In a re-match for the Kenai mayor's seat, incumbent Pat Porter and hopeful Mike Boyle faced off at a candidate forum Wednesday hosted by the Kenai Chamber of Commerce at the Merit Inn.
Speaking to reasons for past votes, commercial development and planning issues, the candidates shared their views on the city and their versions of its future.
Porter, vying for her third term as Kenai Mayor, underlined the need for responsible business development within the city.
She said she would like to stop calling stores like Walmart "big box stores," and instead used "large business."
Walmart has brought more jobs and sales tax revenue to the city, she said.
She said recent renovations to the Kenai Municipal Airport have it poised to attract more businesses to come in and out of there.
"Kenai is ready for that," said the former director of the Kenai Senior Center. "We're ready for businesses to come to town."
In terms of a comprehensive plan, Porter was supportive of listening to the locals.
"The number one priority should be listening to the residents to see what they want in the community," Porter said in regard to the city's upcoming comprehensive planning process.
She said the city should get advice from professional planners and listen to the population to create a plan.
"It's a work in progress. A comprehensive plan is always a work in progress," she said.
Boyle, who has served five years on Kenai City Council and ran against Porter for mayor in 2007, put an emphasis on an incremental and accountable comprehensive planning process.
"I think personally I would like to see us take a good look at Old Town and see what we can do to develop Old Town into a destination. A destination for visitors and local people alike. It has the potential to be a cultural and art center and a tourist center and a historical center," said Boyle, who was dressed in a shirt and tie and not his usual uniform of a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt.
He said Kenai is at a crossroads in deciding what it wants to look like, continuing with the trend of large stores or not.
Boyle also took the opportunity to clear up some misconceptions about him being against Walmart.
"I think a diversified economy for the community is a good thing," said the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District vocational education teacher.
Boyle voted to lease the land to the company, but not to sell it to them, because that would mean the city would be out $140,000, he said.
He also defended himself on a couple other issues -- including his vote in support of the hot-button Alaska Coastal Communities Global Climate Change Compact as well as the height of the shed in his yard.
He said he supported the compact because it brought people together, not because it supported cap and trade legislation.
"The coastal compact, in no place in there supported cap and trade," Boyle said.
He said that the compact just set guidelines to ensure that the money collected from cap and trade, if it was set, went back to local communities.
"The idea is if the money comes out of a community that's where it goes back to be spent," he said.
And his tall shed, which was a question regarding city building code violations asked by an audience member, is not in violation of anything, he said.
"For whoever is interested in that, my shed is not in violation of city code," Boyle said.
Porter defended her actions on another controversial issue altogether -- the city's decision to approve $15,000 last year to advertise against Proposition A, that would have left part of the MAPS subdivision zoned as "limited commercial," a designation the residents of the subdivision opposed.
"It's very important to get out the facts," she said. "I voted yes to educate the public."
She said that the city spending that money was legal and normal. City councils across the nation spend money in similar manners, she said.
As for the biggest immediate challenge facing Kenai, Porter said it involves becoming a sustainable community.
For Boyle, the city should focus on the expensive bluff erosion project and getting that completed.
"We're about halfway there. We talked about it for many years and I think now is the time," he said.
In closing statements, Porter stressed her leadership experience and good working relationships with different sectors of the community.
Boyle shared his desire for a change in city leadership, and his desire to serve as Kenai mayor for six years.
"I would like to see us plan for our future," he said.
The general election is Oct. 5.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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