By Mary Kauffman
September 19, 2007
The first forum hosted by the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce took place on Wednesday, September 12th. Over the short local campaign season, the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce will also host candidate luncheon forums for the Borough Assembly and the School Board candidates.
Last week's luncheon forum offered the Ketchikan City Council candidates an opportunity to answer questions which provided some clarification on their positions on selected issues. Prior to the questions, opening statements allowed for brief comments about background, experience and interest in running for a seat on the City Council.
Of the six candidates vying for the two open seats on the City Council, four were present to participate in the forum and one participated by submitting a prepared statement which was read by an appointed chamber member. Present were candidates Samuel Bergeron, Tom Coyne, George Tipton and Richard (Dick) Coose. Michael McNally submitted a prepared statement and addressed the questions in writing which was allowed by the rules established by the Chamber. Not present for the forum was Robert (Bob) L. Brown.
The forum began with candidates presenting opening statements.
Richard (Dick) Coose said he has lived in Alaska for the past 27 years. He has a wife, two adult children and five grandchildren and one great-grand daughter in Ketchikan. Coose said he's served on the Chamber Board and has served as the president of the Chamber. He is a member of the Lions Club and has served two terms on the Ketchikan Borough Assembly. He said, "Basically my objective for running for City Council is to promote economic development. Some people may question why economic development because the Borough Assembly has that responsibility. I think it's both bodies responsibility and we've got to work together to do it."
Coose said, "I do believe that we've got a few problems in town - street maintenance, water and sewage and a few others things." He added, " I intend to get some of those streets fixed that I bounce across every day."
George Tipton began his opening statement by saying "I've been involved in many aspects of the community and this track record proves my reliability." Tipton said his community involvement includes ball field construction, pool renovation and the recreation center. Tipton said, "In 1995 I started the list of the schools to be remodeled and built." He said, "Finally they got done. It's almost amazing, twelve years later."
In 1994-95, Tipton said he began a process with a committee approving the move of the Ketchikan Shipyard out of the Department of Transportation's hands to where it currently is now. He said Ketchikan is now looking at fruition of the completion of the Shipyard. "That was a much needed good thing," said Tipton, "because DOT was signing contracts on one side while me and the operator of the yard [were signing contracts] on the other." He said, "It was a little major conflict for anyone that was sitting there."
Tipton said he is a former two term assembly member and has sat on about every committee imaginable. He is the current local Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant, and Retailers Association (CHARR) president and past president. He is Chairman of the Board of the CHARR State Board and a member of the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce. "I am a local business owner in the community and have been involved in business since I moved here in 1989," said Tipton.
Tipton said, "I see a need for improving parking, widening the sidewalks, public bathrooms just in the downtown area alone, not to mention other areas. It's been apparent for quite awhile. This could be part of an overall planning effort to see what we want."
Tipton said, "We can work with the borough but we want to keep in mind personal property rights of these property owners as we move along." He said, "A committee has been set up to start the process for just the downtown area. But you've got to remember there's already four groups in place surrounding the downtown area that have been working and active, some as long as thirty and forty years when you look at the Creek Street committee for putting together what they see in their area"
Speaking next was Samuel Bergeron who said the main reason he is in the race for a seat on the City Council is to take Ketchikan into the future and address near and long term goals in planning and community development.
Addressing the Jewelry Store Initiative that proposes to limit jewelry stores no closer than 200-feet, Bergeron said, "I appreciate the discussion that was brought up by this initiative about planning and what our downtown needs to look like," he continued, "but I think as a first step towards [remedying] some of the conditions we have downtown, I don't think that limiting jewelry stores is the first thing that we should do - or do that at all." He said he would be opposing the initiative in the next election."
Bergeron said, "As a community we need to start addressing the challenges of the future today. I don't believe the first step should be limiting the amount of jewelry stores in our downtown business district." He said, "Instead we should implement a community plan that includes public transportation on both land and sea to allow locals and visitors alike to see more of our fair city and to help relieve traffic congestion."
Parking is another issue to be addressed so more locals can enjoy the downtown area said Bergeron. "Other improvements to be considered are wider sidewalks, seating, public bathrooms, landscaping, and facilities in our ports and harbors for our commercial fishermen," said Bergeron. "We also need to identify what our town should look like." He said when he developed a small commercial building on Stedman Street, established guidelines were used as the basis for that design to ensure the historic integrity of the neighborhood was preserved.
Bergeron said, "The growing economy is crucial for the quality of life for our residents and planning is the first step to accomplish that goal."
According to the rules established by the Chamber, a stand-in was allowed. Blake Messer read a brief statement prepared by candidate Michael McNally.
Tom Coyne was the last to present his opening statement. Coyne said people ask him how he's going to continue to serve as he hobbles around with a cane. He said our 32nd President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was seated as President of the United States confined to a wheelchair. Coyne, who presently sits on the City Council, said that folks must separate facts from fiction when attending forums and that he is approachable and open to questions.
Questions followed the opening statements.
1. What is your view on development?
Responding to the question, Dick Coose said, "Basically we need to create development in town that gives us year-round jobs so that we can have the things that we had at one time in the past - but maybe a little bit more of." Having year-round businesses open downtown will require year-round jobs for support said Coose.
Coose said, "I don't have the magic bullets, but if anyone does, they should step forward." He said, "We need to work together with the borough and see if we can't create the businesses that give us year-round jobs."
George Tipton said development happens in many different ways. "One of the ongoing situations we have now is the inter-tie which creates available power for new business and industry." He said, "People are willing to put their money forward if they have some assurances that local government is willing to work with those entities and not make it look like it's a very tough road, whether it be permitting, utilities or whatever." He said, "It's all a mix of putting that together to make it available and attractive."
Samuel Bergeron said, "I think we're all pro-development but I think we need to be careful and it needs to be controlled and well thought out." Bergeron said many things go hand-in-hand with development. He said it's important for development that we keep a business friendly environment, that red-tape is kept to a minimum, that Ketchikan has a great education system and a vibrant arts community. He said, "We need to have the 'business is open' sign in Ketchikan and have positive policies..." Bergeron said, "Development is the key to growth."
Next, Michael McNally's written response to the question was read. McNally said, "The city government should concentrate on providing essential services to residents and businesses which is effectively a prerequisite for stable economic growth. We need only to look at the borough's experience with the veneer mill project, past and present, to see the kind of pitfalls that can be encountered when a local government tries to drive economic development in the community directly even when acting from best intentions."
Regarding the question about development Tom Coyne said, "You've got to be careful when you make promises and tell people what you're going to do." He said, "Sometimes we waste a lot of time taking about projects we know we'll never develop." Coyne said, "This is what the Chamber is suppose to do and I don't want to be taking anything away from the Chamber, they're suppose to be talking about economic development and then coming to us [City Council] and giving us some ideas." He said, "I don't think we have enough interchange of ideas. There's too much competition especially when you're in political office. You try to satisfy everybody."
2. What is your view on planning for the future growth of Ketchikan?
Coose said, "Growth not control. If you're not careful what you end up with is control instead of growth." He said, "The city needs to provide infrastructure, the city needs to provide favorable taxes and favorable regulations. It does not need to provide a bunch of control regulations. If the city does not work very closely with the borough on this new planning effort for the waterfront, we will have control, we will not have growth."
Coose said if he is elected he will do his best to make sure the planning regulations do not stifle future growth. He said, "We the people need to be in control of that not the planners and not the government. We plan, not them."
Tipton responded to the question saying based upon past experiences of having a number of issues and policy decisions before the Borough Assembly on which he sat, "the willingness of the community will always speak."
He said you're never going to satisfy everybody but as long as you can benefit the majority of the people, the majority of the community, and that citizens have had their say, that's where the decision ultimately leads to. "And that's happened time and time again throughout this community - if everybody just thinks back they'll see that." He said some decisions are going to be wrong, but you move on from them and try to correct them and do your best.
Bergeron said, "I think planning is integral to economic development. I think that planning could ensure that any development that's done in the downtown will preserve the historic integrity that we have in the downtown."
"Planning in the near term and the long term is essential," said Bergeron. "The disconnect that I see is that the borough has the planning function and yet the city is so involved in the development going on in downtown." Bergeron, who serves on the Planning Commission, said, "I think it's important that the city and the borough have a meeting of the minds of what the long term plan is and get together on it and go forward with it."
Bergeron said he concurs with Coose that planning should be a plan and it shouldn't be too constrictive limiting economic development. He said, "I think we need to come up with a plan that really and truly meets the best interests of the community to ensure that we get good buildings, good economic development and so on."
Responding to the question in writing, McNally said, "Respectfully, I think many of the ideas I've heard from people about future growth in Ketchikan have things reversed economically speaking." He said, "Many people think we need population growth and that will bring jobs and business. I believe we need business and job creation first and that will bring growth. I favor what may be a slower growth strategy than some of the other candidates but I'm mindful of Ketchikan's history of boom and bust cycles. While many of you have fond memories of the boom times, I need not remind you who have, in most cases, been in Ketchikan longer than I of the often painful crashes during the bust part of the cycle."
McNally continued in his written statement saying, "At this particular moment in time the key economic industry in Ketchikan is cruise ship tourism. This is less than ideal for many reasons as I think we all understand, but not least because we have no way of predicting how long the current style of cruise ship tourism will remain in fashion. Now is the time while we have a relatively stable economy to be working on broadening and reinforcing the base..."
Coyne responded saying, "I'm really skeptical about the cruise business. As I've said before, I didn't come up to Ketchikan to pimp for the cruise lines. I came up here because of the wilderness." He said he didn't think enough of other types of tourism businesses are developed.
3. How do you feel about consolidation?
"We voted on consolidation last year, it didn't pass," said Coose. "Sometime in the future hopefully we can put together a charter that all the people will buy and we'll vote on it again. If it happens, it happens."
Tipton said his answer would be the same as Coose's. "The voters have spoken," said Tipton. "Personally, I was in favor of it [consolidation]. I agree with Juneau who was the first to consolidate back in 1971."
Tipton said he sees a benefit that can occur from consolidation. "But until we can show the voters outside of the city there won't be an increased cost, it will never fly."
Bergeron said he was sorry that consolidation didn't pass. He said, "There were some certain financial disincentives that consolidation shouldn't have passed until we addressed those things."
Bergeron said, "I think it's a shame that when we have a political question on a ballot that only city voters can weigh in on it when it's a borough-wide issue. I think consolidation needs to happen and I hope sometime in the future it does happen." He concluded his response to the question by saying, "We need less government, not more government."
McNally's comments regarding the consolidation question were read. McNally wrote, "I recognize that there are substantial theorical benefits to consolidation but under the current circumstances such benefits will remain theorical. Should there come a time when the city and borough governments are both running smoothly then it will be appropriate to talk about consolidation. Until such time, I think consolidation will only distract from the very real and important issues both bodies need to address."
Regarding the consolidation question, Coyne said, "We aren't that big here that we can't do it with a simple motion." He said the City Council would just make some simple rules and motions and get consolidation over with. "That's the sensible way to do it." Coyne said, "We'll banter this thing around until hell freezes over. They'll be talking about consolidation fifty years from now."
4.What about the fast ferry to British Columbia?
Coose said, "Just build it. We need access down here and we need it daily." He clarified that the fast ferry is not a fast ferry but a shuttle that will be sped up.
Tipton said he understands that the fast ferry access to British Columbia is being looked at by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Southeast Conference. "Experts better than me are going to make that decision," said Tipton, "but I have a hard time understanding when the seas are constantly over 10-feet how it's going to be feasible."
Bergeron responded to the question by saying, "I love fast ferries, I've ridden on fast ferries and they're a great ride and you get there in record time. Beyond that, anymore infrastructure that we can add to our economy and then hookup with that container port that's going down at Prince Rupert, that's going to allow us to export some of our materials to the lower-48 and the Far East is a great thing."
"When I was younger, we had closer ties to Prince Rupert than we have today," said Bergeron. "We use to see a lot of Canadian money and a lot of British Columbia license plates and I miss seeing that." Bergeron said he hopes Ketchikan gets a fast ferry and redevelops the relationship Ketchikan had with Prince Rupert. "I think the economy will prosper because of it just like Prince of Wales has prospered from the inter-island ferry."
McNally wrote, "I'm personally delighted by the idea of anything that creates more travel and trade options for Ketchikan citizens and I think stronger links to our neighbors in B.C. is a great idea. Of the waters of Dixon Entrance are truly suitable for a year-round fast ferry I will be excited about plans to make one available. However, I do not foresee any major ongoing role for the city government to play in such an enterprise and so I expect my personal opinions on the subject to remain preciously that, personal."
Coyne said, "It's very simple. If you're in a hurry, take a plane."
5. What about simplification of the permitting process?
Coose said, "Any permitting processes that the city has are probably too complicated and maybe too expensive - I know the borough is for sure." He said, "As far as I'm concerned planning and zoning laws and the permitting process that hands the cost over to the public is silly and really benefits nobody; there's nothing but delay. Then throw the federal government in, the two, borough and state together could probably fight the government on some of their permitting processes."
The permitting process has a lot to do with our future in how we help private property and other property to get developed said Coose. "There's just too many delays."
Tipton said he had personally gone through the permitting process when building a house as well as businesses and there were some cumbersome parts of the process. "Overall it was relatively easy but that's because I knew the system. I can understand where it could be very cumbersome for some people," said Tipton. Regarding the fees charged, Tipton said some are nebulous. He said combining, as the city is looking at doing now, and streamlining some of the process is a start.
Bergeron said anything that can be done to streamline the permitting process would be a good thing. Referencing a building which he recently constructed, he said the only entity he didn't get in contact with was the Vatican. The permitting process was really something said Bergeron. "At that time I was on the Borough Assembly and I was flabbergasted at all the hoops that you have to jump through to get something done here in town."
"One of the things the city could do in the near-term to streamline the building process is to have local review of building plans," said Bergeron. "Right now if you have something designed and it is built in the city it has to go up north to the fire marshal, that has to be reviewed and come down." He said that's a bottle neck in the permitting process and takes time. "We have all the expertise and everybody to do this here in town." Bergeron said, "If elected one of the things I will be pushing for is to have local review of plans."
McNally wrote, "Who would possibly argue in favor for more complicated bureaucracy? Not me. I think it would be a great idea for the city to undertake an effort to streamline many of its processes. Another one that could use reexamination is the process of setting up service with our utilities and to focus on making things easier for the people the city government supposedly exists to serve. Done properly such a streamline process could save the city time and money and improve service for the consumers of the city services."
Coyne responded to the question by saying, "I suggest that we make a motion to do away with 90% of the permits.
6. What is your stand on the Gravina bridge?
Coose said, "Build it. Build across Pennock and build it soon. And if we don't build it, the state gets the airport back."
Tipton said, "I go back with the bridge to Gravina for quite a long time. Since my father was the head of Federal Highway Administration, he was the one who funded the original ferries to the airport. He cut the ribbon on the Sitka bridge and his promise was five years after the [Ketchikan] airport opened there would be a bridge. Unfortunately he died and that hasn't come to fruition. We're still waiting, so you know where I sit."
Bergeron said the important thing to consider is the day the earmark dollars were taken off the bridge. "I think that the high, high bridge option was done. There is no way in this funding scenario that we're ever going to get that bridge funded."
"I think the message that DOT is bringing down now that perhaps going to a ferry is something we should seriously consider," said Bergeron. "When I first ran for the Borough Assembly I supported the idea of a bridge. I thought it would be a great economic boon for Ketchikan."
Bergeron said he's not going to oppose the bridge being built but "I wouldn't say that was the highest and best use of our transportation dollars today." He said, "If we consider the existing conditions of bridges that we have throughout the state, the other transportation needs that we have here in Ketchikan, that I would go for perhaps what DOT is suggesting, the ferries, and put some transportation dollars in other areas in Ketchikan."
McNally wrote, "I think it's long past the time to take a practical stand on the bridge issue based on the current realities of the situation. Despite whatever may have seemed possible five years ago, the situation is now very different. And at the last elections, our Congressional and Senatorial delegations have largely lost their powerful positions of influence that let them dedicate that money in the first place and it is therefore likely no more money will be forthcoming from the federal government. The costs of building the bridge seem to climb by millions of dollars every time a new estimate is made. Much of the money appropriated for the project was spent on other state transportation projects after the earmarks were removed. The people of Ketchikan probably could never, and certainly will never, make up for this shortfall in the bridge construction costs on their own. And finally, DOT is clearly signaling that we should not expect the preferred alternative to be built. To be blunt, I think that we've squandered an untold opportunity by pursuing this project long after the writing was already on the wall about the bridge."
Coyne said, "We get enough ridicule nationally without creating more." He said, "Let's forget the bridge."
7. What is your stand on the jewelry store ballot initiative?
"Simply defeat it," said Coose.
Tipton said, "I believe it's flawed. It won't have the intended effect and even possibly could cause a loss of revenue stream to both the city and borough governments and the only way to replace that is an increase the property taxes." He said, "I think you need to look at the best for the whole community..." He said, "But to single out one private entity, with us being business owners in this room, I don't think any of us would like that situation occurring the way it is."
Bergeron said, "The folks who have brought this initiative forward have taken quite a bit of grief for it and I'd like to say to them right now that I'm sorry that in exercising your rights you've taken so much grief for it." He said, "I appreciate the opportunity to have anything on the ballot because we live in a free society." Bergeron said, "Beyond that, I'm going to be voting in opposition of this ballot measure." He said, "I don't think that the first thing that we need to do in planning is to limit jewelry stores 200-feet or closer to each other. It's just not the logical first step."
Bergeron said, "I think what we need to do is get all the entities together and have a cohesive plan that we all have buy in on - and all of us, the city, the borough, everybody, knows and understands and wants to go forward with."
About the jewelry store initiative McNally wrote, "I don't think the initiative is the right way to address the problem but I am fully in sympathy with the frustration which has motivated the initiative organizers. Many people feel, and I agree, that Ketchikan's downtown is in danger of turning into an economic monoculture. Locally owned year-round businesses locate away from [downtown], or in many more cases close for good. And in most instances are replaced with seasonal tourist based owned business by outsiders. It is easy to see why people are upset about this. I'm upset about this. I chose a home two blocks above downtown because I love to walk downtown and walk around. More local business choices downtown would be wonderful. Unfortunately, however well meaning as it may be, the proposed initiative cannot address the critical part of the problem. It may prevent new jewelry stores from opening up but there's nothing it can do to help locally owned year-round businesses remain viable if they're not already. If you want to accomplish this, there's really only one way to do that, and that is to patronize local businesses."
Coyne said, "It's a waste of time talking about the jewelry stores because even if it passes the courts will overturn it because it's a restraint of trade." He said, "You can't limit progress and you can't limit business."
8. What ideas do you have to improve the winter economy for Ketchikan.
Coose said, "I think we go back to questions one and two dealing with economic development and planning. You look at creating year-round jobs for people here all year long. That will create a year-round economy."
Tipton said, "I personally don't have the magic idea that will make it work but we've mentioned a number of things earlier - completion of the inter-tie so we have available power, the shipyard brings in more jobs as it gets to its completion." Tipton mentioned the GCI fiber optics line and the opportunities that will be created because of the new container facility in Prince Rupert which will allow for creating products locally and moving them south. "Those possibilities have just come on the horizon so they are going to be explored by people who want to get into those endeavors."
Bergeron said, "It's really not the job for people on the City Council to come up with ideas for the private sector." He said, "What the council... what the government needs to do is to build an environment that is attractive for business to come in." The private sector should come up with their own ideas of how to make the wintertime economy more viable said Bergeron.
"I'm excited about some of the wins that are on the horizon for Ketchikan, the fiber optic cable, the continuation of the completion of the shipyard, the container port in Prince Rupert, the proposed fast ferry - all of these things are going to be integral to a more vibrant year-round economy," said Bergeron. As a council member, Bergeron said he will do all he can to see that the "open for business" sign is open in Ketchikan and to create a favorable business environment in Ketchikan.
McNally wrote that he would provide a stable infrastructure and a good education to our young people, including not just college-prep but also trade and vocational education opportunities for kids that prefer that option to college, and then get out of the way. "Government driven economic development has a tendency to last only as long as the government it is involved with. Then it dries up and blows away when government funds are gone. And in order for local government to put money into one thing, it usually has to take it from somewhere else and generally it consumes a portion of that money itself in the process. Unlike state and federal programs which can bring money or resources into a community which didn't exist previously, the city and borough governments primarily take money out of one part of the local economy and put it into another part. Hopefully this reallocation occurs according to the preference and the benefit of the voters but unfortunately that is not always guaranteed. For such reasons I prefer that local governments concentrate on their own core functions well and leave the question of what kind of business the town needs to the people and businesses of Ketchikan."
Coyne responded to the question by saying, That's what the Chamber of Commerce is suppose to be doing. They are suppose to be out there trying to invite other industries into the area. But basically, many of you give them [the City Council] too much responsibility and up go the taxes."
Coyne said the City Council should work together with the Chamber of Commerce to come up with ideas. Coyne said, "Let's be realists. We came up here knowing that things are going to be like this. We're not going to be able to change the world. We make little steps toward progress, but we aren't going to make a big leap."
9. What do you feel are the implications of the two-dam vs the four-dam pool.
Coose said, "The more electric dams we have around here, the better off we are. But in this case, this is a positive for this community. It will put Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg in control of their power sources." Regarding the project Coose said, "We need to get on with it." He added that this project will also provide an opportunity to put power off the island and into Canada if everything works out.
Tipton said he agreed that control of your own destiny is a good thing. Regarding the project, Tipton said there is one entity left to satisfy in the four-dam pool which is still being negotiated. Tipton said he thinks the two-dam pool will come to fruition." He said, "It's in our best interest."
Bergeron said, "I think it makes geographic sense to go to a two-dam pool." He said all the experts, the council, the mayor, and the manager concur on this issue. "I think it's a pretty straight forward question and I think it's definitely in the best interest of the community."
McNally wrote in a submitted response to the question that he thinks the restructuring of the four-dam pool into the two-dam pool has the potential to increase revenues and allows for more local control which will strongly benefit the communities of Southeast Alaska.
Coyne said, "We've been talking about the four-dam pool for at least thirty years." He said at first he thought they were just cursing at each other because they never said very much. Coyne said, "I don't think we're going to get any benefit from the four-dam pool because it's controlled by outside interests."
The regular election will take place on October 2, 2007. Absentee balloting began on September 17, 2007.
There are two 3-year term seats open on the City Council. The six City Council candidates are Samuel Bergeron, Tom Coyne, George Tipton, Richard (Dick) Coose, Michael McNally and Robert (Bob) L. Brown.
The Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum for the Borough Assembly candidates on Wednesday, September 19, 2007. The report of that forum will also appear on SitNews.
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