How many years have you lived in Sitka and in Alaska? Four years in Sitka; 26 years in Alaska (Craig, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Bethel)
Occupation: Homeschool teacher to my two kids, presently.
Family: I’ve been married to Steve Bethune for 24 years, a wildlife biologist for the Department of Fish & Game. (He’s the “bear guy.”) He loves to hunt and fish, and I love the full freezer every year! He has a particular interest in Dall sheep, and everything alpine. We have two daughters, Cedar (9) and Autumn (11). Cedar loves to draw and play the piano, and Autumn is learning the small-business ropes with her copper jewelry sales. Both sold their hand-made goods at a Centennial Hall booth last visitor season, and got the entrepreneurial bug as a result! We’re looking forward to the next summer season.
Community involvement, past and present:
I currently participate in several faith-based service groups in Sitka.
In the past, occasional volunteer with the Sitka Food Co-op; volunteer with various youth groups; established a Prince of Wales community food co-op’s financial records in Quickbooks and handled their day-to-day finances; paid work with Habitat for Humanity (affordable housing nonprofit) and Beyond Borders (a nonprofit which resourced and trained leaders in rural and Southcentral Alaska).
Have you previously run for public office?
No — this is my first run for public office.
Previous government or other relevant experience:
No direct government experience, but my nonprofit work provided grounding in the board of director — executive director/staff relationship and expectations (similar to the Assembly — City Administrator/City staff relationship). I also became familiar with meeting conduct guidelines/Robert’s Rules.
Reaching way back — I was one of two delegates to Girls State during my junior year of high school in Washington state, which is a week-long, immersive introduction to American government and politics.
Why are you running for a seat on the Sitka Assembly this year?
I very much want to see Sitka prosper, and be a place where our families can continue to live and thrive. As I’ve watched what’s happened in the country this past year — particularly on the economic and personal freedom fronts — I’ve been very concerned, and want to do what I can on our local level to help steer the city in a strong, responsible financial direction and help preserve our valuable Constitutional rights.
What are your top two priorities if elected?
1) Sound management of the city budget — just like our family budgets, the goal is to spend no more than we bring in, and save for future needs. Focus on core city services. Manage/pay down debt and avoid new debt, if possible.
2) Support responsible, sustainable development of our economy in order to build existing and attract new local business and expand Sitka’s tax base, in order to restore city financial stability.
What is your philosophy for funding city government (including enterprise funds, electricity, water, etc)?
We were facing significant economic challenges even before the loss of our visitor and overall poor fishing season. With our already high cost of living, residents will make decisions whether to stay or leave in part based on how the city decides to handle its financial shortfall in the days to come.
Sitka has lost six percent of its residents over the last five years, and that leaves fewer of us to share the burden of funding our City services. We want to attract people here — not drive them out by increasing costs on the already financially-burdened. I will always look first to find efficiencies in our budget and city government structure before increasing taxes or fees. This will be a team effort — our community will need to work collaboratively to decide how best to do this as we go forward.
This is why economic development is so important. Successful businesses employ our citizens and contribute to our economy. New industries could increase the use of our local resources, support families and provide new jobs. A thriving economy is necessary to help fund our schools, our local utilities and all city services. I want to be a voice on the Assembly supporting and encouraging strong, sustainable economic development.
Should we fund the Sitka School District to the maximum allowable by state law?
I place a very high value on education, not just for my own kids but for all of Sitka’s young people. It is one of the core services our city provides its residents, and it is a priority for me.
In these unprecedented times, it appears we are going to have financial shortfalls. We will have to look for ways that we can fund all vital city services. We must consider the whole picture and what is fair and balanced for the entire community. I can’t promise to fully fund when there is so much uncertainty in our future. I will be looking to the school board and their recommendation, our city finance director and our community to craft a budget that will give us the best value for our limited resources.
The assembly has seen unprecedented challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic- both in keeping Sitka safe and distributing federal financial relief throughout the community. Do you believe the assembly’s responses to the coronavirus pandemic have been satisfactory? Why or why not?
It’s very easy to armchair quarterback now that we have far more COVID-19 impact data available to us. I think the Assembly did the best they could with the information they had during that time of uncertainty, and if they erred, it was over concern for resident safety.
In general, I prefer to educate, then trust people to use their common sense, own ability to research, and to consider recommended guidelines in order to determine their choices, rather than use the arm of government to enforce them. Leaders who chose this route are now showing no worse outcomes for their constituents, and preserved their economy and personal freedoms in the process.
There are businesses in town who were ineligible for federal financial relief due to local technicalities, and I’d like to see a second application period made available to distribute remaining funds to as many of those as possible.
Assuming the situation doesn’t change by 2021, what should the assembly’s proactive response be to keep the community safe and safeguard the economy?
I think the Assembly should look at hard data as to the actual danger of this virus and encourage investigation of promising therapeutics that have been shown in many countries around the world to have dramatically lowered death rate.
Each of us knows our own health and household risk better than anyone else, and should take proactive steps toward our own self care.
The longer we extend this shutdown, the longer we consciously choose to extend the known harm it is doing to our economy and people, including job/economic losses, higher suicide rates, increased domestic violence and drug abuse, and isolation/hopelessness among our youth and elderly.
While much of our local economy’s health is out of our hands, we must consider ways to help sustain our local businesses. Tourism and fishing are important sectors of our economy, and important contributors to Sitka’s future. They are already navigating a host of global and federal pressures. Here in Sitka we need to provide them with a stable, welcoming operating environment. We need to ensure we are managing our local government as efficiently and effectively as possible. I want to be part of the team that does that.
What role should the assembly play in addressing social justice and racial equity in Sitka, if any?
The main focus of government is to provide equal protection for all people under the law. Its primary function is to provide basic services — roads, utilities, education — and a safe environment for all people to live and pursue their personal activities, as long as those activities don’t harm anyone else. Otherwise, I think government should generally stay out of the way. Social justice issues are fundamentally issues of individual and personal values, and the Assembly does not have the tools or responsibility to deal with them.
Advocacy and Opposition
How do you respond when you sense growing public opposition to an ordinance you support? What if you sponsored the ordinance, and feel it’s in the best interest of the public that it pass?
Community collaboration is essential to good policy. If elected, I would assume it’s because a majority of voters agreed with the principles and priorities I put forth during my campaign, and they’re trusting that I will act on their behalf for the good of Sitka. That said, my expectation is always to work together and receive feedback on proposed policy.
Public opposition would cause me to ask for further feedback and additional information from people on all sides of the issue, and if I still believed it was in the public’s best interest I would make every effort to communicate and educate as to the reasons why I believe the ordinance is good for the city.
If a clear majority of Sitkans strongly opposed an ordinance I supported, it would be a clear sign to me that I need to consider their reasons and think even more carefully whether this is the right ordinance or perhaps the right time for the ordinance.