Kenai mayoral candidates were somewhat taken aback Wednesday when greeted at a Kenai Chamber of Commerce forum by a report card of sorts depicting their voting record this year on business issues brought before the city.
Before the candidate forum began, chamber vice president Steve Hanson said the organization does not endorse any one candidate, but seeks "to inform the community and our members about issues related to commerce."
The candidates incumbent Mayor Pat Porter and city councilman Mike Boyle both voted on a handful of issues reflected on what Hanson called the candidates' report card.
Porter voted to authorize the sale of 38 acres of city property to Wal-Mart for a super store to be built along Marathon Road. Boyle did not support the sale.
Porter voted to amend the city code extending the maximum term of leases of city property from 35 to 55 years. Boyle voted against the change.
Porter voted to support the permitting process for the Pebble Mine project. Boyle voted "no."
Boyle voted for listing Cook Inlet beluga whales as endangered. Porter opposed the listing.
The stage having been set, the candidates were allowed to respond to a number of questions from the chamber as well as explaining their reasons for voting the way they did during the course of the year.
"I voted against rescinding the lease with Wal-Mart," said Boyle. "I did not vote against the sale." Boyle has publicly expressed his desire that the city retain city-owned land for its future generations, preferring long-term leases to outright sales.
Porter said, "I certainly voted for the sale of the land (to Wal-Mart). They don't lease land ... anywhere."
She later said, knowing Wal-Mart was planning to come to the Kenai Peninsula, then having the company choose Kenai, is a blessing.
While Boyle said he favors Wal-Mart and Lowe's Home Improvement Centers coming to Kenai, "That's probably enough as far as big, box stores."
Porter, who has served as a city councilwoman for five years and mayor for three, said during her terms in office, the council has made a difference.
"Our community is beginning to transform into a thriving city once again," she said. "Retail sales continue to out-pace the previous year's."
When asked what they thought the impact would be of Wednesday's news that Agrium would be permanently closing its fertilizer plant in Nikiski, Boyle said, "Of course it will be bad for the 100 employees there, but the people I talk to in the job development office say it's encouraging right now in the oil field."
Porter said she plans to work hard with the Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor "to see what can be done at the state level for Agrium and its employees.
"I'm in favor of doing whatever we can to support (Agrium)," she said.
The chamber wanted to know how the candidates viewed themselves as differing from their opponents regarding commerce and economic development.
"I want to run as who I am, not who Pat is," said Boyle. He said the two differ on the sale of city land.
"I think I'm very pro-development in a responsible way," said Porter.
Both candidates agreed the city needs to provide clean drinking water for its citizens, and should try to do more for the city's youth.
As far as what the city lacks, Boyle said, "Somewhere to buy socks," drawing a laugh from the business leaders.
"What's important is what we can do for the businesses that are here," he said.
"We're lacking clothing stores, book stores and of course, shoes," said Porter, who added that the city needs to pave more of its roads, it needs sidewalks and it needs one additional police officer.
"I think we're doing a pretty fair job," said Boyle.
In giving their closing remarks, Boyle said, "I ran for office because I thought the people need an option. My best interests are Kenai's. I believe in public service."
Porter said, "I work hard to serve the community. I have a proven track record of leadership. I would be honored to serve another three years. I love Kenai."
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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