Tim Navarre last week cautioned his former Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly colleagues to consider carefully before putting new borough land on the auction block or reducing the size of the borough's fund balance, arguing neither move is appropriate at this time.
The former assembly member who lost his bid for re-election Oct. 1, also said he was disappointed to learn that a Republican Party group had contributed directly to candidates in the borough mayor and assembly races -- races that are supposed to be nonpartisan affairs.
After nine years on the assembly, the last two as its president, Navarre said he would take a little time off from local politics, visit Ireland and then devote himself to the family's restaurant business. But after a bit of regrouping, Navarre promised he'd never be far removed from important borough issues.
In an interview last week, Navarre spoke of his time in office, his concerns for the future of the assembly and the integrity of borough government.
"I think my nine years on the assembly were pretty positive," Navarre said. "It was a great opportunity for me."
Navarre was first elected in 1993 during the administration of Mayor Don Gilman, whom he credited with pushing him to develop relationships with state and federal lawmakers who would prove fruitful as years passed.
He remained in office during the administration of his brother, Mayor Mike Navarre, and continued through the first administration of Mayor Dale Bagley, until losing to assembly member Betty Glick in the assembly District 2 race two weeks ago. His last night in office was Oct. 8.
It was during the last two or three years that the friendships and working relationships with state and federal lawmakers cultivated over his time on the assembly began paying off, he said.
"I was able to offer my leadership to the current administration on behalf of the whole borough," Navarre said.
For the most part, Navarre believes those efforts were well received by Bagley's administration, even though he and the mayor often differed.
"That's why I kind of disagreed with some of the stuff that came out in the last campaign that the assembly wasn't working with the administration," he said. "I didn't see that.
"Yes, there were some contentious points, such as the disposal of land out north, and there might have been strong differences between the mayor and the assembly, but when it came to state and local issues, for the most part (assembly efforts) were well received."
Navarre elaborated on the issue of putting borough land on the market. He opposed efforts by Bagley to put land at the northwestern end of the peninsula on the auction block saying the move was financially premature. Bagley has made putting borough land into private hands a campaign issue in his two mayoral campaigns.
"You don't do things because it is the political thing to do. It needs to be the right thing to do," Navarre said. "There will be a time when property needs to be put on the market out north, but right now (that area) has more wild land on the market than anywhere else in the whole borough. It currently has more homesteads undeveloped than any place else in the whole borough."
Selling the land could put large tracks currently available for use by the general public into the hands of a few landowners. It wouldn't just put it on the tax rolls. It would take it out of public use, Navarre said.
Also of concern, he said, is the introduction of Republican Party dollars to the local races for mayor and assembly.
According to the Alaska Public Office Commission, the group Kenai Peninsula Republican Women provided campaign funds to Bagley ($3,000), as well as $250 each to assembly members Betty Glick, John Davis and Grace Merkes.
In addition, Bagley, his assistant Ed Oberts and Jack Brown, former assembly member and now business manager of the borough's Community and Economic Development Division, among others, are listed as deputy treasurers of the Kenai Peninsula Republican Women. As such, they can raise and accept campaign funds on behalf of the group. Ed Oberts' wife, Leona Oberts, is listed as campaign chair for the group.
According to the APOC, only candidates and those listed as treasurers and deputy treasurers can accept donated funds.
Navarre said there was nothing illegal about the group's donations, but, ideally, local races should be nonpartisan affairs and thus it was inappropriate for the parties to be involved financially. Overtly partisan local politicians risk compromising their effectiveness in dealing with lawmakers at the state and federal level who are clearly party members -- especially if those lawmakers adhere to principles of another party, Navarre said.
"I'm not saying a Republican can't run for that (local) office, or a Democrat can't run for that office, but the parties should not engage themselves in the election for those offices," Navarre said. "We have to
have elected officials at the local level that can go to Juneau or D.C. and work with Republicans or Democrats. In a lot of places you have to work with everybody to accomplish things."
Accepting campaign financing from a party organization in a local race leaves the perception that an elected official represents only constituents of that party, Navarre said.
"The people of the borough need to answer the question whether we want the parties running our local government when it's a nonpartisan race, or do we want people who will represent all of us regardless of party," he said. "We don't run as Republicans or Democrats. We run on platforms and issues and on who would do the better job."
Navarre said he hopes local officials in the future will tell the parties they don't have a place in local elections.
If local politics demands one's best efforts at representing all the people all of the time, he said he believes he met that objective during his tenure on the assembly. Navarre, a Democrat, said he was able to represent the assembly and the borough effectively with Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republican, as well as with Republican lawmakers in Juneau. He pointed to the federal funding for the borough's spruce bark beetle mitigation program as an example of the benefits of effective networking.
On local taxes, Navarre said he does not accept the premise of those calling for further cuts in property taxes that the borough's fund balance is too high. Currently, the borough's bank account -- the money it keeps available, essentially for day-to-day operations and contingencies, as opposed to invested funds -- is around $25 million.
That's about half a year's needs, Navarre said, and not an exorbitant amount. He said he thinks it would be unwise to pull it lower.
Among other things, the borough's "adequate fund balance" results in a good bond rating when the borough borrows funds for things like school or solid waste management projects, he said. He also said having a good fund balance will be a plus as the borough works with local property owners and businesses to extend utilities and make road improvements through utility and road improvement districts.
"There are a lot of growth issues the borough is going to have to address," he said. "I think we should take it slow right now."
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