Brent Hibbert will step into a seat on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly representing District 1, effective Wednesday.
Gary Knopp, the current assembly member from District 1 — which includes Kalifornsky Beach Road and part of Kenai — resigned from the position, also effective Tuesday. He will take up his new role in the Legislature representing District 30 to the Alaska House of Representatives after winning the seat last November.
The owner of Alaska Cab, Hibbert is a newcomer to local government. He said he applied because he felt like it was time to start giving back to the community where he built his business. He said he would take a conservative approach and would bring the “common sense” he had in building his business. He also identified the budget as the main concern facing the borough, saying people and businesses would likely have to “tighten their belts” in the challenging fiscal climate, but did not elaborate on specifics.
After Knopp announced his resignation on Nov. 22, eight people applied to fill the vacancy. Some had experience in local politics — applicant Rick Koch was Kenai’s city manager until last Friday, applicant Dan Castimore currently serves on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Board of Education and applicant David Wartinbee served on the borough’s Anadromous Fish Habitat Task Force in 2012 and ran for the District 1 seat in 2015, losing narrowly to Knopp. Applicant Dick Peck served on both the Homer Advisory Planning Commission and the borough Planning Commission as well as two terms on the city council in Unalaska.
Koch said he applied because he wants to be involved in public service. He said fiscal stability is the number one concern in the borough at present, especially in light of declining state contributions through municipal revenue sharing and contributions to education and pensions. Because of the cuts and instability from the state, local governments have been increasingly forced to start their budget processes “with their hair on fire,” he said.
He told the assembly that he would bring a long history of government work to the assembly.
“I will be a supportive and comfortable colleague to work with,” he said during his testimony to the assembly.
Castimore said he had been considering a position on the assembly for a long time and has been involved in politics for as long as he could remember. The budget, and particularly education funding, are the foremost issues in his mind, and the borough assembly will have to look at personnel in the future to reduce costs because personnel costs are the biggest part of the budget, he said.
“I think the only reasonable way to reduce budgets is to reduce personnel costs,” he said.
Wartinbee said he prepared for the position by informing himself and would not make any decisions without having all the information before him. With a background as a high school teacher and Kenai Peninsula College professor, biologist, lawyer and volunteer, he said he has dealt with conflict in a variety of ways and knew that there isn’t always a way to resolve it, but there were ways to work with it. He said he would try to understand every side of an issue before taking action on it.
“I can’t form an opinion or decide on something until I have the information,” he said. “That’s what scientists do.”
Peck, whose background is in utility management and currently runs a utility consulting company, said he wanted to be involved because he wanted to provide opportunities for his grandchildren. He said he would bring knowledge of the legislative process and a collaborative attitude to the assembly and that he thought there were more efficiences to cut down on borough costs. He referenced a report Borough Mayor Mike Navarre submitted to the assembly outlining recent efficiency efforts to cut costs.
“It’s just scratching the surface,” he said.
Others are newcomers to politics. For Hibbert and applicants Derrick Medina, a current Alaska Department of Corrections employee, Breena Walters, who works for Blazy Construction, and Matthew Wilson, the general manager of the KSRM radio station, the position are a first foray into local government.
Medina said he applied because he had been following the assembly’s actions and agreed with many of the decisions the group had arrived at, and he wanted to contribute. He said he agreed with Hibbert that people would have to tighten their belts to get through fiscal challenges in the state, and that he would consider new revenues if it was necessary to protect services and resources.
“We like the river and the outdoors ... and we have to do what’s necessary to protect those things,” he said.
Walters said she applied as a first leap into local government involvement and also saw the budget as a top priority. She said she was in favor of taxes to support healthy resources and thought the younger generation might be as well, if they saw the benefit for the environment of the Kenai Peninsula. She said she was experienced in conflict resolution as well.
“In the construction industry, there’s always something going wrong,” she said. “I think conflict ... arises when people don’t feel represented.”
The assembly interviewed all eight candidates during the Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday and voted for Knopp’s replacement during the general assembly meeting. Knopp was excluded from voting and assembly member Paul Fischer, who hosts a radio program, was excluded from voting in rounds in which Wilson was included because Wilson is his supervisor.
A candidate needed at least 5 votes to win the seat. After the first round, the only candidates who received votes were Hibbert, Wartinbee and Wilson. After the second round, only Hibbert and Wartinbee continued, at which point Fischer could vote. In the final round, Hibbert received six votes to Wartinbee’s two, making him the new member.
Hibbert will serve until the October municipal regular election, when the residents of the district will vote for a new representative to serve a three-year term. All of the applicants for the seat said they planned to run for the seat in October except Koch, Peck and Castimore — Castimore and Koch said they weren’t sure, and Peck said he would not run.
“(If not appointed) I will dedicate myself to my favorite pursuit, which is raising my grandchildren and fishing on the Kenai,” Peck said.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.