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Thursday night’s forum covered a lot of ground, and we’ll get to that in short order, but first, a wish list, if you’ll allow. We began by asking each Assembly candidate to imagine they were made the ruler of Sitka, and that they had complete authority to make any change they wanted.
“I think we’d give the businesses in Sitka more options, and start listening to them,” said Terry Blake, one of the candidates. “Find out what they need. How can they be successful? As entrepreneurs and business people, how can they collectively come up with a plan and bring it to the Assembly so that they can be successful. Because if they struggle, Sitka will struggle.”
Michelle Putz said Sitka’s headed in the right direction, but that one of the things she’d hope to do is promote more consensus on community issues – to foster more discussions about common goals, and to add more voices to that conversation.
“We have different types of communities,” she said. “The Filipino community. The Native community. We don’t all do things together, and I think that together we can get a lot more done than we can separately.”
Jack Ozment said if he were the appointed ruler of Sitka, and could make one thing happen immediately, it would be getting bulk water sold out of Blue Lake. The city is looking to sell water from the lake for a penny a gallon.
“If we could do that, get a ship out of here every other week or so, it would certainly take care of our funding problems – our revenue problems,” Ozment said. “We would then be able to do just about any project that we would be interested in doing to help out our community.”
Thor Christianson said bulk water sales came to mind for him, too, but that accomplishing it “might take more than a king. It might take a deity.”
Christianson says his one wish would be to make it easier for citizens to navigate city government.
“Any time you’re dealing with government, it’s painful,” he said. “The more streamlined the more responsive we are to our customers. The happier people are with their government, the easier it will be to do business.”
Every candidate said they support a multi-purpose dock at Sawmill Cove Industrial Park that could handle cargo ships as well as cruise ships. One listener asked why they support a dock for cruise ships when the issue has been voted down twice before. Christianson said the difference is location.
“There’s a huge difference between parking a cruise ship underneath the O’Connell Bridge, and having it 5 miles out the road,” he said. “It’s not the same thing at all. The talks that were discussed before – they would have been useable for freight, but they wouldn’t have been very convenient for it. It’s a different animal.”
The candidates differed on economic issues. Putz said Sitka’s future lies in smaller jobs rather than large-scale manufacturing. Christianson said there are places for government to help businesses get started, but then it should get out of the way. Ozment said Sitka’s major employers need to be maintained and enhanced. Blake took a two-pronged approach, saying Sitka needed to be more welcoming to the tourism industry…
“But the difficulty that we have is we need year-round employment here. We need to attract young families. We’re losing young families,” Blake said. “The 20 to 30-year-old adults that have children. This year our school system has suffered because of that. I would really like to find some bright young entrepreneurs – attract them, welcome them to Sitka – so we can have year-round employment; not just seasonal.”
A listener asked about the city’s comprehensive plan, which is a guiding document drafted in 1999 that’s supposed to guide future decisions on various community development issues. The plan is undergoing an update that includes community involvement. The listener wanted to know how rigidly the candidates would adhere to the plan if elected.
“A big process that involves the community is a great idea,” Putz said. “I think we should be using that comprehensive plan. Why put an effort into all these plans if you’re not going to use them, essentially with a lot of your decisions? There’s a lot of work put into them. You might as well use the good work that goes in and the community support that goes behind them.”
Blake said he would respect the opinions of the professionals who helped develop the plan. Ozment said it’s hard to answer because decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. And Christianson – who was on the Assembly when the plan was drafted – said he’d vote against the plan if the situation called for it. The update should make the plan broader, he said, because specifics laid out in the plan can change by the time a decision come up.
There were a couple questions directed at specific candidates. One listener said Christianson was a lightning rod for controversy when he was on the Assembly, and wanted to know if he’ll approach the position differently if elected again.
“Yes and no,” he said, adding that it’s his responsibility to speak his mind, and that he represented a point of view in conflict with others on the Assembly when he served between 1998 and 2004. “But I like to think that I can be reasonable. I’m a few years older. I will try to say something nice about everybody before I even start talking. I try and do that anyway, and listen to people, and do my best to not be a lightning rod for conflict. But at the same time, if I feel something is wrong, I’m going to have to speak up.”
Ozment – who currently sits on the Assembly – fielded a listener question about Dove Island Lodge, which up until this year had been at odds with the city about the number of guests it was allowed to host, and other issues. The listener said the Assembly gave in to everything Dove Island wanted from the city, and wanted to know what new information came to light, and why Ozment didn’t feel the need to disclose it.
“Part of that’s true, part of that isn’t,” Ozment said. “We did not agree to everything that Dove Island wanted. We did change our strategy, our status, and I’m still not in a position where I can divulge all the information that we received. A lot of that was due to a court case. We are not in a position where we can give out all that information.”
For legal reasons, Ozment says.
The ballot will ask Sitka voters to elect two candidates, though a third could end up on the Assembly if current member Cheryl Westover is elected mayor. The election is October 5th.
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