In the upcoming municipal elections, three candidates are running for the seat of Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor: incumbent Mayor Charlie Pierce, Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings and Tony Nightingale. Pierce and Farnsworth-Hutchings spoke with the Clarion about their campaigns ahead of Election Day. Farnsworth-Hutchings was interviewed on Sept. 17, while Pierce was interviewed on Sept. 25. Both interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Nightingale did not respond to multiple interview requests as of press time.
Why are you running for borough mayor?
Farnsworth-Hutchings: “The same reason I ran the last time. I feel that this borough really needs good, strong financial responsibility and our current borough mayor isn’t doing that.”
Farnsworth-Hutchings specifically criticized her opponent’s financial policies, including the FY 2021 budget, which she said shows that Pierce is proposing raising property taxes by 23% and that the fund balance is down 72% because of mismanagement.
“It isn’t how you run a borough. You talk to your taxpayers to work collaboratively with your assembly and your department heads and your service areas. And that is not happening.”
How would you describe your leadership style?
Farnsworth-Hutchings: “I would describe my leadership style as collaborative.”
Farnsworth-Hutchings said her experience working in HR gave her experience working with many employees in different departments, and that working with others is the only way to solve problems.
“It’s collaboration. It’s having your meetings every week and having them realize that there’s not a closed door between you and them.”
What policy issues do you feel strongest about?
Farnsworth-Hutchings: “Collaboration. I really firmly believe that you cannot have a good working borough without collaboration between your assembly, your city managers, all of your communities and your employees. I have sat many times with people that I didn’t necessarily agree with, but they brought something to the table and that was worthwhile.”
Are there specific areas where you think collaboration has fallen through?
Farnsworth-Hutchings: “At the [Chamber of Commerce] forum the other day, and Charlie … said, ‘I am your voice. You need to vote me in, I’m your voice.’ And I had to correct him. I said, ‘No, you’re one of 10 voices.’ There are nine assembly people on there that have been voted in by their constituents. So it’s a collaborative voice.”
How would you navigate the borough’s diverse communities that all have their own priorities?
Farnsworth-Hutchings: Farnsworth-Hutchings said that though the communities are diverse, they still “can work together.”
“To malign the people that take care of different areas that are so diverse and still manage to keep a level ship is concerning to me. Your borough mayor should not be maligning city managers, he should be working with them,” Farnsworth-Hutchings said.
How do you think the borough has handled the pandemic so far?
Farnsworth-Hutchings: “It’s an unknown and we all know that.”
Farnsworth-Hutchings praised the work of borough administration over the last few months.
“They are all working so hard and getting the information out there — I don’t know that they could be working much harder.”
Is there anything you think the borough should specifically address or change related to COVID heading into the fall and winter months?
Farnsworth-Hutchings: Farnsworth-Hutchings said that on the peninsula, a shared love for outdoor activities means that people are going to be outside regardless of what season it is.
“I think in our area it’s not going to be quite as detrimental … it’s an unknown,” Farnsworth-Hutchings said.
Last year there was a ballot measure to raise the borough’s sales tax cap that was rejected by voters. Would you support that measure if it were put on the ballot again next year?
Farnsworth-Hutchings: “The thing about that sales tax is everybody pays it, whether they’re coming from Anchorage or out of state or Fairbanks. The other thing, it’s designated for education only. And that was something that our first borough mayor, he said, ‘you’re going to fight for school funding every year if you don’t have a dedicated fund.’ So they put in sales tax, and it is only earmarked for education.”
Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
Farnsworth-Hutchings: “I do want to touch again on education, because I know how important it is. I know I got a very good education in the school district; I know my children did, as did my grandchildren. It’s our job to do that for them. It’s our turn to step up and make sure they have the same opportunities that we did.”
In addition to her interest in public education, Farnsworth-Hutchings said that her background as an accountant makes her uniquely qualified for the position of borough mayor.
“I have worked budgets for years and years and years and just because I’m not the person that will get out there and scream and yell at them, I am still very firm and very secure and very solid in my accounting abilities. And I have not seen that demonstrated by Mr. Pierce.”