Book advertising divides council; mayor votes to spend the money

In a 3-3 tie broken by Mayor Beth Wythe, the Homer City Council at its regular meeting Monday approved an ordinance appropriating $31,000 to pay for eight pages of content in an upcoming revision of “North to the Future,” a $75, glossy, full-color 320-page book produced by Wyndham Publications of Kirkland, Wash.

Council members Francie Roberts, Barbara Howard and David Lewis voted for the appropriation while council members Beau Burgess, Bryan Zak and Gus Van Dyke voted against it.

Alaska Senate President Charlie Higgins and Speaker of the House Mike Chenault proposed advertising in the book in a Feb. 19 letter to Wythe. They said that the state is working in cooperation with Wyndham Publications on the fifth edition of “North to the Future” and considers it “the economic development book for Alaska.” 

“We need to let the world know that Alaska businesses and other organizations are opening new doors of economic opportunity,” Higgins and Chenault wrote. “As delegates from the state travel to domestic and international destinations to promote trade and development in Alaska, this book will serve as an exceptional calling card and reminder for Alaska businesses and organizations.”

The letter from Higgins and Chenault said Kim Halverson, executive vice president of Wyndham Publications, would be calling the city to discuss the proposal. It included contact information for Halverson.

The Alaska Legislature does not provide funding to Wyndham for the publication, said Pam Varni, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency. For volume IV, the Legislature got about 500 copies, with two copies given to each legislator’s office. Another 500 copies are given to Alaska’s congressional delegation. “North to the Future” also is taken on trade delegation visits.

“It’s a good marketing tool for anybody in Alaska, whether it’s local government, state government, the private sector or whatever,” said former Speaker of the House and Homer Rep. Gail Phillips, who wrote the introductions for the first eight chapters of volume IV.

Under the city’s contract with Wyndham, the city would get one copy of the book and a PDF copy — “a $498 value,” according to the contract — to put on its website. For example, a PDF version of volume IV is on the University of Alaska Fairbanks Alumni Association’s website at Chapters on UAF are included in volume IV.

Varni said other cities, organizations and businesses also pay for space and content in “North to the Future.” Volume IV includes a section, “Prominent Communities of Alaska,” featuring cities like Barrow, Delta Junction and Kenai, and “Team Alaska,” profiling oil companies, construction companies, banks, utility companies and government and community organizations.

Volume III is available at the Homer Public Library, with a note that it was donated by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer. Sue Post, a partner at the Homer Bookstore, said Wyndham’s “North to the Future” is not for sale at the store and can’t be ordered through the national and Alaska distributors the bookstore uses. lists new copies of the book for sale at $74.70 and used copies at $34.99.

In public testimony on the ordinance on Monday, Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center executive director Jim Lavrakas raised questions about “North to the Future.” A former Anchorage Daily News photographer and author of “Snap Judgment,” a self-published photo essay book he funded through Kickstarter, Lavrakas said he found the “North to the Future” proposal puzzling.

“From my experience in publications, it’s rare that I’ve known of a publisher when they come to do the story to ask the subject of a story to pay for the exposure,” he said. “That just set off a signal.”

Council member Roberts said she had questions similar to those of Lavrakas.

“I’ve been wondering about the same things,” she said.

Roberts suggested postponing a decision, but she didn’t make that motion.

Mayor Wythe said that when City Manager Walt Wrede brought up the idea at the March 10 meeting, it was her impression the council gave him the go-ahead.

“This very same set of six people proceeded to give this distinct nod to Walt to accept the offer,” she said.

In a March 13 email to Halverson accepting the proposal, Wrede said he would be signing a registration form to indicate the city’s intent.

“However, the City Council has the final authority and, as I indicated, it must pass an ordinance appropriating the money,” Wrede wrote. “I anticipate no problem with council approval based upon the discussion the members had on Monday (March 10) night.”

Council members Zak and Burgess both said they felt it would be better to spend money locally to promote Homer.

“I’m experiencing buyer’s remorse on this project,” Zak said Monday night. “I think we did explain that we all have to vote for it.”

The ordinance also says the city would solicit funding support from other organizations to help pay for its pages in “North to the Future.”

Any of the three council members voting for the ordinance could call for reconsideration, but as of press time on Wednesday that had not been done.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.