Homer Alaska - Elections

Story last updated at 5:04 PM on Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Council candidate debate is cordial

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

Anyone expecting a cutthroat, partisan debate walked into the wrong building Sept. 18 when the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center held the first of three debates at the Kachemak Community Center among candidates in the municipal elections. On Sept. 18, the chamber sponsored a debate with Homer City Council candidates Beau Burgess, James Dolma and Francie Roberts. Voters will pick two candidates to fill two 3-year seats on the council. All three candidates were polite, cordial and respectful of each other.

Burgess set the tone when he introduced himself. The newest member of the council, he was appointed last April to a seat vacated by Kevin Hogan, who resigned after he filed a lawsuit against the city.

"In my opinion there isn't a single council member whose heart and soul isn't devoted to this town and community," Burgess said. "It's been a pleasure to work with them."

Moderated by KBBI AM 890 News Director Aaron Selbig, most of the questions probed the candidates for their opinions on issues important to business, such as when Selbig asked if the candidates felt business interests were well represented on the council. Each candidate saw questions in advance and had time to prepare their answers.

"We are diverse," Roberts said in response to the first question. "I would like to remind people the people who shop at businesses pay the sales tax."

Dolma agreed.

"Businesses for the most part are people and their families," Dolma said. "When you go to the store, those are your neighbors, those are your friends."

Burgess said the council could better represent business. Many of the current council members work in the public sector, he noted. A small business owner and entrepreneur who owns a bookkeeping and a construction company, Burgess has not been shy in pointing out that he offers a different voice. He's also the only council member under age 30. Roberts, a two-term council member, is a Homer High School math teacher and Dolma is a case manager at the Center, Homer's community mental health center.

"It's good to have some public sector, some private sector," Burgess said. "There could be more entrepreneurs, more business minded."

Roberts noted that the public sector is tied to the private sector.

"If we have a downturn in our economy, we wouldn't have as many employees at the hospital," she noted.

In another question about business, Selbig asked if the candidates would support an ordinance that said if a change in code created a direct cost to business it would be delayed to take effect in a year and could be rescinded during that time. All said "no."

"I wouldn't support that," Dolma said. "I don't want to cut off any options. Depending on what the ordinance is, the time frame is going to vary."

Burgess agreed, saying a legislative body's hands shouldn't be tied with more rules. The council could have allowed more time with sign code changes to take effect. With the nonusable plastic bag ban he supported, Burgess said an amendment was made to delay its effect until January. Businesses also would be allowed to use up any bags purchased before the new year.

"There's no alternative to participation in local government," Burgess said. "If you have a problem with what the council is doing, lend your voice. If you feel that your bottom line is affected, jump in the game. Offer your input. Offer your support."

Roberts also agreed with Dolma and Burgess.

"Nor would I support a similar idea that something detrimental to the environment would be delayed until environmentalists had a year to rescind it," she said. "The Open Meetings Law causes these ordinances to be advertised ... With the advent of the Internet, even very busy people are able to comment by email."

In yet another display of agreement, Roberts and Burgess also backed similar ideas for building out the natural gas line in Homer — the special assessment district both voted to initiate that will bring natural gas to most every lot inside city limits.

"The city's main role should be to provide financing for businesses and homeowners to finance their build-out," Roberts said.

"A city led and city initiative local improvement district is the best way," Burgess said. "Natural gas is not a luxury. It is a competitive must."

Dolma said he hadn't decided on the best way to do a build-out. He noted that a small lot with a small house would pay the same per-lot cost as someone with a large lot and a big business.

"Should those people pay the same amount?" he asked, noting that in terms of energy savings, the pay back could be 10 years for one property owner and 10 months for another.

In response to a question about roundabouts vs. traffic lights, all three candidates were unanimous in their support of roundabouts.

"They're safer and in the long run less maintenance," Dolma said.

"They're safer, cheaper, easier to maintain," Burgess said. "There tend not to be fatal accidents."

He did say that he would avoid traffic control until absolutely necessary.

Roberts said roundabouts aren't the answer for every intersection, such as short-term traffic jams at Paul Banks Elementary School during the morning and afternoon. Of the two problem intersections recently mentioned as candidates for roundabouts, Main Street and the Sterling Highway and Lake Street and Pioneer Avenue, Roberts said she favored roundabouts.

In response to a question on what can be done to attract and keep working families in businesses in Homer, Roberts and Burgess agreed on the number one solution: build out the gas pipeline.

"Keep it exciting and beautiful," Burgess said.

Keep working on quality of life, Roberts added. "That's what attracts businesses to the city of Homer," she said.

Dolma said when looking at issues of things like public safety vs. libraries, there doesn't have to be a choice.

"When you have a place where the librarian is the most important job in town, you don't need police," he said. "That's the kind of town I want."

In their closing statements, the candidates praised the process more than themselves.

"I am running because I care about Homer," Roberts said. "I want Homer to become the best it can be."

Dolma said he had enjoyed debating and campaigning, but liked the process more.

"What I like about this council is not talking and debating, but getting the information, crunching the numbers and making the decisions that are best for the city of Homer," he said.

Being a council member isn't easy, Burgess said he has discovered.

"I really had no idea what I was in for. I knew I wanted to contribute and was tired of being part of the cacophony complaining about the council and (wanting to get) some skin in the game," he said. "No matter who you vote for, get involved. Be active in your local government. That helps us make better decisions."

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.