So far, three Sitkans have filed to run for the Sitka Assembly and one for the Sitka School Board. The window to run closes on Friday, August 4th at 5 p.m.
Surgeon Dr. Richard Wein was the first person to toss his name into the local race, filing to run for the Sitka Assembly late Thursday (7-27-17). Current Assembly member Steven Eisenbeisz filed yesterday morning (08-01-17) and former Assembly member Benjamin Miyasato filed on Monday (7-31-17). There are three seats up for election.
The Sitka School Board has two open seats. Mt. Edgecume High School teacher Dionne Brady Howard is the only Sitkan to file so far. She was appointed to a 1-year term last year after the departure of Tim Fulton and wasn’t able to be reached for comment by press time.
If elected, Wein said his main priority is make it easier for the public to weigh in on on major issues.
“They key here is to involve the community and assess the community voice. As a physician, part of my job is to listen and to take complex information and distill it down into something that is workable. That is a process that needs to be enhanced,” Wein said.
Wein was especially critical of how the Sitka Assembly has handled talks between the city hospital and the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium.
“One of the most striking things was how little public input was sought — by going through a series of work sessions where no one’s allowed to speak. When there was an opportunity, [a citizen] would get 180 seconds to voice a coherent argument, which is really not possible,” Wein said.
Wein was a longtime surgeon at Sitka Community Hospital, before he was dismissed in February. As a non-city employee, he’s eligible to run for the Sitka Assembly and says he has an “itch to serve.”
Wein hopes his decision to run encourages other Sitkans to come out of the woodwork and do the same.
“Unfortunately service on the Assembly has become synonymous with ‘onerous.’ And I don’t necessarily think that that’s true. Sometimes things are made to appear prickly, like a prickly pear. But when you peel it back there’s something sweet and wonderful there. And I believe the same is true for Sitka government,” Wein said.
Steven Eisenbeisz, who own’s the outdoor gear store Russell’s, wants to serve another term to continue pushing for fiscally conservative decision-making on the Assembly.
“I’m hoping to continue a trend that I’ve seen over the last three years of the Assembly questioning new projects, questioning new expenditures, and hopefully being able to reign those to a sustainable level for our community,” Eisenbeisz said.
During Assembly meetings, he often gives the city’s budgetary decisions the most open scrutiny. If re-elected, he’s interested in tackling the affordable housing issue, which he sees as a separate problem from affordable home ownership.
“As we all know, rents are extremely expensive in Sitka. I’m hoping that some complex development could bring that rent down and keep some younger families in this town,” Eisenbeisz said.
He plans to do this by introducing legislation to create a tax incentive for the construction of apartments and housing complexes. Eisenbeisz is currently the Assembly’s liaison to the Sitka Community Hospital Board.
Benjamin Miyasato is also running for the Sitka Assembly, a position he held from 2013 to 2016. Last year, he ran for Mayor, but lost out to Matthew Hunter. The past year has been one of healing, he said. “My brother passed away. He was battling cancer. It was good to not focus on anything but my brother’s health the last months of his life,” Miyasato said.
And now, Miyasato said, he misses the work and is ready to return. He’s retired from active duty in the Alaska Army National Guard and had a long run as a council member for Sitka Tribe of Alaska, but resigned in January over alleged abuses of power by fellow council members.
Miyasato says numerous Sitkans have urged him to run again for the Assembly, where he often tracked vacancies on the city’s committees and publicly called upon Sitkans to serve. There’s no major policy issue he wants to tackle; he just wants to be a sounding board for Sitkans and vote accordingly.
“What I do when I’m on the Assembly – when I was on the Assembly – was I listened to everybody. I didn’t go in there with ‘This is what my vote is going to be.’ I listened to the public,” Miyasato said.
There are three seats up for re-election on the Sitka Assembly, currently held by Steven Eisenbeisz, Tristan Guevin, and Aaron Swanson. Guevin and Swanson are not running for re-election.
Two of those seats are for a 3-year term and one seat is for a 1-year term, first held by Matthew Hunter until he took the mayorship. Swanson was appointed in the fall to complete the second year of his term.
Local elections are on Tuesday, October 3rd.