Between now and Oct. 2, Raven News will profile the candidates for municipal office. Today’s profile focuses on Mim McConnell. All three candidates will appear live on Raven Radio the evening of Sept. 18, to answer your questions.
Mim McConnell arrived in Alaska in 1975, aboard the state ferry Columbia. In the time since, she’s lived in Juneau, Port Alexander and, as of 1998, Sitka.
“My husband and I, Mike McConnell, we were living in Auke Bay on our boat,” she said. “There were some other friends living there, and we were all talking about where to go next. And somebody was saying, ‘Well, Sitka has really good moorage rates.’”
Those rates are going up. The Sitka Assembly voted at its last meeting to raise them for one year. McConnell, who now lives on land, and has been on the Assembly since 2009, was the only vote against the increase. She said she wanted fishermen to have a say in the matter. It speaks to something McConnell considers one of her strengths.
“I like to bring people together. I like to mediate. I like to build consensus,” she said.
And she says that would be her hallmark if she were elected mayor – making sure various voices are heard on contentious city issues.
“There is no one person who has all the answers,” she said. “The answers come from people working together and feeding off of each others’ energy, and hearing other ideas and brainstorming, and boy, before you know it, you’ve got a new idea you never would have thought of on your own. Mim McConnell can’t come up with all the answers, but I know how to bring people together, and I know how to listen to people, and I know that we will find the answers, together.”
McConnell says she’s running for mayor because she believes she has leadership skills that can help, and that it’s not intended as a referendum on Mayor Cheryl Westover.
“It’s been a positive experience overall. Obviously, I haven’t agreed with everything, every decision she’s made. I wouldn’t expect that of anybody,” she said. “I just think what I have to offer is different, and is something that’s needed in our community at this time.”
She says she’d also like to improve Sitka’s government-to-government relationships. City hall regularly interacts with federal agencies, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and state government. McConnell says there are stronger partnerships to forge there.
“I would like to see the city doing more to support the (U.S.) Forest Service in our community,” she said. “They’ve lost a lot of staff, a lot of funding, and I would like to see that change. I think the Forest Service is a really important form of government in Sitka.”
One inter-government relationship that’s experienced some tension is with the school board, during conversations about the school district’s budget.
“I wouldn’t say that the relationship is in trouble, but it might be fragile,” she said.
During one meeting, then-Assembly member Terry Blake accused Superintendent Steve Bradshaw of yelling at him. Bradshaw apologized and said he just tends to speak loudly. During another, the school board and an Assembly member took exception to Mayor Cheryl Westover when she suggested that the schools are a business, and should be run as such.
McConnell says a lot of that tension could be avoided, especially if the Assembly could figure out a way to let the district know earlier how much money it will receive from the city.
“One way of the Assembly doing that is recognizing the importance of education in our community, and funding it to the greatest extent possible,” she said.
McConnell also says she’d like to see Sitka’s tourism sector grow. That includes branding efforts to better sell the community’s attributes to potential visitors. But she says it also includes making the town more appealing year-round.
“I would really like to see more happening during the winter months. I think that would help diversify our economy. That’s where we gain our strength, that diversification,” she said. “If you have that in a community, you’re going to have a pretty healthy community. If one segment of that economy struggles – is having a bad time – then you have all the other ones that kind of help carry the community through.”
She uses fishing as an example.
“When fishing has a down year, it doesn’t completely ruin the community. The community survives, and it’s resilient. It bounces back,” she said. “If we have more things going on here in the wintertime, that’s going to help spread out the tourist or visitor industry in town, or strengthen it. It’s going to make it more resilient.”