Borough Assembly Q&A: Candidates share their views

1. What experience do you have that supports your ability to understand a complex 375-page $72 million budget well enough to make legally binding decisions and to spend millions of taxpayers’ dollars?



Steve Chamberlain, District 3: The number of pages or the number of dollars included in the borough’s budget are not something to give cause for fear or anxiety. It’s more about controlling spending and waste. The main reason for my personal business success is hard work. By reducing startup and operation costs and controlling the amount of waste, profitability and growth came naturally. Also by producing a top quality product coupled with great service I have gained the support of my community. In the restaurant business a large expansive menu usually creates more waste and a lower quality product for the customer. I call it stretching yourself to thin. If we use the principals of running a small business and apply them to borough government we will be able to keep cost low and the effectiveness of services high.

Wayne Ogle, District 3: I have developed budgets my entire career in the Coast Guard, as a regulatory manager and as public works directors in Bethel and the City of Kenai. A major part of making a budget is making accurate assessments of what is needed and getting approval from senior managers and public officials. Once approved, I was expected to live within that budget. There is nothing worse than to have to go back and ask for more funding for operations for non-emergencies.

Academically, I have had courses at the college and graduate levels that included economics, financial management, public policy analysis, tax policy and accounting.

But even more important is that I know how to use common sense to ask the right questions. Good management is doing things right. Good leadership is doing the right things regarding public policy. As Assembly members we will be asked to do the right things.


Dale Bagley, District 4: Since 1994 I have been elected to the Soldotna City Council three times, once to the Borough Assembly and elected twice as Borough Mayor. I am familiar with Borough Government and the budget process. I also have plenty of experience in the private sector having worked for large corporations and currently own my own business.

Linda Murphy, District 4: Twenty-four years of my professional life were spent preparing and managing budgets for the Seward City Council (16 years) and the Borough Assembly (8 years). For the past 3 years, I have represented District 4 on the Assembly and have served as Assembly President since October 2012. During my term, the Assembly has maintained a stable tax base through careful oversight of the budget while maintaining a healthy fund balance to assure a sound financial future. I believe my record of conservative fiscal responsibility speaks for itself.


Brent Johnson, District 7: I’m currently president of Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, having filled that post for about 8 years. I’ve served terms as president of Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, Kasilof Regional Historical Association, and Kenai Peninsula Historical Association. I attend Central Emergency Service Area board meetings as well as Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Service Area meetings (they cover Nikolaevsk for District 7). I have a private commercial fishing business and deal with budgets for it. These things all provide money-management experience, but the best training for me has come from serving on the Assembly for three years and dealing with previous budgets.

Travis Swanson, District 7: That’s an interesting question because if you believe that our budget is to complex and confusing for any resident of the Kenai Peninsula Borough to understand then we need to simplify the budget. I am a small business owner who has been self employed for almost 15 years. I currently run one of the largest Honda power sports dealers in the nation proudly located on the Kenai Peninsula along with an entertainment company called Hydrus Media. I believe my life experience supports my ability to understand and simplify our Borough Budget.

Damon Yerly, District 7: The ability to read and understand the budget isn’t where I see the challenge. I have been involved in budgeting and projecting of income or expenses as part of my jobs for the majority of my career. I have been in accounting and business management for over almost 20 years. The challenge that I am going to face with the utmost respect and diligence is the spending of $72 million dollars of tax payers hard earned money. Just the fact that we have a 375 page $72,000,000 budget is in itself the problem. It is always easier to spend someone else’s money, and I think the fact that it is someone else’s money has been lost on some. I am not saying I am going to go in slashing the budget and saving everyone a bunch of money, but I think that ideas like the property tax exemption are important to take advantage of, and small steps like that are what I hope to help bring about.



2. What does good government look like?


Chamberlain: Small, ethical, and less intrusive.

Ogle: Good government is when the people have confidence that their government is performing in their best interests for the efficient delivery of services they expect. It is not measured by the amount of legislation passed. Good government must be transparent, accountable, efficient, accessible, responsive to the people and inclusive.

Failures by government in any of these components bring about distrust of the people about their government. People must believe their government is working for them and that they are being listened to by the people they elected. Trust of the people is something that must be earned and guarded continuously. Once lost, it is hard to earn back. I will be an Assembly member who will listen to the people and maintain their trust.


Bagley: Borough government is there to do the things that benefit our area like roads, solid waste, and schools. We are a second class Borough with limited powers and we need to be very careful about taking on new powers and spending lots of funds on different programs unless there is a good reason to do so. There are many examples of other Boroughs spending millions of dollars on animal control and public transportation. If the Kenai Peninsula Borough wants to go down that path it should do so carefully and with the clear support of the people of this Borough.

Murphy: Good local government is one that is sensitive to the needs of the community and its citizens. It is not meant to cure all ills, but is there to provide services that are either mandated by state government or desired by citizens. The governing body is elected to make policy decisions that are sometimes controversial, and sometimes what is popular is not what is right or in the best interest of the borough. Good government demands leaders who are willing to make the right decision regardless of the political fallout.


Johnson: Good government is made up of individuals who care about people, respect the State and U.S. Constitutions, are honest, articulate and good listeners. They are sensitive to business needs in order to stimulate jobs and the local economy, while also being aware of environmental impacts. They make sure public employees are treated fairly while also searching for ways to promote efficiency and economy. Good borough government works closely with the School Board to fund and oversee schools that are high in academic accomplishment, low in drug, alcohol and discipline problems, and high in graduation rates. Indeed, KPB schools compare favorably in these areas to other school districts. Good government knows natural gas is important. It’s happy to see a new well pad being built on the Bartolowits property near Falls Creek. It will join several producing gas wells in District 7, and two or three soon-to-be-producing oil wells.

Swanson: For me the answer to that question would be government looking like the exact opposite of what happens in our Nations Capital. Our nation was founded a simple principle of limited government so to me “good government” not only looks but is limited government.

Yerly: Any government has a minimum liability due to its citizens; this includes education, safety, infrastructure, and the care of those that can’t care for themselves. Anything above these essential duties must be scrutinized and thought out with the utmost care. How will each thing bring value to those that are paying for it? Is it possible to keep it outside of the government’s control to better serve the people? Being a second-class Borough, the role of caring for the less fortunate does not fall on our shoulders to any great extent, so that leaves the three major functions to be accounted for in the best possible manor without over spending. Any given government will always include things above the essentials, but my opinion is that less is more in government size, and as a result, less taxes will be paid to fund that government.


3. Will you seek to overturn the Anadromous Streams Ordinance?


Chamberlain: Yes. The vast majority of the degradation and decline in fish and wildlife habitat is not due to the activities of private property owners on their residential properties.

Ogle: I believe the Anadromous Streams Ordinance may have been well-intentioned. However, it is bad law. The Task Force that was set up to review the ordinance never asked the basic question: is this good legislation? From numerous public meetings attended, it is clear this law does not have wide spread public support.

No specific and relevant scientific studies for the Kenai Peninsula were produced that demonstrated harm or potential harm to our anadromous fish is taking place in the anadromous water bodies in the Kenai Peninsula named in the ordinance appendix. Instead, our private property owners are burdened with regulatory requirements and potential penalties.

I respect that the Ordinance is now law. However, I will seek to amend the law from being pre-emptive zoning to one that promotes good stewardship among property owners. I would do this by an outreach program through the River Center instead of a regulatory/penalty process.


Bagley: I voted against the first Ordinance on the Kenai River back in 1996 and do not support the current Anadromous Streams Ordinance. There are many problems with our rivers and streams, but private property owners are not one of the problems and to take away their private property rights without a good reason is wrong. It has passed the Assembly and that is what we are currently working under, but I would like to do an advisory vote just to see how the voters in the Kenai Peninsula Borough feel about this issue.

Murphy: No. This ordinance was the end result of many months of work by a task force appointed by the Mayor. Members of the task force represented both sides of this issue and conducted several public hearings throughout the borough before making its recommendations. The resulting ordinance is a fair approach to protecting the habitat of anadromous fish while providing property owners the right to responsible use of their waterfront property. Existing uses are grandfathered and many new uses are permitted through the conditional use process. There are many causes for the decline in king salmon runs, but the borough’s regulatory authority is limited to what occurs on shore. It is clear that the successful rearing of young salmon is dependent upon the natural plants and trees that provide shelter and prohibit soil erosion, and this ordinance seeks to assure that this habitat is protected.


Johnson: No. Salmon are important to the lifestyle and economy of the Borough. Stream-side and lake-side habitats are essential for healthy salmon stocks. Scientists universally recognize this fact and that is why across Alaska, boroughs which have salmon also have stream and lakeside habitat protection areas. The first cannery came to Cook Inlet in 1882 and fish traps were soon a favorite harvest gear. Yet it was 100 years (1983) before a sockeye harvest of 3 million fish was achieved. Since then, the sockeye harvest has exceeded 3 million fish 19 times. The Moose Refuge and Wilderness Area offer helpful habitat protection on Tustumena Lake and Skilak Lake, but all salmon stocks are valuable and worth protecting. Remember, in streams unconnected to lakes, young coho and king salmon overwinter in the stream. Vegetation is important to their survival.

Swanson: If I would have been on the Borough Assembly at the time I would not have voted for the ordinance. I believe it needs to be overturned in a logical fashion. I do not believe that taking away property rights is the answer to saving our salmon. There are other avenues that would actually help our salmon that do not require infringing on our property rights.

Yerly: I believe this to be bad legislation and an example of a government body attempting to control rather than represent. If this ordinance comes up to vote, I will vote to overturn.


4. Is there room in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, outside incorporated cities, for zoning, building codes and land use regulations, beyond gravel pits and hog farms?


Chamberlain: No, I don’t believe that growing our government to regulate more is a good idea. If anything repealing some recent ordinances or permit processes that adversely affect the well-meaning intentions of prior ordinances will help protect private property owners rights, as well as their right to clean drinking water. We already have enough laws on the books to protect against unethical practices. What we don’t have is effective oversight or risk assessment of land use issues for properties neighboring or down gradient of DEC recognized active contaminated sites.

Ogle: No. I do not believe that the expansion of zoning, building codes and land use regulations by the Borough is in the best interests of the people. We have just experienced a vast overreach of Borough zoning power with the recently passed Anadromous Streams Ordinance. Zoning within the Borough should only be a last resort when common sense and other alternatives have been exhausted. Private property and exercise of those rights are one of the fundamental principles of our society. When government interferes with the ownership and use of private property for an asserted public interest, it is a grave concern.


Bagley: Absolutely, but these issues should go to a vote and make sure the people of this Borough support these things. It should not be forced on the public by Assembly members who say they know what is best for you.

Murphy: The borough already has in place a process for local option zoning whereby property owners can petition the Assembly to create a zoning district. Zoning is likely to be a natural outgrowth of the development of more densely populated residential neighborhoods in the unincorporated areas of the borough. However, this will probably be neighborhood driven and not the result of direct Assembly action.


Johnson: U.S. government is “of the people.” When a majority of the people want expanded zoning they will ask for it. I have constituents who have expressed a desire for road construction built to “code” before subdivision approval. Other people have asked for animal control to protect wildlife and provide a mechanism for helping abused animals. These constituents make legitimate points. In general, I believe we should carefully think through any changes in zoning. We should weigh the cost in taxes against the gains in better roads or animal welfare. All the time being wary of increasing government. I considered all these things before I voted on Anadromous Waterbody Habitat Protection. I’m convinced salmon need habitat protection and the cost of providing it will be modest. Land owners who care about fish will still enjoy their property, which only they can set foot upon.

Swanson: Freedom is something we need to protect and implementing zoning, building codes and land use regulations on the KPB outside of incorporated cities limits the freedom of property owners. I believe in property rights, personal independence and limited government reach.

Yerly: I don’t think so. I believe that we need to get back to relying on personal responsibility instead of legislated regulations. People should do what they want on their property, as long as it doesn’t harm their neighbors. But if we all have personal responsibility and community awareness in mind when we think about what we are doing, we could function together and not need a bunch of regulations. I personally live where I do because of the freedoms associated with being outside a city.


5. What is your leadership style; what record/experience do you have to show that you can represent your district on the Assembly with regard for decorum, compromise and integrity?


Chamberlain: Recent actions by our Borough planning department and extremely controlling ordinances enacted by our current Borough Assembly do not call for conformity or compromise. My leadership style has shown to be strong and unwavering regarding the Health and Safety of the people of Nikiski. I won’t be swayed by any means from completing my mission to have wide scale water testing of existing residential wells to define toxic plumes and gauge concentrations of contaminants in our aquifers. By introducing ordinances backed by factual, credible evidence to support implementation, I would expect that moral and ethical values will guide the Assembly in this process. I believe that responsible resource development and the protection of our groundwater resource are equally important when it comes to the common good of the people. Ultimately, humanity could survive without industry, but not without clean water. We can’t trade one for the other. Water is Life!

Ogle: Since day one at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, I was taught what effective leadership is. Throughout my Coast Guard career, I led men and women in numerous dangerous and stressful situations. When you are leading very high caliber people, you must perform well. Additionally, I was taught that I was accountable for my all my actions. Excuses were neither acceptable nor tolerated.

I have used these lessons learned throughout my public life. I have always conducted my professional and personal life with integrity, civility, and accountability. If compromise on an issue was available, I would work towards it. I have worked with people inside and outside government at all levels to obtain sensible solutions. This is the approach I would take as member of the Assembly.


Bagley: I have held this seat before and got along well with the other eight assembly members. The Assembly meetings can go 6 hours and there are never enough breaks and sometimes think can get a little tense. I was never known as an Assembly member or Mayor that talked a lot, but I also was never afraid of voting my beliefs.

Murphy: I am not a “my way or the highway” person. I prefer to seek consensus and am willing to compromise on most issues in order to reach a point that both sides find acceptable. That is not to say that I will compromise on issues of public safety or where the financial interests of the borough are involved. Over the past few months, we have seen more than the usual amount of discord among assembly members driven in part by our debate of the adandramous waters ordinance. I regret that some of us strayed from the rules of decorum under which we are supposed to operate. I have apologized both publicly and personally for my lapses and have put this behind me. My philosophy continues to be that we can disagree without being disagreeable, and I am striving to live up to that credo. Does this mean I won’t make mistakes in the future? No. But, as I have shown in the past, when I do cross a line, I am the first to admit it and seek to make amends.


Johnson: Almost a year ago I was nominated for president of the Assembly, losing that post by a 4-5 vote. It is fair to say, then, fellow assembly members have some respect for me. I have wholeheartedly supported President Murphy during her term because I also respect her and believe that support is best for borough residents. Building the Kasilof River Dunes Habitat Protection Fence is a good example of my leadership style. A member of the Kasilof Historical Association suggested building the fence. As president of that organization, I brought together commercial, sport and personal use fishermen; State and local government agencies; and numerous local organizations. We won a $60,000 grant and built a mile-long fence for about $16,000. The volunteers had a strong feeling of camaraderie during construction and I feel indebted to them still. Today, the dunes are green and protected.

Swanson: I am going to pass on me answering the question of how I lead since to get that answer you would have to ask people who have worked for or with me on different projects over the years. In business you have to have an open mind, the ability to change and adapt along with the willingness to work with many different views to find the most effective path. I believe my track record in business speaks for itself when it comes to my ability to represent my district with integrity.

Yerly: I hope that my style would be considered Servant-Leader. To me this means someone who came into this wanting to make things better for the average person. Not someone who is looking for personal gain by making politics a career. I think that is what we need especially in these smaller government roles. I spent the last 12 years building a reputation as a hardworking, honest salesperson, which did his best to make the situation work for all involved. Many people know me as someone that will always tell you how it is, you may not like what I have to say, but you do know why I am saying it and understand that what I am saying is the truth and I have done everything possible to make that truth work for you.


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