Three seats on the Homer Electric Association's board of directors will be up for election next month, and candidates are preparing for the race.
While the Kenai-Nikiski and South Kenai Peninsula districts will feature head-to-head campaigning between one incumbent and one newcomer in each district, District 2 (Kasilof, Soldotna and Sterling) offers a three-way race.
Incumbent Jack Hetherton will face opposition from former board president and nine-year member Hugh Chumley and Kenai Peninsula Borough administrator Ed Oberts.
Hetherton begins his bid for a third term on the board of directors and said his focus for this election will be to remain in line with HEA's core business goals.
"To provide dependable power safely to members," he said.
Hetherton, who served as Soldotna mayor and city council member before joining the board, said he enjoyed the service aspects of his position and was looking forward to continuing helping people through his duties as a board member.
"When you talk to members, rates are not their most important concern," Hetherton said. "This co-op has done a tremendous amount of things over the past six years in our community."
He included in his mention of significant projects the installation of fiber-optic lines to connect schools throughout the borough.
"We needed to do something about improving our telecommunications," he said.
"We couldn't justify doing it just for HEA, because it would be too costly. So we figured, how could we benefit ourselves and the community?"
Chumley served on the HEA board from 1988 to 1996 and spent two years as board president. He said he is anxious to get back into the swing of HEA board business after taking a hiatus to focus on his business.
"After being off for however many years, I'd like to get involved with the co-op again," he said. "I saw the board do a lot of positive movement. I felt that I did a good job ... and would like to maintain the positive relationship between the membership and the co-op and between businesses and the co-op."
Chumley said he completed a rural electric training program he attended as a board member, which affords him some operational insight that less seasoned board members may not have.
He said his business experience and his stint with HEA make him a favorable candidate as the co-op takes on new endeavors, including working with a gas pipeline and helping to set up a fiber-optics network.
"With the changes in the business environment, I feel I have experience," he said. "I'm interested in finding other ways for HEA to be profitable."
Oberts is the assistant to Borough Mayor Dale Bagley and has hopes of stepping into the District 2 seat by beating Chumley and Hetherton. He said he believes there are more customers out there who can benefit from HEA's services and said that is one of his goals.
"I want to focus on expanding their customer base," Oberts said. "I would like to see HEA become even more of an economic driver in our community."
He said he believes that by providing energy to more customers, it would help to keep prices as low as possible.
For District 1, Kenai and Nikiski, incumbent Ruth Fitzpatrick will run against Richard DeMello. Fitzpatrick has been on the board for 10 years, spending two years off from 1994 to 1995.
"We switched to districts and I got beat by 16 votes," she said.
Fitzpatrick said she is running again because the work involved keeps her healthy and because she likes the cooperative and the way the board works together.
"It keeps my brain going," she said. "We've got good employees and good management. We may not always agree, but we are always willing to talk and vote our own conscience. That's something I haven't seen other boards do."
She said keeping costs for members down is a priority and she want to work to stave off price hikes.
"My main concern is that the consumers are considered foremost," she continued. "We want to make sure prices aren't raised to the point where consumers aren't able to pay."
District 3, representing Ninilchik south to Homer and the Kachemak Bay communities, will see incumbent Mike Pate's seat challenged by Doug Stark.
Pate has been on the board for 14 years and said he wants to complete some of the projects that started during his last term.
"If we end up incorporating Seward into HEA, it would be good," he said. "It would consolidate electric utility on the peninsula into a single entity."
Pate said he will not be actively promoting his reelection bid and will stand on the merits of his reputation and experience with the board.
"I never have campaigned for this position, and I wouldn't intend to," he said. "If you have been serving on board, the members who are involved know what you've been doing."
Neither Stark nor DeMello could be reached for comment.
Ballots will be mailed out Friday for members to vote for each district. The ballots must be returned by 5 p.m. May 6 to be counted.
Results will be announced at the HEA annual meeting at Soldotna High School May 7 at 5:30 p.m.
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