Candidate Q&A: Donna Aderhold

Current Homer City Council member Donna Robertson Aderhold is running for Homer Mayor in the upcoming Oct. 6 municipal election.

Program Coordinator for the Gulf Watch Alaska program, she has lived in Alaska since 1990 and in Homer since 2008. Aderhold is in her second term on the city council, having first been elected in 2015.

Aderhold was a member of the second cohort of the Alaska Humanities Forum’s Alaska Salmon Fellows program. She is on the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust Board of Directors and is a Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve Community Council member.

Through her city council seat, Aderhold is the council representative on the city’s ADA Compliance Committee. She was also the City of Homer representative on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Election Stakeholders Group in 2019.

Little known facts about Aderhold include that she won the Snow Goose marathon in Anchorage in the mid-1990s, and she raced motocross in the 1980s, she wrote in an email.

Question: What made you decide to run for Homer mayor?

Answer: I love this community and the diversity of viewpoints represented here. I am running for mayor to encourage multiple perspectives in city council decision-making. My vision is for city council chambers to be a safe space for public discourse and as mayor I would preside over meetings with this intent. I would fully welcome everyone to express themselves.

I recognize that public participation has dropped since council began meeting online during the pandemic. I have missed you. I’d love to hear your ideas for ways to get people reengaged.

The office of the mayor is where the public and local government overlap and I look forward to learning from you.

Q: Other than the issues caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, what do you see as the three biggest issues facing the city currently?

A: Alaska’s fiscal situation keeps me up at night, I believe we need to focus on climate change, and Homer residents provide input to me on their desires for our community’s future. 1. The state’s current fiscal instability could affect Homer in road maintenance and erosion control, support of our plans for the large vessel harbor, integrity of the ferry system, future of the Kachemak Bay Campus, and PERS reimbursement. 2. In addition to refocusing on the city’s Climate Action Plan and reducing the city’s carbon footprint in meaningful ways, we need to think comprehensively about future effects of climate change on our community. 3. I hear from Homer residents the desire for amenities that create a healthier environment for individuals and families — a multi-use community center, connected trails and sidewalks to make Homer more inviting for walking and cycling, support for populations experiencing or at risk for homelessness or addiction, and accessibility for individuals with disabilities.

Q: What could Homer be doing better in terms of handling and mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic (if anything)?

A: Thanks to the measures implemented by businesses and community members, Homer has had few cases of COVID-19. The past six months have been stressful and I appreciate the resilience and flexibility expressed by Homer residents. We worked through mandated business closures; learned to wear face masks, keep our social circles small, and physically distance; and accepted quarantining after travel. Still, many businesses, nonprofits, families, and individuals struggle to make ends meet. Together we will persevere.

I appreciate how city staff, South Peninsula Hospital, the borough, and Homer-based public health nurses leapt to action in mid-March to prepare the city, modify the hospital, and communicate to residents in the interest of public health and safety.

There are two things I would improve if I could. I wish council could have acted faster to develop programs to distribute CARES Act funds into the city and I wish our request for assistance to the state for developing and implementing a mitigation plan had been more successful.

Q: What will be the biggest priority/priorities heading into the city’s next budget cycle?

A: I’m concerned about the impact of COVID-19 mitigation measures on Homer businesses now and in the future and revenues to the city in sales taxes, I believe it is important to establish policies for the city’s reserve funds, and we need to evaluate the possibilities of planned capital projects. 1. Third quarter sales tax revenue reporting closes Sept. 30. These numbers will help us better understand the impacts of COVID-19 on city businesses and city revenues, and how the pandemic may affect small businesses and the city’s budget moving forward. 2. When we established the biennial budget in 2019 we outlined the need to develop policy related to various reserve funds. We need to complete these policies before starting the 2021-2022 budget cycle. 3. Given the fiscal impact of the pandemic, council will need to discuss how to proceed with the next phases of funding for capital projects such as the large vessel harbor (particularly state and federal funding support) and community center planning and HERC demolition.

Q: What leadership skills do you bring to the table that you think would specifically aid you in being an effective mayor?

A: I see leadership from a perspective of collaboration and continual growth. Over my career I have managed many projects and teams and found people respond best when their expertise is respected and they are provided opportunities to excel. Recently, I gained skills in facilitating meaningful conversations that lead to deep learning and empathy for different viewpoints. I’ve also explored issues of equity and sustainability that I believe will be beneficial as mayor.

Q: What is your favorite book and why?

A: We have stacks of books in our house and I have a habit of reading multiple books at the same time, so picking one favorite is impossible. I’ll mention two books I love, one fiction and one nonfiction. “Agaat,” by Marlene van Nierkirk, is a novel set in mid-twentieth century South Africa that follows the complicated relationship between two women. Beyond the beautiful writing, the novel helped me understand apartheid in a new way. I’m currently reading “These Truths” by Jill Lepore, which I find an interesting and valuable examination of U.S. history. I’m at an age where I really appreciate the importance of exploring history.