Note: In Homer’s two-person mayoral race, citizens might have noticed something missing from the contest between incumbent Mayor Beth Wythe and challenger Lindianne Sarno: yard signs. By mutual agreement, Wythe and Sarno decided not to put up the signs. The candidates top the Oct. 7 Homer ballot, with elections also for two city council members, a charter commission question and seven commission members.
After eight years on the Homer City Council and one term as Homer’s mayor, most people feel like they know Beth Wythe. A 41-year Homer resident, she graduated from Homer High School, married a third-generation Homer resident and has spent her entire working life in Homer. But here’s something many might not know about Wythe.
She’s a college student, too. Wythe, 54, graduated last December from the University of Alaska Southeast with a bachelor of business administration in human resources, and she’s now working on a masters of public administration from UAS.
Attending through distance education and online classes, she’s the classic returning student. Wythe tried college after high school — Homer High, 1978 — got married, had two kids and now more than 30 years later, is hitting the books again.
“You just have a very different perspective,” Wythe said of college. “When you go back, I feel like you’re going back with more of a focus.”
Wythe came to Homer in 1973 after a torturous passage to Kodiak on the M/V Tustumena. She grew up in Oregon and Washington. Her dad worked in the food processing industry and had an interview in Kodiak. He took the family, and after the trip, her mom said, “No way.”
But they came through Homer to get to Kodiak.
“We came over the hill on a gorgeous, sunshiny day and had the ‘incredible’ trip to Kodiak,” Wythe said.
Her dad got a job at Alaska Seafoods and the family settled. Wythe met her husband, John, when she tutored him in algebra. At 16 she worked at the Homer Theatre and also worked there at 21. John Wythe would come by after work for a sandwich and hang out. The son of Eileen Wythe and step-son of Ray Kranich, John Wythe traces his roots to two pioneer Homer families of the 1930s and 1940s.
Beth Wythe got a certificate at Cannon Business College. Her first formal job was at the Homer Rexall. She’s been at Homer Electric Association for 28 years and in human resources for 25 years.
Wythe said she’s running again for mayor because she wants to keep the momentum going on projects like the Public Safety Building. Previously, the capital improvement program priority list had been “all over the map,” she said. By grouping programs together like harbor projects and now the Public Safety Building — a new police station and fire hall — projects can keep moving.
“It’s been really fun,” she said of her public service. “I’m in a place where I have the fortune to contribute something back to the community. I consider this an amazing honor that people would allow me to do this for them.”
One frustration Wythe had and that she said she’s trying to change is the perception that Homer is closed to business.
“As a long-term resident, I can tell you that perception was not happy for me,” she said.
Through things like improving the port and harbor, Wythe said Homer can show the community is open for business.
“We mean that. We have a port and harbor that we want to make money,” she said.
As to what makes her uniquely qualified, Wythe described herself as “a big picture person.”
“Sometimes I have to take a breath and think people can’t see inside my head,” she said.
The Homer Recreation and Education Complex is an example of that, she said. One possible site for the Public Safety Building is the HERC lot, which would mean tearing it down.
“Part of their fear is the building and gym would go away, and there would be no future, no alternate facility available,” she said.
Her “big picture” focus is that while doing one project you can look at other projects.
“Get outside the box,” she said. “Get all the stakeholders together.”
A top priority on Wythe’s to-do list is the new Public Safety Building. Budget priorities are police and fire protection and road maintenance. Wythe has been a big advocate of building up the city’s financial reserves. If a disaster happens like the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake, federal funding would probably come eventually.
“But it’s going to take months and years,” she said.
Homer’s biggest strength also it is weakness, Wythe said.
“Our strength and our weakness is our citizenry,” she said. “We have great people and they have great ideas and they’re great contributors and they’re intense, but when they are in conflict, nothing can happen. The fact that we are not short of conflict makes it a weakness. It’s still a great place to live.”