Two of the three candidates for Seward City Council gathered Thursday, Sept. 21, in the Seward Community Library to talk about their bid for public office and issues facing city voters as part of a candidate forum hosted by the Peninsula Clarion, KDLL 91.9 FM and KBBI 890 AM public radio.
The forum, hosted in partnership with the Central Peninsula League of Women Voters and the Seward Community Library, was the sixth of eight being held throughout September heading into the Oct. 3 municipal election.
Over the course of about an hour, candidates fielded questions from forum moderators Ashlyn O’Hara, the Peninsula Clarion’s government and education reporter, and Riley Board, reporter at KDLL public radio.
Participating in Thursday’s forum were Julie Crites and Brad Snowden. Incumbent council member Robert Barnwell is also running for a seat on the council but was unable to attend the forum. Seward City Council members serve three-year terms.
Barnwell is a retired teacher and commercial fisherman who holds a master’s degree in education from Framingham State University near Boston.
Crites is a family nurse practitioner who served on the Seward City Council from February to October in 2020.
Snowden is the owner and operator of Hotel Seward who has previously served as president of the Seward Rotary and has lived in Seward for more than 55 years.
Thursday’s forum kicked off with a question about the looming vote on the future of Seward’s electric utility, which city voters will decide on election day. The city during a special election in May put before voters the question of whether or not to sell Seward Electric to Homer Election Association. Although a majority voters supported the sale, it failed to meet the 60% approval threshold needed to pass.
Candidates had different opinions about Seward’s potential electric utility sale. Crites said she trusts that the city council’s favorable opinion toward the sale is well-founded and that spreading the costs associated with running an electric utility over a bigger user base is a good idea.
“I think that it’s wise if you can put the upgrades to the infrastructure that utility company needs over a larger base of people than what we have here,” Crites said. “Whether or not (the city sells) to Homer (Electric Association) or Chugach (Electric Association), I think it’s really based on who’s going to give us the best rates and in the future the best rates.”
Snowden said he doesn’t support the sale.
“My answer is short,” Snowden said. “No. I’m not that strong on government running business.”
Regarding the second ballot question voters will be faced with on election day — whether or not to lower the support the threshold needed to sell the city’s electric utility from 60% to 50% — the candidates again disagreed.
Crites said she thinks a utility sale should only require a simple majority to move forward and said anyone who receives electricity from the City of Seward should be allowed to vote on the sale, even if they live outside of city limits.
“I think if you’re utilizing the electric services, you should have the opportunity to vote,” Crites said.
Snowden said he doesn’t support lowering the threshold, which he called “another game of politics.”
“To me, this is just another game of politics, of shifting things — if we can’t get it one way, we’re gonna get another way,” he said.
On the issue of affordable housing, Crites said it’s important for the city to nurture effective programs, such as Seward’s developer reimbursement program, while Snowden said higher wages would give prospective homeowners more buying power.
“I also feel like we should look at — we’re limited with land here in Seward — looking outside of Seward at the borough and kind of pushing toward it to open up a little bit more land for housing for us as well,” Crites said.
Both candidates said they would be strong advocates for Seward’s public schools. Crites said her daughter, currently in high school, has attended Seward schools since she was in elementary school and that a lack of affordable housing for teachers and cuts to extracurricular programming are among the struggles facing the school community. Snowden agreed that education is important.
“It’d be one of my highest priorities,” Snowden said. “Education is absolutely critical to our future — not just Seward, but our country and your children’s future.”
Candidates also fielded questions about Seward’s business community, from how the city council can incentivize participation in Seward year-round to how the city can support business development.
Crites said she sees the challenges affecting Seward’s overall population as being connected to the seasonality and availability of services in town.
“As far as the businesses that don’t stay open in the winter, it’s the lack of the customers utilizing the services which goes back to we need to increase the customer base, the population in Seward,” she said.
Snowden said Seward competes with Anchorage and that he knows from his own experience owning businesses in town the struggles that come with staying open in the off-season.
“Having been in business in Seward, unquestionably this town is really suffering in the wintertime with … no business, which creates no jobs.”
Candidates also talked about their vision for the future of Seward, what they think are the biggest challenges facing the city and where they think the city may be spending too much or not enough money. They were also given the opportunity to make opening and closing statements during Monday’s forum.
Thursday’s full candidate forum can be streamed on the Clarion’s Facebook page or on KDLL’s website at kdll.org. The next forum will be held on Monday, Sept. 25 at the Soldotna Public Library and will feature candidates for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education’s Nikiski and Soldotna seats.
Election day is Oct. 3 and absentee in-person voting started on Sept. 18.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CORRECTION: A previous story identified Brad Snowden as the owner and opeartor of the Hotel Seward. Per the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, the current owner of the Hotel Seward is JL Hotel Seward, LLC.