8 applicants seek Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly seat

Eight people — coming from diverse backgrounds in media, management, academics, utilities, and business — have applied to fill the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly seat that will be vacated by outgoing assembly member Gary Knopp.

Sitting members of the nine-person assembly will choose one of these applicants to join them after an interview and vote before their regular meeting on Jan. 3. The newly appointed member will take a seat at the meeting on Feb. 7 and hold office until the October 2017 municipal election.

Knopp, who in the November general election won his first state-level political position as a Republican representative for District 30, is preparing to go to Juneau for the new legislative session set to start on Jan. 20.

At least two of those hoping to replace him are former political rivals. Kenai City Manager Rick Koch is applying for the assembly seat, seeking a new office after he leaves the city manager’s post next month. He submitted his resignation to the Kenai city council in June while running against Knopp for the state house seat. Koch lost in the Republican primary to Knopp in August.

Kenai Peninsula College biology professor and attorney Dave Wartinbee ran against Knopp in the 2015 Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly race for the District 1 seat Knopp is now leaving. Wartinbee wrote in a statement submitted with his appointment application that he and Knopp “were on the same side of most issues and we approached problems in similar ways.” In his academic career Wartinbee has studied solid waste management and stream ecology, according to the resume he submitted with his application.

Neither Koch nor Wartinbee had been reached for interviews as of press time Saturday evening.

Applicant Dan Castimore is presently on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education, having run unopposed this year for his second three-year term. If appointed to the assembly, Castimore would have to resign from the school board.

“If I’m selected I’ll be happy to serve on the assembly; if not, I’ll be happy to remain on the school board,” Castimore said.

Castimore said the borough budget would be one of his concerns, and that cuts would be necessary to balance it in response to Alaska’s fiscal downturn.

“I think something like 80 percent of your expenses come from personnel,” he said. “You really don’t have a lot of choices — you can raise taxes or you can reduce the number of people you have working for you. I think that’s where we’re going to end up having to cut.”

Applicant Matt Wilson is the General Manager and Marketing Director of the local KSRM radio network, and a morning and afternoon show host. He’s been a president of the Alaska Broadcaster’s Association board of directors, for which he said he lobbied in Juneau and Washington, D.C., on behalf of radio and TV interests. Through these experiences, Wilson said he’s “really found a liking for the political scene,” and would like to get further into it.

Being appointed to the assembly would be a special opportunity for Wilson to do so. He said KSRM rules prohibit show hosts from holding elected political office — though appointed office holders are allowed to work on-air. Serving a 10-month appointed term, Wilson said, would help him decide whether or not to give up radio hosting in order to run in the October 2017 election.

“This is a great opportunity for me not to have to leave my job, but to still put myself out there in a position to serve,” he said.

Applicant Richard Peck comes from the world of electric utility management. According to a statement he submitted to the borough, he began working for Homer Electric Association in 1969 and has since been an executive at other electric utilities in the Western U.S, as well as serving two terms on the city council of Unalaska and chairing the Kenai Peninsula Borough planning commission in 1971 and 1972. He’s now the president of the consulting group Utility Innovations Plus. Peck wrote that one of his primary concerns is the effect of a declining state budget on the borough. He said the borough’s healthy fund balance could help that problem.

“If I was selected as the assembly man, I would look at using a portion of that to make up for the lack of revenue sharing that we’re going to get from the state. Until the state clears up their budget for the coming year, it poses a challenge.”

Like Castimore, he said cuts would be necessary in addition to fund balance spending. Peck drew some ideas from his utility experience.

“If I’m selected I’m going to encourage all departments to look at implementing really good energy efficiency methods. The borough hasn’t even scratched the surface of going forward with LED-type lighting. There’s some real opportunities there. I’d look at a partnership with Homer Electric to seek out funding going forward.”

Other applicants, who could not be reached for interviews, include Derrick Medina, Breena Walters, and AAA Alaska Cab taxi service owner John Brent Hibbert.

The new member appointed Jan. 6 won’t be the only fresh face to appear on the assembly in the near future. Aside from Knopp, two sitting assembly members have announced their intentions to resign in January: Brandii Holmdahl, who represents the Seward, Cooper Landing, Hope, and Moose Pass areas, is moving to Seattle; and Blaine Gilman, whose district covers most of Kenai, plans to move to the K-Beach area.

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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