How many years have you lived in Sitka and in Alaska?
I am married to Denise Blankenship, and we both have family here in Sitka. I have two sons, Travis and Micah. Travis, his wife Michelle, and their daughter Arlow just moved back to Sitka in July 2021 from Gustavus, and Micah is a commercial fisherman. Denise has a son Greg, who works for Alaska Communications and lives here with his family. She also has a sister and three brothers who all have families here in Sitka as well.
My mom lives in Washington State, along with my sister and brother. My mom calls me just about every evening to check in and see how things are going with the families.
Community involvement, past and present:
Since arriving in Sitka in 1988, I have always been a volunteer Fire Fighter/EMT when not employed as a career staff. The fire department is where I spend most of my free time. Even after retirement, I still volunteer, but on a different scale. Over the years I’ve been involved in doing multiple fundraising auctions all around town. Everything from Brave Heart, school events, to the chocolate cruise for Breast Cancer Awareness. I have probably done at least a couple hundred auctions over the years and have enjoyed every one of them.
Previous government or other relevant experience:
In 1988 I became a volunteer Firefighter/EMT for the Sitka Fire Department and became a Career Engineer in 1995. In 1999 the Fire Chief position became available and I was hired as Chief. I stepped down from that position in 2004 and went to work for the Police Department as a correctional officer. After 5 years I went back to the Fire Department as Chief and retired in 2020.
During my career with the city, I was acting city administrator and police chief a few different times. As fire chief I was involved with the Police and Fire Commission as well as the Local Emergency Planning Commission. I have also been actively involved with the Alaska State Firefighters Association, National Volunteer Fire Council, State Wide Local Emergency Planning Committee/ State Emergency Response Commission and the Alaska Seismic Hazards Safety Commission.
Why are you running for a seat on the Sitka Assembly this year?
Prior to moving to Sitka, I lived and worked in a few different places where I was able to see how things worked and functioned. Each place had its own way of making things happen. Sitka is unique with some interesting challenges. Having lived here for 33 years and having worked for the city 25 years, I’ve seen a lot of those challenges. What I’ve also seen, is when there is a problem or disaster in Sitka the whole community comes together to help solve the problem. We may not all agree on how to make it happen, but we can all agree that we need to keep our community prospering and the people of Sitka safe.
Sitka and the community have always been great to me and my family. Now that I am retired and have more time, I’m ready and eager to pay Sitka back for all it has done for me. Being on the Assembly is one way for me to give back.
What are your top two priorities if elected?
The sale of the former Sitka Community Hospital building will go to an advisory vote of the public this fall. When it goes to the ballot, will you honor the results of the advisory vote, even if you disagree with the outcome?
The vote will tell what the community wants for the former Sitka Community Hospital’s future. If the vote comes back to sell by a landslide, then I think we should sell. If the vote comes back a landslide not to sell it, we as a community need to come up with a plan on its future so that the building continues to have maintenance and upkeep done on a regular basis and a plan on its future. SEARHC has about 3 more years on a lease of the building, so we will need to work quick on that plan. If the vote is close either way that will be a harder decision to make. I have to say truthfully, I am really not sure how my vote would go at that time.
At the end of July, the assembly approved a month-long temporary mask mandate following the surge of the coronavirus in Sitka over the summer. Do you support mask mandates, and would you vote in favor of one should Sitka see another rise in cases?
I would much rather see the assembly come together as a strong body with a strong voice and make a strong recommendation that masks be worn if we see another rise in cases. If that could not happen, I would support a mask mandate because it’s been scientifically proven they help stop the virus spread.
Wrangell’s assembly recently instituted a mandatory COVID testing policy for interstate and international travelers at its airport. Across the country, city councils have taken a variety of approaches, from providing monetary vaccine incentives to requiring proof of vaccination for citizens to participate in various activities. What COVID legislation would you support on the Sitka Assembly?
As I stated earlier one of my number one issues is the life and safety of the people in Sitka. I hope that over the years I have proven that. Things are changing every day when it comes to COVID and we need to be willing to change with it. We need to follow sound scientific based evidence when dealing with COVID. If that means we can relax what we are doing that is great, but if we need to tighten up on what we are asking our citizens and guests to do, I would be for that also.
What is your philosophy for funding city government (including enterprise funds, electricity, water, etc)? Do you believe the city should adopt new taxes to raise revenue? Spending cuts?
There is no great answer to this question. I don’t support new taxes but being very truthful they may be needed in the long run. Budget cuts are hard. I have worked with the city budget for 25 years and know it fairly well. It’s getting harder and harder to make cuts that are not going to be felt right away. We need to save money when we can for future projects and always be ready to apply for grants that become available.
What’s your philosophy on school funding? Should we fund the Sitka School District to the maximum allowable by state law, or “the cap”?
Yes, fund it to the cap as long as we can afford it. We also need to ask the school district to keep tightening there belt as well. Our kids are our future and we need to make sure they are able to learn all they can.
While COVID has led to a couple of down years for Sitka’s tourism industry, next year’s cruise ship numbers are predicted to break records. What should the assembly do to help Sitka prepare for the huge influx of tourists?
The planning commission is working on a short-term tourism plan and the assembly should help promote it. The assembly should also support all local businesses.
Before I moved to Sitka, I worked in a few areas that had tourism, Mount Rainier National Park, Death Valley National Monument, Grand Canyon National Park, Virginia City and West Yellowstone Montana. I have always been amazed that the majority of the businesses in Sitka are locally owned and operated.
Earlier this year, the assembly established a climate action task force to investigate what actions Sitka can take to respond to climate change. Does the Assembly have a further role to play here- is there legislation you’d like to see the assembly pass in regards to climate change?
Yes, the assembly should write a letter to Washington D.C. and let them know that we in Sitka are concerned and ask for their help in promoting this issue Alaska-wide, nation-wide and worldwide.
Climate change is a huge issue in our world. Between wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, coastal damage, water temperatures rising, air temperatures rising and draught (just to name a few), we as a world need to do all we can do.
I am sure there are some things we could do locally to help with this problem. One that comes to mind is getting away from depending on oil. Coming up with a program so that households could install heat pumps, insulate better, and put in new windows would help on a small scale. I am not sure how that would be funded at this time but it would be something to look at.
I have been reading the minutes of the climate action task force and they have been working hard on this issue. Thanks to the group for making this issue a priority.
Describe one piece of legislation you would like to bring forward as an assembly member, and explain how you would fund it.
I currently do not have any legislation that I am looking at bringing forward as an assembly member.