The four candidates running for two open seats on the Homer City Council got a chance to address constituents and speak their mind on a wide range of issues and questions at a forum held for them on Wednesday.
Hosted by the Homer Chamber of Commerce and the Friends of the Homer Library, the forum was moderated by Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Kelly Cooper. She directed prepared questions and questions from the audience to current council members Tom Stroozas and Shelly Erickson, who are running for re-election, and newcomers Storm Hansen-Cavasos and Joey Evensen.
The first question was a nod to the forum location, the Homer Public Library, and candidates were asked what their favorite book is, and why.
For Stroozas, it’s the Bible.
“Because it’s the rule and guide of my faith,” he said.
Erickson started off by joking that her favorite book is the many iterations of the council’s work packets. She followed that by citing the book of Philippians from the Bible.
“It says, ‘Be cheerful with joyous celebration in every season of life, and let joy overflow,’” she said. “And that is the way I try to live my life.”
Hansen-Cavasos’ favorite book is “Shark Dialogues” by Kiana Davenport, which she said is a nod to her Hawaiian heritage.
“In my family, our heritage is very important,” she said. “And the characters in that story just really speak to me.”
For Evensen, it’s “The Logic of Failure” by Dietrich Dorner.
“It talks about the decisions that we make and whether or not that enterprise will ultimately fail, and that the successful enterprises are ones that continue to re-make decisions to continue to evaluate how well that decision was working, and iterate to get it right again and again,” Evensen said. “And those that didn’t work, or ones where somebody was entrenched in their decision and basically had the same recipe they started with.”
Cooper then went through a list of questions ranging from the city and borough tax codes, the local economy and public safety to how the candidates feel about quality of life, homelessness and the proposed Pebble Mine project currently making its way through the permitting process.
Each candidate spoke about their goals for the city, should they be elected, and what they think the biggest issues to work on are.
For Hansen-Cavasos, a major focus would be Homer’s children and young adults. As a single mother of six, she said she feels the absence of a Boys and Girls club, which Homer used to have, and knows the importance of affordable housing for parents and after-school activities for kids.
When asked about the issue of homelessness, Hansen-Cavasos said the solution lies in circling back to young people. The better Homer can protect and raise its youth in a health environment, the better off the community will be down the road when it comes to issues like homelessness, crime and substance abuse, she said.
For Erickson, a main priority should she be re-elected would be the city’s transition to a two-year budget cycle, which she said should bring more transparency to the overall budget process. Other areas of focus for Erickson would be sorting out the best uses of city and public land, and going through city laws and policies to make sure they are updated and working for citizens.
Evensen said he’d like to work with the Homer Chamber of Commerce to form a longterm economic strategy for Homer. He compared the city to resort towns like Aspen, Colorado and said Homer could benefit from beautification, investment in the tourism shoulder seasons and developing a theme for the city to stick to.
For Stroozas, a major area of focus for the city should be figuring out what to do with the Homer Education and Recreation Complex (HERC) buildings that are on city owned land. The city council has recently come to general consensus that the next step ought to be to demolish the buildings, since the city received no interest when it put out a Request for Proposals for other groups to utilize the spaces. Stroozas said finalizing the fate of the HERC buildings is a big goal of his along with finding a solution for a community recreation center in Homer.
Stroozas also spoke of energy efficiency initiatives, like when the city council approved funding to switch out all lighting in city buildings with LED, and said continued improvements to energy use in Homer is a priority for him.
The candidates differed a bit in how they view the business community in Homer and what are the best ways to promote it. Evensen said he thinks the phrase “open for business” is outdated and that, if Homer is going to embrace something like that, it should be revamped.
Stroozas said the business community in Homer is generally open and friendly to incoming ventures, but that it could be improved with things like an updated sign code so that businesses could utilize more updated sign and marketing technology.
Erickson said a healthy business community is one that has a strong base of sustainable year round businesses, not just a summer tourism industry. Hansen-Cavasos echoed this sentiment.
“I feel like ‘open for business’ should really mean for our locals, for year-round people,” she said. “Bring money in from visitors and keep the money here, not just the four months out of the year.”
When asked how the candidates think the city could support existing businesses in town, Stroozas said a good way to do that is by bringing in new ones to complement them. Both Erickson and Hansen-Cavasos emphasized shopping locally and Erickson said encouraging the community to cut down on online shopping is a good way to support local business owners.
Evensen said he’d like to see Homer investigate more “breakthrough” ideas when it comes to supporting existing businesses while trying to grow the business community. He said the possibility of Homer having its own base for shipping companies is one avenue that could have potential.
“The basic infrastructure for how you access Homer is a pipeline for our economy, for our economics,” he said. “… We could potentially, for example, use city land and some tax incentives to try to get a ground transportation shipping company to base themselves out of Homer.”
When asked whether they support the proposed ban of thin, single-use plastic bags in city limits, which voters will also decide in this election along with who will sit on the council, Hansen-Cavasos and Evensen said they are in favor of the measure. They noted that those very thin kinds of bags easily break down in water once they hit the ocean, and that the benefits of getting rid of them outweigh the initial discomfort to shoppers. Hansen-Cavasos said it’s just about forming a new habit by using reusable bags.
Stroozas and Erickson did not answer the question but said they are in favor of the issue going before voters on the ballot.
When the candidates took time at the end of the forum to make a closing statement, Stroozas pointed out what he saw as a weakness in one of the other candidates.
“Public officials must be ready and willing to respond to citizens when faced with questions wherever they may meet,” he said. “And not ignore constituents as candidate Joey did last week at the post office when I asked a question of him, and he stated that I could read it online, and then he walked away. Homer needs elected officials that will not walk away, but instead face issues head on, regardless of whether they agree or not.”
There were audible rumblings and boos from members of the audience, but this was the only contentious moment of the forum.
Those who were not able to attend can listen to the full audio of all forum questions and candidate answers on KBBI Public Radio’s website, at kbbi.org/post/homer-city-council-candidate-forum.
In-person absentee voting is available at Homer City Hall now through Sept. 30. The city and borough election is 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 1. For more information about the election, visit the city’s website at cityofhomer-ak.gov/cityclerk/election-information-0