Getting people back to work, developing city-owned land, and public engagement were all issues debated by Kenai City Council candidates during a candidate forum at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center on Wednesday.
Three of the five candidates vying for seats on the council — Alex Douthit, Victoria Askin and Deborah Sounart — participated in the event, while James Duffield and James Baisden did not. Candidates were given the opportunity to make opening and closing statements and to respond to each of the questions asked.
Askin, who was appointed to the Kenai City Council in December of 2020 and previously served on the Kenai Harbor Commission and on the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission, said her council experience will allow her to get to work right away, if elected.
“I’ll be able to hit the ground running after the steep learning curve of the last eight months,” Askin said.
Douthit, who currently serves on the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission and owns and operates Kenai Peninsula Driving Instruction, said as a younger business owner working in the city he would bring a fresh perspective.
“We own a small business here in town. We’re heavily invested in the City of Kenai and I wanted to be part of the city,” Douthit said. “When the city prospers, we all prosper.”
Sounart is a former director of Kenai Central High School and Kenai Middle School’s concert bands and drumline and described herself as “conservative” during Wednesday’s forum.
“You know the high standards I had for the band programs and I will bring those same exacting standards to the city council with a set of fresh eyes, fresh ears and no baggage,” Sounart said.
Candidates were in agreement on their desire to address development of city-owned land and to help put employees back to work. They also identified bluff erosion and development of the city’s waterfront area as priorities.
“In our comprehensive plan in 2057, it’s very likely that our bluff is going to be at the back door of (Louie’s Steak & Seafood),” Askin said. “That’s a lot of homes and businesses to relocate. So, the bluff erosion project, waterfront revitalization — those are all forward-thinking options that the city needs to look at.”
Candidates disagreed with the best way to get workers back to work. Sounart said she’d be interested in exploring ways to motivate people to go back to work, while Askin questioned providing incentives when some employees have continued working throughout the pandemic. Douthit said he thinks the city is doing well financially, but that he’d like to see a more diverse revenue stream.
“We’ve got a strong budget,” Douthit said. “In our future, we’re looking good and strong there.”
The candidates also brainstormed ways to engage Kenai residents in the public process. Sounart floated the idea of circulating an annual letter describing the city’s accomplishments and upcoming priorities, as well as a digital survey for community members to share input on city issues. Douthit said he’d work to make himself available to constituents and to help them take advantage of public testimony opportunities at city meetings.
“For example, do this with the waterfront revitalization project and find out what kinds of businesses the residents would be willing to support for 12 months out of the year, as compared to only three months of tourists,” Sounart said. “If you had this residential data in hand to give to the entity who will be conducting the waterfront feasibility study, how much more meaningful would the results of that study be with community participation and community buy-in?”
Only two of the five candidates running for the city council will be elected. Kenai Vice Mayor Bob Molloy, whose term ends this year, is not running for reelection.
The municipal election is on Oct. 5.