There are two open seats on the Assembly. And Port and Harbors Commission Chair Kevin Knox is vying for one of them. The lifelong Sitkan got his start in public service through seaplanes and swim coaching, but it’s the cost of living on the land that’s motivating him to run for the first time. 

Downloadable audio.

Kevin Knox has served on Sitka’s Port and Harbors Commission for three years. He got involved to push for a new seaplane base. Now, as Chair, he helps shape critical decisions about Sitka’s harbors. From float maintenance to setting moorage rates, Knox says he’ll cast his vote only after doing one thing first: listening. 

“You don’t want to make these decisions in vacuums.  You want to do what’s best for as many people as you possibly can. The only way you can do that is by talking to people and  having people come and talk to you,” Knox said in an interview with KCAW.

Knox says he’s most proud of this – being a fair listener. Though he’s best known among the recreational boat and seaplane community – he’s a board member on the Southeast Alaska Aviation Association (SEAKAA)  – Knox makes a point to seek out the opinion of commercial users too.  He’ll ask questions such as, “How do you feel like your services are? Where do you want to see things go in the future?  What do you think about what if this happened or this happened?”

In running for the Assembly, Knox has been going on a similar listening tour. He’s spent the past few weeks meeting with business owners, non-profit directors, and others. Drawing upon those conversations, his top two priorities are affordability and equity among Sitkans.

When it comes to housing development, Knox wants to see not only lots put up for sale, but at a price that’s truly affordable. “We don’t only need view lots that are going to go for $200,000 to $300,000 dollars. We need things that other people can afford. And not box apartments. That doesn’t fit everybody’s needs either. Single family units that are more affordable are critical and higher density multi-family as well,” he said.

Knox’s family moved to Sitka in 1973. He graduated from Sitka in 1989 and after living abroad and in Seattle, returned in 2009. He has seen with his own eyes the lapse in state dollars that demands new sources of revenue. While he supports the tourism industry, he doesn’t envision a “big bump in our headcount.”

Instead,  Knox is most interested in tapping new markets and adding value to Sitka-made products. “Pink salmon goes in fillet-form to European markets. Fifteen years ago, pink salmon was not ever filleted and sent to market. But we see value in it. Because other people see value in it and they will pay for that,” he said.

Knox circled back to this concept of “value” a lot. He mentioned how one nonprofit director gave him this analogy for why people live in Sitka. 

Say a top end restaurant says, ‘This plate of spaghetti is worth $25.’ Whereas, you could down the street to another restaurant that has a very similar plate of spaghetti that’s only $12. But the restaurant that has the $25 plate of spaghetti is constantly packed. People are willing to pay for it because there is such a high value on it. We value our harbors. We value our arts and culture because we see them as great. Put that high value on them. It’s not just a feeling it’s about what we’re able to do with our products.

But Knox recognizes Sitka will have to look internally for revenue as well. When it comes to taxes, he’ll be voting yes on this October’s ballot question to raise the cap on the mill rate. And he considers the Assembly’s idea to eliminate the sales tax on groceries – if that question passes – as a step in the right direction. “Sales taxes are the most regressive tax that we can place on our citizens. Especially on groceries. When you look at an essential need and service, everyone has to buy food and it hurts the people at the lower income levels when we’re taxing groceries,” he said.

Knox tussled with the decision to leave the Port and Harbors Commission, if elected to the Assembly. In fact, other have actively discouraged him from running because of the tough decisions faced by the current Assembly. “I’ve had a couple of people try to talk me out of running. They’re concerned that this body is going to be looked at – if things don’t go well – fingers will be pointed to say, ‘It was there fault. They didn’t’ do the right thing.’

But Knox isn’t deterred. He wants Sitka to “look for more silver linings” and is running because he wants to dig into the bigger picture decisions that ultimately will affect his own family, which includes his wife Maggie and his son Theo.

[My family is] going to know different. They’re going to know, for sure, that I worked hard to do my best to get the most information in and make decisions that I feel are best for the community. And I’m really invested in this place. I’m not going anywhere. And I’m not going to do anything that would damage this place on purpose. Why would I do that? I have investment here. I have a life here. And I want to stay here.

The municipal election in Sitka is Tuesday, October 4, 2016. In addition to voting for assembly, Sitkans will choose one school board member and a mayor.

Read Kevin Knox’s full candidate statement here.