Council member Bryan Zak: his experience qualifies him

With his 3-year term expiring this October, veteran Homer City Council member Bryan Zak chose not to run for re-election and instead shifted his focus to another city office: Homer mayor.

Like opponent David Lewis, Zak was first elected to the council in 2008. Zak, 60, won a 2-year seat that came open when former council member Lane Chesley resigned, and then won re-election to regular 3-year seats in 2010 and 2013.

Current Homer Mayor Mary E. “Beth” Wythe is not running for re-election. She had run in the August Republican Party Primary against Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and John Cox, for the District 31 Representative seat, but lost to Seaton and Cox.

Zak said he’s running for mayor because of his years of public service.

“I’ve got the experience now having served on the council,” he said. “I feel fully qualified to represent citizens in that position.”

Zak easily wins the contest for “most unusual way to come to Alaska.” Now a retired U.S. Air Force major, Zak first visited Alaska in 1984 for a military exercise out of Elmendorf Air Force Base and flew up on a B-52 bomber. He had a few days off and drove down to Homer and fell in love with the area.

Born in Las Vegas and raised in Redmond, Calif., Zak was an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts. After graduating from Pepperdine University with a bachelor of arts in business administration, he joined the Air Force, serving from 1979 to 1998 as a navigator, electronics warfare officer and defensive systems officer with the Strategic Air Command. Zak also has master of public administration in education from Eastern Washington University, and has finished course work and is writing his dissertation for a doctorate in education from Texas Tech, Lubbock.

In the Air Force, Zak flew on B-52 and later B-1 bombers. He’d always tried to get stationed in Alaska, but the SAC didn’t have bases here. Zak had postings in Texas, Washington, Alabama and at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

He met his wife, Karen, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, at the first-ever Air Force quality symposium, where Zak was general chairman. He said he thought he might have impressed her then with what he cites as one of his professional accomplishments: “My ability to put together teams and facilitate groups of people so they’re working together vs. working against each other and finding ways to accomplish goals and objectives,” he said.

The Zaks lived in Reston, Va., before coming to Alaska. Zak had wanted to move to Alaska and when he saw a job he thought Karen might fit, submitted her resume without telling her. They moved to Anchorage in 1998 and bought a condo there.

While in Anchorage, Zak bought property on the Anchor River near Black Water Bend and later his current home, Alaska Adventure Cabins, at the top of Baycrest Hill. The Zaks live in a home on the property, and have added cabins and land over the past 17 years. Zak works as assistant state director for the Small Business Development Center. Karen Zak is executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.

Zak noted how sometimes he votes against the council.

“I’m never one who felt he had to vote along with the pack,” he said. “If there is concern I’m hearing from the citizens, I’m going to vote independent.”

Zak and Lewis voted on opposite sides in introducing several controversial ordinances affecting commercial cannabis in Homer, but on final action voted the same. Zak supported the introduction of council member Heath Smith’s proposed ban by city council action of commercial cannabis and a proposal by Homer Mayor Beth Wythe to put the issue of commercial cannabis to a citizen vote. Smith’s proposal died for lack of a second and Zak then joined Lewis in voting against the citizen vote. Zak also voted with Lewis on an ordinance regulating by zoning district commercial cannabis cultivation, processing, testing and sale.

Zak said he favored moving forward cautiously with commercial cannabis in the city. “It does provide us the ability here in the city of Homer to determine what the future is and see if it will work,” he said.

Zak also supports industrial hemp, the cultivation of nonintoxicating cannabis for purposes like clothing fibers and building materials.

If elected mayor, Zak said he’d try to bring council members together to work for common goals. He said he feels he’s most qualified because of his experience and people he knows around the state. Zak often has been the council’s representative at Alaska Municipal League meetings.

“None of us can do this alone. It’s not my personal experience, but the experts I know, the experts we can draw upon,” he said.

Regarding what he’s learned in his personal, professional and public life, Zak mentioned his background in the quality management movement. He’s been a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award examiner and now is a Pacific Northwest Quality Award examiner. He also noted his experience as a lifelong learner. With modern technology, citizens can advance learning through the internet.

“I see that the opportunities to learn more and higher quality learning allows us to be more productive citizens,” Zak said. “Learning is available to everyone.”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at