Candidates vying for two open seats on the Kenai city council discussed their positions on the issues of the day at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday.
Incumbents Brian Gabriel and Terry Bookey are fending off a challenge from Mark Schrag to fill just two seats on the city council. Wednesday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, they took turns fielding a wide variety of questions submitted for the forum. The issues that got the most attention were about the city’s infrastructure and its vision for moving forward. Also, their preferred super powers.
“Aside from the obvious, being able to fly and X-Ray vision, I guess my answer would be to be able to bring people together collectively and be patient to the point where you can understand people’s issues to the Nth degree,” said council member Brian Gabriel, taking the first question about what superhero he would like to be, or super powers he would like to possess.
The theme of cooperation and working together was a strong one throughout the 45 minute question and answer session. Mark Schrag, who has led the call for a repeal of the city’s recently-passed comprehensive plan said his efforts in that area have been shaped by compromise, sometimes at a cost.
“In my neighborhood, we’ve been involved quite a bit with these zoning issues and we’re not always of the same mind. There are some people who don’t want to do any sort of compromise. And I’ve pushed at times, and sometimes even taken away my credibility with some of the neighbors, I believe, by pushing for compromise where we would allow some development out on the highway. I’ve worked for compromises so that everyone has a win on that,” Schrag said.
He was referring to development along the Spur highway east of town. He’s been a vocal opponent of reclassifying that area as mixed use, saying there’s a proper balance between keeping residential neighborhoods residential and providing space for more economic growth.
That sort of balance was another theme on the day. Council member Terry Bookey used the comprehensive plan, and the balance it seeks, as an example of what he sees as the mission of the city council.
“It’s an absolute fine line balance game to ensure that you’re looking out for the needs of both interests, which sometimes run in conflict with each other. And the decisions to be made for that are sometimes very difficult. But I think the mission is to listen to those who come before us, take the information that’s been presented to us and thoughtfully make the best decisions that we can for the benefit of our entire community,” Bookey said.
Gabriel said his mission on the council is to keep Kenai a place with economic opportunities that make it an appealing place to raise a family.
“My daughter and son-in-law were able to move back, and he’s got a good job here, they just had a daughter and I think they would love to live in this community the rest of their lives; raise their kids here and be able to have their children enjoy the things that we enjoyed while we grew up here,” he said.
The candidates also took turns discussing that favorite topic for residents of Kenai: dipnetting.
Bookey acknowledged that the city hasn’t always been out in front in terms of managing some of the fallout from the three week extravaganza.
“And some aspects we’ve done a not-so-good job reacting to what’s brought before us. I think the changes in policy and direction that were implemented this previous season are the right direction, and we’ve made good positive steps in reacting to a fishery that is thrust upon us by the state,” he said.
Dipnetting, though popular and kind of popular to rag on a little, too, wasn’t seen as the top issue. Mark Schrag says it’s tackling the problem of keeping Kenai from sliding into Cook Inlet.
“I don’t know if it’s the most important, but I’d put at the top of the list bluff erosion. I feel like there’s a lot of economic benefit that will come from that also, once that is stabilized. There can be trails on there, it can be part of a whole revitalization of the downtown, particularly now with the (Dena’ina Health and Wellness) Center. That can be a game-changer for redeveloping the city center concept,” he said.
The Kenai Chamber of Commerce will sponsor a mayoral debate next Wednesday between Pat Porter and her challenger, Bob Molloy.
Editor’s note: Terry Bookey is a president of the KDLL Board of Directors.