Cooper: Wants Homer to be heard on assembly

A candidate for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly District 8-Homer, Kelly Cooper isn’t waiting until she’s elected to find out what’s going on in the borough. She’s already doing some homework.

“When I got on the (South Peninsula) hospital board, I did that, too,” said Cooper, a SPH operating board member since 2008. “I went to some meetings before I decided to accept the board position so I could see what I was getting into, so I could come in a little prepared and up to speed, understanding how they operate. It’s invaluable.” 

This is Cooper’s second run at the District 8 assembly seat. In 2011, she was part of a three-way race including incumbent Bill Smith and Homer City Council member Bryan Zak. Smith won re-election with 46.26 percent of the vote. Cooper came in second with 29.86 percent and Zak third with 23.68 percent.

Smith is unable to run for reelection due to term limits and Cooper is running unopposed. 

While she doesn’t see serving on the assembly as very “sexy job,” Cooper said it plays an important role for the Homer area.

“I’m doing it because I want Homer to be heard,” said Cooper. “One of my strengths is relationship building, networking, bringing people together to problem solve. I’m not taking anything to the table that isn’t already there, but maybe a different way of approaching it.”

In terms of qualifications, Cooper pointed to her experience on the hospital board and its $53 million budget, her years as a small business owner and the challenges that emerged during her service on the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. 

“I was president during the downsizing of the (fishing) charter industry and I felt it was important to have a commercial fisherman on the board. The charter people screamed and hollered, but I didn’t budge. I wanted representation from all the industries,” said Cooper of one such challenge.

“I think we lost a couple of members over that, but we stuck firm believing everyone should be included, not one industry over another.” 

Cooper’s top priority if elected is changing the borough’s local preference policy that includes a 5 percent preference that may be applied to all purchases under $50,000.

“That needs to be increased,” said Cooper. 

What isn’t needed is a bed tax to help fund tourism on the Kenai Peninsula. An effort to establish a bed tax was recently supported by Smith, but vetoed by KPB Mayor Mike Navarre before it came before borough voters. Cooper used it as an example to make several points.

First of all, as the owner of Glacier View Cabins, Cooper said 50 percent of her guests are corporate visitors, not tourists. 

Secondly, with multiple chambers of commerce on the peninsula, as well as the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council, Cooper said, “We need to make sure we’re not duplicating efforts. I want to make sure we’re spending money appropriately and not just (funding) an automatic pass-through”

She also opposed having voters in other communities make decisions impacting Homer.

“I don’t want Seward or Kenai or Soldotna making decisions for Homer. The city could do that if it thought it was valuable,” said Cooper.

She favors an alignment of the city’s CIP, Capital Improvement Plan, with the borough’s priority list in order for Homer to “get its fair share,” and is a champion of working through the proper channels.

“Tall Tree Road is a perfect example,” said Cooper, referring to years of flood-caused road and bridge damage north of Anchor Point that is finally being corrected.

“We have to let the road service area do what they’re doing, know what our priorities are and that the whole assembly understands that Anchor Point is just as important as the road to Seward.” 

Regarding propositions on the borough ballot, (see related stories, page 7), Cooper questioned the fiscal note accompanying Proposition A, an advisory vote regarding funding for domestic animal rescue. According to the proposition wording, a mill rate of 0.02 would generate approximately $95,000. 

“The tough question has to be asked: Are those the real numbers?” said Cooper.

“I want real numbers presented to me. I want us to look deeper. 

Of Advisory Proposition B, asking voters if the borough shall conduct borough elections by mail, Cooper said, “I don’t think that makes sense when we already have absentee voting.”  

Regarding Proposition C, Cooper does support expanding the boundaries of South Peninsula Hospital.

Cooper plans to be available to voters after she’s elected. She pointed to the example set by a current assembly member. In addition to maintaining email contact with his constituents, he goes to a community café so he can be easily available to answer questions and hear voters’ concerns.

“That’s a wonderful way to do it,” said Cooper. “I want people to be part of the solution.”