Sheila Finkenbinder

Age: 72

How many years have you lived in Sitka and in Alaska? 28 years

Describe your family: Widowed with two grown children.

Occupation: Retired now, but working seasonal jobs. I also run a small Airbnb in my home, and own and manage a rental property. My employment history includes work as a legislative aide, executive director of the Sitka Chamber of Commerce, founding director of Sitka Works, and job training positions at Sitka Tribe of Alaska and the Sitka Teen Resource Center.

Current community involvement:  I currently serve on the Gary Paxton Industrial Park board, helping to shape the future of that important piece of real estate. I’m also on the Sitka Historical Society board; recognizing the value of Sitka’s history to the heart and the economy of the community. I volunteer with the Sitka Summer Music Festival, and am a member of the Alaska Native Sisterhood. For several years, I was active with the Sitka Woman’s Club, the Sitka Republican Woman’s Club, and the Cape Decision Lighthouse Society. I served on the board of the Fortress of the Bear back when it was just a dream to become one of the major visitor destinations in Sitka. For ten years, my husband and I also taught Hunter Education and firearms safety classes once or twice a year. While director at the Chamber of Commerce, I started the Season’s End Celebration, and coordinated it for three years. In 2001, while director of Sitka Works, I started the Sitka Artisans Market, and managed it through 2010. In 1995 I started the Running of the Boots, and ran it for 16 years. I like to make things happen, especially if they bring people into town.

Previous government or other relevant experience:  I worked for two years as a Legislative Aide to Representative Peggy Wilson, helping her craft legislation in Juneau, as well as working on constituent issues. I also ran for a seat in the State House in 2016, which gave me the opportunity to learn more about issues important to District 35. I’ve attended Assembly meetings, off and on, for years testifying when needed on various issues, so I have a good understanding of how our local governing body works.


What’s your philosophy for funding city government, which includes enterprise funds (electricity, etc.) and the Sitka School District. Is Sitka living within its means? If not, what should be done to change that?

I believe that right now, we are barely living within our means. We’re supporting far more infrastructure- new buildings, harbors, roads, and a dam – than we were in 1990, when I arrived. At the same time, we have the same population of 9,000, and no large industry helping to support it all. Fishing, tourism and healthcare are mostly doing well, but people are feeling the pinch of increased fees and talk of raising taxes. I think that at this point, we need to slow down on borrowing more money and adding to our debt; and trim the annual budget, until we can get the economy growing and people moving into town, not out.



The city will soon enter negotiations to sell Sitka Community Hospital to SEARHC. Do you support the merger of Sitka’s two hospitals? Why or why not? And if elected, what would you do to drive or reverse that process?

I was disappointed that the Assembly voted to sell the hospital without taking the decision to a public vote. I’m not convinced that Sitka Community Hospital couldn’t have continued providing good healthcare, at least for a few more years, or that the public was ready to let it go at this time. That being said, as an Assembly member, I will do my best to help negotiate a transaction that will be of the greatest benefit to the City and its citizens.


Ballot Questions

There are two question on the ballot, one calling for the sales tax exemption for senior citizens to be reinstated, and the other exempting Sitka from the statewide public smoking ban. Where do you stand on these issues?

I think that the main reason the Sales Tax Exemption is on the ballot now is that the public was unhappy with the way the Assembly handled the question. If the Senior Exemption is reinstated now, the Assembly will need to do some finessing of the sales tax revenue issue, as it should have done several months ago. Who contributes how much to the city coffers is complicated, and needs to be negotiated in an open-ended way that most of the public understands and can live with the results.

I’m also sorry that the Assembly voted not to allow a vote on the smoking issue. This question is on the ballot because enough members of the public feel that it’s an issue the community should be allowed to vote on. I understand that smoking is hazardous to our health, and wish that no one smoked anymore. But I’m also reluctant to see the government take control of every aspect of our lives.



Sitka has a severe lack of affordable homes, as well as a homeless population without shelter. What role – if any – does the Assembly have in supporting affordable housing and shelter?

I believe that if we want people to be able to move here and stay here, the Assembly needs to push the city planning department and commission to come up with some creative solutions to help make housing more affordable at all levels. I believe the public can help in this discussion. Things like: changing zoning codes so that smaller lots are possible; breaking mobile home parks into lots that can be sold, or creating small developments that will support very small (even tiny) homes. We need to try to keep people from becoming homeless by creating innovative, inexpensive units where folks of limited means can at least have a roof over their heads.


Sitka has deferred maintenance on multiple pieces of infrastructure. To replace harbors, for instance, moorage rates have been raised. The city is seeking state bonds. What do you think of the city’s approach to capital repairs?

We already owe too much to the bond bank, but it’s still the appropriate place to find dollars for needed project upgrades. That being said, it may be that projects that can pay for themselves get done before those that don’t directly contribute to the city’s budget – at least for now. For instance, the much-needed airport terminal upgrade will be covered by licenses, rental fees and passenger fees. Harbor upgrades, on the other hand, are totally dependent on boat owners – mostly fishermen – the primary users of the harbors. Raising rates every year is unsustainable. Necessity may be the driving force that pushes for creative ways to pay for future upgrades. I’m prepared to carefully evaluate each situation and make tough decisions.



Describe your decision-making style. If elected, what kind of Assembly member do you want to be? What do you want the public to know about who you are as a leader?

I’m very level headed and not excitable; generally optimistic, but realistic. When part of a group, or leading a group, I do my best to make sure everyone speaks their mind on whatever the issue is before it comes to a vote. That way, group members have their voices heard, and I have a better understanding of how the group feels. Good decisions usually result through this process.

I’m sometimes frustrated when a question that’s put before a group is stated as black or white; when the answer is really somewhere in between. When this happens, my tendency is to try and steer the group to reject the question and begin again to find a solution for the problem. (I think the Senior Sales Tax Exemption debate fell into this category)

I’m a hard worker, I do my homework, and I stay late to get the job done. I believe that people who’ve worked with me will say that I follow through and do a good job with whatever task is before me. I also have an attitude of gratitude, and generally see things in a positive light. I look for solutions, rather than dwelling on problems.