Kenai City Council candidates were able to sound off against their opponents at a Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon forum Wednesday at the Merit Inn.
Four candidates are running for the two available seats -- two incumbents and two hopefuls -- to be decided in Tuesday's local election. The sitting council members, Barry Eldridge and Hal Smalley, are running against the new faces, Terry Bookey and Brian Gabriel Sr.
All candidates seemed pleased with where the city is sitting financially and with servicing its residents, but some issues like water quality, bluff erosion, the public process and economic development were cited as priorities among the men.
Aspiring council member Bookey, who works for Central Emergency Services in Soldotna, said that the city needs to be accountable to its public.
"I think we need to repair a slightly tarnished image of our leaders not being responsible to the public," he said. "I think that everybody that takes the time to come to city council deserves our full and complete attention."
Incumbent councilman Hal Smalley, a retired teacher who also serves on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, also stressed the need for the body to listen to residents.
"What's most important or pressing is probably what needs to be down in my neighborhood or our neighborhood," he said.
Smalley said the city surveys its residents occasionally to find out what residents want. The water quality issue of discoloration is something the public wanted cleared up and so the council has been working on it, he said.
Gabriel, who works as a manager at the Alaska Department of Transportation and as a commercial fisherman, said public input and testimony is necessary for the comprehensive plan and the city's economic development.
He said he would like to see the city do what it can to work with its industrial and commercial property, like the property near the airport, without impacting neighborhoods.
The comprehensive plan should help the city realize what it wants to do with its property to "attract business and satisfy residents," Gabriel said.
The airport was an area of potential development and growth that several candidates commented on.
Eldridge, a retired U.S. Coast Guard captain who's served four years on Kenai City Council, said that he would like to see the increased use of the airport and to make better use of the land.
Smalley said the airport is also an important factor in the area's financial future.
"Where this airport goes the economy of the entire Peninsula goes," he said.
Eldridge also stressed the need for the city's longtime bluff erosion project and "to finally get that moving."
In other terms of economic development, Eldridge said the way to attract more business is by keeping the mill rate low.
All four candidates were pleased with the city's reduction of the mill rate this year to 3.85, meaning residents pay $385 for each $100,000 of assessed property value, without cutting any services.
The candidates also echoed one another in their reasons for running as a public service rather than a testament to dissatisfaction with the current body.
"I'm not running for council as a mandate for or against anyone serving on council," said Bookey, a 36-year-old father. "I think my demographic is underrepresented on council."
Gabriel said he "doesn't have a hidden agenda running for this seat." His strengths are in conflict resolution and listening, due to his large family, he said.
"As a fiscal conservative I believe about living within our means and being cognizant when spending taxpayer money," Gabriel said.
Eldridge and Smalley both emphasized their years of experience and leadership in various city capacities as reasons why the public should vote for them.
The election to decide Kenai's council and mayor is Tuesday.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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