Election Coverage

Mayoral candidates have busy night on the phones

Mayoral candidate Mim McConnell (center) answers a listener question while candidate Thor Christianson (left) and Mayor Cheryl Westover (right) listen in. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Before we go on the air with a candidate forum, we prepare a long list of questions, in case nobody calls or writes in. Tuesday night, we didn’t get a chance to ask a single one of our own questions — and we’re so glad.

Thanks for your phone calls, e-mails and Facebook posts. We’ve broken last night’s 85-minute show into three parts. You can listen below to each.

Part 1: Introductions and priorities, the Blue Lake dam, affordable housing, and support for nonprofit organizations.

Part 2: Filling Assembly vacancies, courting cruise lines, a sustainable Sitka, marketing bulk water, and addressing at-risk youth.

Part 3: Spending on a museum, long-range planning, road repairs, marine haul-outs, low-cost housing, and the sanity of politics.

For our newscasts, we took one issue and did a side-by-side comparison of where the candidates stand.

Listen to iFriendly audio, or:

One of the risks inherent in having a call-in forum is that nobody will call-in. Tuesday night, that was not a problem.

You called, you posted on Facebook and you e-mailed. Lots of issues came up, but for the purposes of this story, we’re going to focus on one.

Back in March 2011, the Assembly did away with Sitka’s Long Range Planning and Economic Development Commission. The group had come to the Assembly seeking guidance on its mission. All three candidates voted on the commission’s future at the Assembly table. Christianson and Westover voted to do away with the group. McConnell wanted to keep it.

On Tuesday night, a listener e-mailed to ask the candidates about that decision. He wrote that Sitka hasn’t had any new ideas for economic development lately, and wondered how the candidates felt about their decision in 2011.

Mim McConnell was first to answer.

“I would definitely like to see a long-range planning commission come back again,” she said.

McConnell said she didn’t know exactly what form that would take, or whether it would include economic development. The city already contributes money to the Sitka Economic Development Association for that function.

But, she added: “We need a commission to be working on planning, and I have lots of ideas on the type of planning that could happen, and would love to task a commission to get to work.”

Christianson said if the Long Range Planning Commission had been the only ones doing the work, he might have voted differently. But that to him, there appeared to be a lot of duplicated efforts.

“I’d like to see us actually do the planning with the groups we have. If there’s a need, I wouldn’t have a problem with forming something temporarily,” he said. “Part of the problem with that commission is that it was formed permanently, and I think we have the task, and then we create the group to do that task. When we have the next task, we create another group.”

Westover agreed that there was duplication, and not a whole lot of direction:

“I haven’t seen the need and, at the time, when people said ‘We don’t have long-range planning,’ well, I agree with almost everything Thor said. We have SEDA making economic decisions, we’ve got our planning commission, we’ve got our police and fire commission, and more importantly, we have city staff, we’ve got public works, and if people would take time to see what they’ve done, they’ve got a road plan, they’ve got building plans…”

Westover added that it seemed like city officials were having a hard time keeping boards and commissions full.

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