

Bryan Zak: I know that I have a challenge ahead of me when it comes to ensuring District 8 and the Southern Peninsula is represented fairly and without prejudice. Through leadership and assisting all communities that make up the Borough discover new ways to help their communities, I believe the synergy can be created to provide opportunities that make me optimistic about our future. When I worked at the Pentagon on changing the culture of the "Air Force" one of the key drivers was to empower the people to find ways to do things smarter and better. There are an abundance of opportunities that we could take advantage of in our communities to do things smarter and better with less overall costs. Our schools, hospitals, Borough and city buildings and resources need to be sustained and maintained. We can learn from other communities that are sharing their successes and we can benchmark those communities to operate more efficiently and effectively. When we have small successes, we can celebrate those and together we can build a culture where success and greater opportunities becomes our way of life.

3. What is your philosophy on shaping the borough's budget, specifically when it comes to funding for the school district and the borough's non-departmental organizations?

Kelly Cooper: With our aging population, the school district enrollment is on the decline. This presents difficult budgeting concerns. Even with fewer students, we have the same overhead regarding the physical plants but this can be reduced significantly with changing to LEDs and re-commissioning the older buildings. We need to continue working to advocate for the state to implement 3 year forward funding for planning purposes and our assembly needs to take advantage of the invitation to have a couple of people at the table during the school district's budget process. I believe the school district is typically underfunded. This year has been an exception to the rule with additional funding from state and federal dollars. The education of our young people must be our priority and it's our responsibility to adequately fund the school district to give our students the tools necessary to continue outperforming the state in scoring. Money will also need to be spent to maintain and re-commission our aging buildings.

The non-departmental organizations should not be funded through a .1% sales tax. Each of these groups should go through the budget process each year. The assembly needs to see if each organization has been effective, monitor their progress and determine if we are duplicating efforts and funds in any areas. Our borough's needs may change from one year to the next and the funding level should not be set. I support continued funding for the non-departmental organizations based on merit and value.


Bill Smith

Age: 68

Occupation: Construction project manager

Family: Raised 4 children in Homer, 2 still live here, and one is in Anchorage, one in Boston. I have 9 grandchildren with one or more in each of the local school levels (elementary, middle, jr high, high school) here in Homer and two in college

Education: Ongoing. Graduated Anchorage High. Attended many various and sundry trade training events and college classes. Still taking classes with no destination in mind.

Previously held elected office and experience: Previously elected to South Peninsula Hospital Service Area board and twice elected to borough assembly. Served seven years on Homer City Planning commission, four years as chair. Served on borough planning commission. Served on numerous Homer City and non-profit's committees.

29 years as a small business owner doing mechanical construction, retired from active construction work to current position as a project manager.

Ways for voters to contact you: Voters can access my email at borough web site, find my telephone number in the book, or nab me in the store or post office.

Bill Smith: The borough general fund is separate from service area funds and they do not mix. The general fund receives roughly $70 million from all sources.

The school district is supported with 65% of the general fund moneys, and solid waste takes another 11%. Managing all the other general government functions absorbs the remaining 24% of the budget.

Non-departmental expenses actually include insurance, solid waste, school district expenses, post secondary education and others.

The "non-departmental organizations" related to economic development amount to .0067% of the budget. I have sponsored a ballot question aimed at moving this economic development expense from property tax to a small sales tax. This could help relieve pressure to raise the mill rate to maintain fund balance.

Two budget years ago, the assembly chose to fund the school district at less than the state designated maximum cap. This came after I found that the district had been paying expenses a year ahead and transferring unbudgeted money to an account that looked to me like a slush fund for extra money. The assembly then adopted my motion to reduce funding to $2 million below the cap. It turns out the district still had to return excess money to the borough. Funding below the cap for the school district for the last two budgets has saved the fund balance over $5 million.

The budget is a balancing act between services, tax rates, fund balance maintenance and necessary expenses. I will write of these in more detail in my larger essay.

Bryan Zak: My philosophy on shaping the boroughs budget is to fund both schools and non-departmental organizations, as both are important community stakeholders. Both entities have a role in contributing to a healthy and supportive community. Focusing on economic development that encourages growth and the creation of new jobs is a key role of the Borough. We want to provide a quality education for our youth and local career opportunities so they can stay in our community's long term and thrive. Our youth are the future leaders of all our communities.

The community stakeholders are organizations that provide proven programs that provide results that are focused on creating jobs, economic opportunities, marketing and that also serve as the catalyst for creating a culture that ensures that all citizens are provided opportunities for life long learning and improvement.

4. What issues specific to your area would you seek to address while serving on the assembly?

Kelly Cooper: Extending the natural gas pipeline to Homer and Kachemak City is number one on my list. A 40% savings in utility costs along with the jobs created getting the lines to each home is critical to the southern peninsula. As the Economic Development District's study showed last year, the number one obstacle for new business to the Kenai Peninsula is the cost of utilities.

The Homer high school track is in deplorable condition and must be addressed. The track is used by all of the sports programs as well as many events within the community. A cooperative effort between the school district and the community is needed to find the funding for this project.

Another item is the dollars saved by the energy assessments discussed earlier. South Peninsula Hospital is a borough facility. Their Support Services Director was proactive and started an energy assessment for this facility last spring. The savings for this facility alone by converting to natural gas would be approximately $200,000 annually. Converting from fluorescent to LEDs is another $200,000 savings with a relatively short payback on the conversion not to mention how environmentally friendly LEDs are compared to fluorescents. Re-commissioning older portions of the building was another item at the top of the list for future energy savings. This is a perfect example of how silos can be broken down. The results of this study can be shared with other borough facilities to create additional savings in our budget and a potential of more local jobs to complete the work.

Bill Smith: The upcoming term on the assembly from this district will be for one year only due to reapportionment. It is likely all assembly members will have their terms ended next year. There will be things which cannot be accomplished in one year, but will take a multi-year effort.

Remaining at the top of the list for our area is the extension of the natural gas pipeline from Anchor Point through Homer and on to the east end of Kachemak City.

Finding a way to restore the track at Homer High is a work in progress which may not be resolved in one year. It does bring focus to a problem of how this type facility has been managed and I have begun a process to find some long term solutions as well as rebuild the track.

On my list of things to do in the coming year, I would include exploring the idea of establishing a composting operation at the solid waste transfer station now in design to replace the landfill. At my request, we are exploring engineering design options for the new plant.

Working with the new HR manager to establish more accessible ways for citizens remote from the central peninsula to participate in assembly meetings.

Working with school district budgeting will remain a priority because it constitutes 65% of our budget.

I will continue to support the issues of the south peninsula regardless of which district they may be in.

Bryan Zak: Economic and environmental issues are the main areas that I will seek to address while serving on the assembly. Number one is communicating the critical importance of the South Peninsula gas line. The gas line will save the government, local businesses and residents a substantial amount of money and the savings can directly be infused into our communities.

The Southern Peninsula is facing a critical issue in finding a fair and equitable solution for all business owners that have been impacted by federal regulatory policies without an economic impact study. These policies have the potential to severely impact the ability to stay in business; especially those businesses that are dependent on just three short months to survive. These regulations will affect our tax base negatively, our ability to provide for our families and live in our community of choice.

There are also quality of life issues that have to do with deferred maintenance and funding needs. Just one example is the condition of the Homer High School track that has been neglected. By the end of this season without repair, it will not be suitable for utilization by our community. I will bring this to the attention of the borough and seek funding to make those repairs.

It would be an honor to represent District 8 to ensure our community is duly represented at the Borough level on all decisions that affect our community. Our communities face many of the same challenges and open dialog without prejudice is key to a well-defined plan moving forward.

5. What changes, if any, would you like to see the borough make concerning its future and direction and how would you work with the administration to make those changes?

Kelly Cooper: To answer this question is to discuss what I've learned while working on this campaign and in my years of volunteering. When you drill down from the borough to each organization and then to each citizen, I find the answers are already there. We have this wealth of knowledge waiting to be tapped by our citizens. It's not necessary to reinvent the wheel over and over. If people are asked for suggestions in their area of expertise, they will gladly share strategies and successes with you when it comes to issues that affect our future. Organizations that receive funding from the borough need to be held accountable. There comes a time when a program needs to be evaluated for its effectiveness versus cost and tough decisions must be made. Part of the effectiveness equation is doing more than studies and assessments; implementation of the plan is a large factor in validity of future funding. At the borough level, we don't have to have all the answers but we must have the ability to get the right people in the room to facilitate the borough's direction and future. The knowledge to know who to call, how to get them on board and the skills to develop and maintain these relationships today and in the future is what will make the assembly more effective and successful.

Bill Smith: The direction of the borough is primarily one of maintaining existing services. After schools and solid waste, the borough has maintained the same number of employees during the terms of the last four mayors. While always working to improve, the borough is not spending on unneeded services and major change does not appear to be needed.

A simple example of a change attempted was a proposal shutting down waste collection sites on Sundays to save money. That plan was scrapped after hearing from the public who wanted Sunday service continued.

Maintaining solvency comes down to maintaining a positive fund balance. The assembly has worked to balance income between property taxes and sales taxes. When the sales tax went to 3%, the mill rate was lowered to affect that balance. With the voter adopted initiative to institute a nine month food tax holiday, that balance is in question. It may be necessary to cut needed services and potentially raise the mill rate in order to compensate.

The ongoing challenge will be to maintain fund balance while keeping tax rates stable.

I have maintained a good working relationship with the mayor and have had positive results working with the current administration. If I am re-elected, I expect that will continue with the next administration.

I work with the administration and request review while developing an item for assembly action. This way I can incorporate needed changes early on. Often I have had the mayor ask to co-sponsor an ordinance or resolution.

Bryan Zak: I would like to initiate further discussion on short and long-term decisions and look at the costs associated with those decisions. For example, I would like to have an open dialog on potential ways to reduce the amount of trash sent to transfer stations from Homer and then hauled to landfills. I know of several communities faced with the same issues and they found creative new programs to effectively deal with waste in an environmentally friendly way, and it actually initiated several new micro-businesses. There are always ways to make improvements to a situation; we just need to be open to looking at complementary options.

In closing, the Borough is going to continue to grow in population and I will work to ensure the infrastructure is in place to support the growth, and that will require responsible planning. I will also work to provide support to the local communities and their efforts to accomplish capital improvements, infrastructure development, and community development through community schools programs, leveraging and collaborating with community stakeholders. I will also encourage programs that look at our aging population and ways in the borough to better care for and provide services. I will encourage smarter, better ways of transportation. The costs associated with maintaining roadways is going to be with us for a long, long time but at some point we may find a better way to commute, part of this answer will be my continued support of non-motorized user friendly trails.