Local government: Complex, but we're all in it together

Posted: Thursday, September 30, 2010

In the early 70's, my wife Susan and I came to visit Kenai just one time, then packed up all of our worldly goods and moved here, jobless, but committed to making Kenai our home. I still remember family members, who were so sure we would get Alaska out of our system saying, "You're going from the Bush to where?" While they couldn't pronounce Kenai properly, it didn't stop them from visiting and growing to understand what kept us here.

While I have retired from 30 years of teaching, and from some years working retail, being snowbirds hasn't appealed to us because of our love for this community and the sense that there are still things to do here - in all of our seasons, including winter. During both my high school and college years, I participated in student government, so being involved in the political process is a part of who I am. Being a Papa gives me lots of time on the playgrounds and the beach, and I'm grateful for getting a little different view of what's important.

One description of politics that appeals to me is "the total complex of relations between people living in society." Local government certainly can be complex, but we are all in it together. The city belongs to us, as well as generations to come. It belongs to those who have lots of money and those who are economically stressed. It belongs to the voters and those who don't vote. It belongs to each new baby and to every senior citizen. It belongs to those who have been here always, those who came long ago and the person who just arrived.

I'm totally convinced that government cannot and should not be expected to do everything for everybody. I do however believe that we have an opportunity and an obligation to provide a climate that will be conducive to businesses, perhaps even help neighborhoods to deal with issues of importance to them.

Being an elected official in a town of our size, 6th by Alaskan standards, and dinky by the rest of the states' measures, is an honor, a privilege, and humbling as well. So many people feel comfortable approaching me in the grocery store or river bank or at one of the parks when I'm being the Papa for my four year old grandson. I try very hard to listen and to ask the right questions that will make me more informed when making decisions. My children even find it ironic that now I'm more willing to not always be right.

Our city has a lot of good people with a lot of creative ideas, and part of our continuing challenge is how to provide more avenues for input in a positive and timely fashion. Crisis brings on crowds, but crisis isn't the best setting for listening and making good decisions. I'm hopeful that our new council will be more proactive.

I do not believe that Soldotna is our enemy. There I've said it. I think we have been hampered by seeing Soldotna as a rival (that may be still okay in sports), rather than as a possible partner on issues such as the health of the Kenai River. We have much to gain (or lose) together. All you have to do is be on the road at 8 and 5 to know that a lot of "our" people and "their" people are crossing the city limits every day. We need to be working together.

In tough economic times, parks and libraries become even more important and it is timely, that after a mere 20 years and a whole lot of prime rib and shrimp fund-raisers, and untold hours of volunteer time, with the help of council and the voters, a new library addition is part of our skyline. The trail down to the beach is looking good with a new bridge. Other beach improvements have been helpful as the city learns to cope with the annual effects of dipnetting.

Kenai already shares the lowest mill rate on the peninsula with K-Beach. It's good to celebrate that, but we need to continue to be good stewards of our money, while responding to the needs that are important to the citizens. As your elected City Council member, I will work to continue promoting the high quality of life for our residents.

With your support and vote on Oct. 5th, we can continue to work together to make Kenai the best place to work, live and raise our families. Please vote for Hal Smalley for Kenai City Council.

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