Homer Alaska - Elections

Story last updated at 5:50 PM on Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Candidates for Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor 3-Year Term Questions and Answers


When voters go to the polls Tuesday to choose a new borough mayor in a runoff election, they'll have two distinct choices: Mike Navarre, 56, and Fred Sturman, 73. Both men have long histories in Alaska and on the Kenai Peninsula. They've both run private businesses. Both talk about fiscal responsibility and are invested in the community. One of Navarre's favorite causes is the Kenai Peninsula Boys and Girls Club; for Sturman, it's veterans. He's involved in getting Christmas packages to peninsula veterans serving in harm's way. There the differences appear to end. Navarre is a former borough mayor and state legislator. Sturman has never held elected office, but has been active in the group Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers and frequently attends and testifies at assembly meetings.

Recently, the Homer News visited with both men and asked the following questions.

Voters will have the chance to hear both candidates in a Friday forum, sponsored by the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. The forum will be from noon-1 p.m. Friday at AJ's Oldtown Steakhouse and Tavern. The format includes a moderator asking the candidates questions. The event is open to the public. An optional lunch is $12 for chamber members and students, $14 for non-members. Those planning to attend should RSVP by calling 235-7740.

1.It's fairly clear from the last election that voters don't want to raise taxes. With the taxes we now have in place can residents expect the same level of service they have had in the past? If not, what would you propose cutting? How is funding for schools affected? Do you believe residents of the Kenai Peninsula are overtaxed?

Navarre: The first point is, I'm not sure the recent votes actually reflected a lack of support for economic development or nondepartmentals. It may have simply been they didn't want that associated with sales tax and an increase in sales tax that currently is 100 percent dedicated to education. That's one part of it. Clearly they like the seasonal sales tax holiday. I think that the public should expect the same level of service and what the borough mayor should do and government should try to do in general is make sure we're meeting the community needs in a responsible manner both from a budget standpoint and from a delivery of service. So, I think the public is going to expect the same level of service.

As to how it's going to affect education, when the budget is put together and the school board and school administration comes forward with their recommendation and their requests for the borough, you have to see how that fits into the current budget as structured. There is always strong support for education, and if you make the determination for a level of expenditure you also have the responsibility to figure out how you pay for that whether that's taxes or user fees or both. Nobody ever likes taxes and I think that because of — mostly at the national level — the debate about taxation et cetera, I think people feel that they're overtaxed, but I think if you evaluate it based on the level of service that the public is getting, the fact that most of our money goes to education, which has great support, and if you evaluate it in those terms and the process that it goes through to get to that determination of level of taxes, I don't think we are overtaxed here.

Sturman: I think we're overtaxed, but I don't plan on laying anybody off or cutting services right away. I'm going to work with the employees first and let them help me to come up with ideas and places to cut in the budget. I think there's a lot of stuff in the budget we can find and cut out of the budget and still have the same services we have today.

Schools are well funded. If you'll look at 10 years ago, the (school district) budget was $73 million; today it's $145 to $148 million and we lost 1,200 kids and we lost 200 kids this year and they had to refund the borough $670,000 this year. It's more than doubled with fewer students.

2. Sometimes the southern Kenai Peninsula feels overlooked by the borough. If elected mayor, what would you do to reach out to this region? Do you think the southern peninsula is fairly treated and can you list some issues that illustrate why you think that?

Navarre: One of the ways I tried to operate the last time I was mayor and when I was in the legislature, you have to travel to the community and listen to the community and give the public the opportunity to provide input directly to the mayor. You also listen to the local government officials, the city government officials, the local elected assembly members, school board members, other community leaders and friends and citizens you know down there to provide you with information. I think communication is a real key. Are they treated differently? I know they sometimes feel that way. What I would try to do is determine why it is they feel that way and then try to correct the deficiencies in either the policy or the way we're delivering services that create that type of feeling.

With local government, you're in contact with them all the time, but the general public — giving them an opportunity to meet with the mayor, I'll try to do that by setting up meetings, letting them know when those meetings will be and see what response we get.

Sturman: I agree that you guys are not as represented as well as you ought to be. That's partially the borough's fault and partially the people's fault. The people don't go to the trouble to get the budgets and the agendas of the borough's meetings to study them. But it is the borough's fault, too.

Since I talked to you last, I did a little work with GCI. Homer, Seward Soldotna and Kenai, can put assembly meetings on cable TV with GCI. It will be a free feed. And you'll be able to watch the assembly on TV. I've talked to them. It would be no problem and it's very little expense to the borough. And I'm hoping that whenever I'm elected to get everybody's email and email assembly agendas. I hope to make it very easy to email the borough, so that with one click the email will go to the clerk, the mayor and all nine assembly members. I'm going to make it easier so you can stay in contact with the borough.

3. In the past, when cuts are discussed at the borough level, the Homer annex is often looked at as a possible cut. Would you propose cutting out the annex or reducing the hours?

Navarre: Right now I'd have to say no. I haven't looked at that, but I know that the Homer annex may have been added when I was mayor. I'm not positive. It was when Don Gilman was mayor or when I was mayor that we added a halftime position down there. I think it's important for community outreach and input to the mayor because again the mayor's job is a fulltime, administrative job with a lot of responsibilities so you have to have help with that communication, so having someone in Homer who's a Homer resident is important.

Sturman: I'll look at any cost savings in the borough. I'm not going to make you a promise that I'm going to keep it open or that I'm going to close it. We're almost to the point now we're going to have to start reducing. The other thing I want you to look at, if they go to the one halibut this year, we're looking at a large loss of money for the cities and the borough, which I hope don't happen. As long as the funds in the borough keep reducing, we have to start reducing costs. That's why I'm interested in people showing me ways and to help save costs.

I've made this statement several times: We're going to have to start doing more with less, and we can as long as we work together in the community.

4. Where does the repair of the Homer High School track fall on your priority list? In general, how would you address maintenance of school and other borough facilities so they don't fall into disrepair?

Navarre: I think, in general, the borough does a good job of maintenance the way that it's being done now. The maintenance responsibilities are handled by the borough, and only a portion of that is allocated into the school district budget. We spend a lot more on maintenance than we allocate in the school district budget so they can put those dollars into school operations, not maintenance. So, I think they're doing a pretty good job. I think what ends up falling through the cracks is things like tracks and playground equipment, things that aren't viewed as classroom provisions. So when the school district is struggling through their budget, they often get overlooked. And so it's a very high priority. I've met with the group that is working to get that track replaced or its complete renovation and I've told them whether I get elected mayor or not I'll help them accomplish that because I think it's a priority.

Sturman: Well, I feel that the track is with the school board. I think the school board has to help with some of these expenses that we have. I'll give you a little example here. If I was a businessman running mine, and I used to have a bunch of boats and engines and stuff. I always laid money back into an interest-bearing account to replace my engines and stuff with.

This is where the borough has failed in the years past, in my opinion, is we have spent all of the money and never laid anything back for large expenditures. We should have been putting, when we built the schools and stuff, we should have been putting a few hundred thousand dollars back for large maintenances that we know have to be done in the future.

For an example, I talked to a roofer the other day and the $16 million we're spending on the roofs that we bonded for he said if 10 years ago we would have spent a couple of million dollars and went in and cleaned and rehot mopped the roofs they would have probably lasted another 20 years, but we didn't do any interim maintenance along the way. We spent the money doing other things and that's why we have the large expense today. If we had laid some money aside in the years past, we wouldn't have had to spend $16 million to do the roof and we wouldn't be paying interest now on the $16 million. We would have been saving money when money was a little more flush in the community.

(Homer News: Some people say bonds are a cheap way to go, especially with schools because you get money from the state.)

Well, remember, the state is spending basically your money because the way our constitution is set up in this state is all the royalties belongs to you. So, remember every time the state spends money that is your royalty that should be coming to you. We should be careful of how we spend state money because the state is slowly, slowly being eroded by nonflow of oil through the pipeline. We're down to 590,000 barrels today, and at 250,000 barrels the pipeline will stop flowing and if we don't find some oil, we've only got a few more years until the pipeline will be shut down. We lost seven and a half percent of the flow through the pipeline last year. We was up to about 650,000 barrels and now we're down to 590,000 barrels, so we have to be very careful about spending the state's money too because they only have so much resources to spend on schools and et cetera.

5. If elected, who will your chief of staff be and why? What changes would you make in the organization of borough departments?

Navarre: I think the borough departments currently are pretty well organized. I don't know as to the department heads. I don't have any immediate plans to change that. That has to be done after evaluating the departments and talking with other people within the borough and people from the communities who deal with the borough to try to figure out what's working and what's not and then make that determination. As to a chief of staff, I can tell you the type of person I want. I want someone who's a good communicator. I want someone who can help me work with the assembly and with the communities to help build confidence by working together and communicating effectively. I want someone who will enhance relationship with the assembly and the communities and someone who's a strategic thinker. That's really the type of person that I want, if I hire a chief of staff.

My plans may be not to hire a chief of staff and instead hire administrative assistants with different areas of responsibility. And the two areas that come to mind are oil and gas, and economic development and health care and hospital issues. I think those are very diverse areas and you could assign other tasks to those individuals, but the main areas of their responsibility would be to help figure out some of the major issues that we have coming our way. And I'm someone who's a hands-on person, so I want information and data and people to sort of brainstorm and a team to help find solutions because no one has all the answers.

Sturman: I'll put it to you this way, I have no chief of staff hired. I have a few people in mind. The way I look at it, I don't have the job yet, but I will assure people that I'm not going in slicing and burning all the borough. I will pretty well leave the borough as it is until I see the people can work under my condition. Yes, my staff of four or five whatever it is will probably be replaced. At this point I am not in the position to say who my chief staff will be.

I will assure people who are voting for me that my chief of staff will have the same philosophies that I have and will be very visible. And I guarantee that him and I will work together in the most effective way to make this borough more pleasant and a better place to live in the future.

6. What uniquely qualifies you to be borough mayor? What do you see as your greatest weakness for the job?

Navarre: What qualifies me I think is that I've got the experience in the public sector and in the private sector in key administrative responsibilities. I've been head of our private companies for a long period of time, and I was also in the legislature and served as mayor for three years of the exact job I'm seeking not. I've still got a lot of contacts and relationships that I've built up over the years in the public sector and in the private sector. I served with Governor Parnell in the Legislature.

As far as my biggest weakness, I'd say maybe an occasional lack of patience, but only occasional.

(Homer News: Do you think your experience could be perceived as a weakness because of the distrust of government?)

It might be perceived that way, yes, because you know it's 'we need to change those career politicians,' but the reality is that I have not been a career politician. I served for 15 years in government and for the last 12 years I've run and grown a private family business which is very successful, so I've got private sector experience and know the impacts that government has from both sides. I think that should be viewed as a strength not a weakness.

Sturman: Well, probably my strongest strengths is that I'm a square shooter, I look at stuff in a long-term range instead of day to day, which, in the past, the borough has done. Every assembly meeting it seems like they're trying to figure out why they're going to spend some money or what they're going to do and any large business should have a long-term plan. I've never seen a successful corporation in my life that didn't have between a three- and a 10-year plan that they were going to work toward. And sometimes during that plan, there have been some pretty gloomy spots in it, but at the end, normally if you have a long-term plan that is economical and efficient to do, you'll have a very successful corporation and things will work smoothly and better in the long run.

Now my weakness. probably my worst weakness that I've got is I'm a little bit dyslexic. Other than that, I've worked and found ways to work around my dyslexia that I have. You can look at any of my records, any of my companies that I've had or owned, I know my weakness. I find people to take care of my weakness and I take care of my strong points. I've been really successful in Alaska since I've been here. I come here with very little and I've been well pleased in the way that I've done and worked at stuff in the past. We will work around my weaknesses and we'll take my strengths and use them for the benefit of the borough.

7. What's your primary take-away message for voters on the southern peninsula?

Navarre: Responsible government. Effective communication. And accountability. One of the things that I've said I want to do is rebuild public confidence in government and I want to do that by telling people what government is doing, why we're doing it, explaining it to them as the need arises and effectively communicating what we're doing, why we're doing it and how much it costs. And then listening to people from all over the borough, including the south peninsula about what their issues are, what their concerns are and then incorporating that into policy making and decision making.

Sturman: I want you guys to know down here that I don't want you to think you're not part of the peninsula. I want you to look at my solid waste proposal that I've got. I hope in the near future, probably in a few years, that we can get this solid waste plan going, if the numbers and everything works.

Other places in the United States, they have dug the old garbage up and turned it into energy and cleaned the land and the pollutants around the garbage dumps up. One thing about this plasma heat, it creates 10,000-degree heat and we can burn PCBs and other pollutants and destroy them and turn the ground and the earth back to its purity.

8.What do you want to talk about?

Navarre: I think the campaign really has brought out a lot of the discussion points and I think my message has been out there pretty well: the desire to rebuild public confidence by effective communication and listening and traveling to different areas of the peninsula to make sure they don't feel left out of the process. Responsible government — that's really what I'm talking about.

Sturman: I just want people to realize that money is slowing up on the peninsula. Just stop and think if you lost 12.9 percent, as a businessperson, of your gross sales, that is a real devastating percent of your gross sales. That's what we did last year on the Kenai Peninsula between tourism, oil and gas, and retail and wholesale and all of the different departments in our gross sales on the peninsula. We lost 13 percent of our sales. We have to watch our money. We can survive this stuff if we work together. I want to stress again: We can do more with less, but we need cooperation, we need people to work together and don't start squabbling. One thing I would love to do is bring people together who have disagreements in the borough into my office, two different people on different sides who disagree and sit down and talk about the problems that we have.