In the upcoming municipal elections, the Soldotna Mayor’s seat and two Soldotna City Council seats are open. Current city council member Justin Ruffridge is running unopposed in his reelection campaign. He spoke with the Clarion on Sept. 25 about his candidacy. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why are you running for reelection?
Ruffridge: Well, I feel like we’re working on a lot of really good stuff right now. I enjoyed the learning process for the last few years. It’s not something that I had a lot of experience in — government and the parliamentary process — so I feel like I got my feet under me and I’m ready to continue that and can do it at a little higher level now that I’ve gotten used to some of that process. There’s a lot to do, especially with everything that’s happened this year, and there’s a lot more happening. And I feel like I bring a good voice and a pragmatic approach, so I put my name in the ring.
What kind of skills or qualifications do you bring to the table as a city council member?
Ruffridge: For this year it’s been very helpful to have a health care professional on the council, given the health care crisis.
Because you’re a pharmacist right?
Ruffridge: Yes, so that’s been helpful. I also run a business here and have a couple other pharmacies in the state, one in Girdwood and one down in Juneau. So for some of the fiscal items and understanding of business perspectives I’ve been helpful as well. So some good real-world experience in medicine and in business.
How do you feel that the city has handled the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic up to this point?
Ruffridge: Honestly, I’ve been really proud to be a part of the City of Soldotna through this process. Our city administration has really taken on a lot of work and done such an incredible job at organizing and putting together safety plans and programs for the community to access CARES funds. They’ve been working early mornings and late nights, and I think they’ve handled it very, very well. I’m very proud of the work they’ve done.
Is there anything about the city’s pandemic response that should be changed or addressed going into the winter?
Ruffridge: We actually just discussed that at our last meeting, and I think the answer to that has to be ‘yes’. We’re under a little bit of an obligation the money that CARES appropriated for cities by the end of the year. I think some of our biggest concerns are the fact that local businesses, particularly the ones that are tourism-based, aren’t going to have an uptick until potentially the summer of 2021. We’re going to have a gap between January and May, and I’m concerned about how businesses make it until then.
The other thing that I’ve consistently brought up in some of our meetings is that I feel like we’re at risk of a mental health emergency in our area and the state as a whole, particularly as we go into winter. If people have lost income, have difficulty maintaining their home or food sources, that wears on people mentally. And if COVID is still around, I think that that starts to wear people down as well. I’m concerned about the mental health of our area, and I would like to see us do something to that effect.
At our last council meeting we addressed some of that, and issued some grant funding to PCHS to help aid in that process, but I think we can do more.
Aside from the COVID-related concerns, what are some of your biggest concerns for the city going into 2021, and do you have any plans to address those concerns?
Ruffridge: One of the things that kind of got put on the back burner but is still happening is the annexation petition. That’s in an odd limbo state right now. All of the meetings happened and we’re just waiting for that decision to come down. Depending on how that turns out, there’s a lot of work to do either way, and that will really be important, to make that happen.
I think some of the other concerns will be what happens fiscally from the results of our pandemic response, and sales tax and things of that nature. I think public safety, both from a health and sort of physical safety perspective will be really important moving forward. And then I’d like to renew some of the talks about our sports center. Not from the expansion perspective, but we’ve moved forward with some appropriation of funds to address the current building as well as expand some of the conference spaces potentially down the road. I think that’s important to talk about as well, and I hope to promote that moving forward.
What would you like voters to know as they prepare to vote on Oct. 6?
Ruffridge: Honestly, the thing I’d like people to know is that it really makes a difference if people reach out. As much maybe that gets overlaid I don’t think it can be said enough. The public policymaking process is 100% dependent on the public making their voice heard, and sometimes, especially in local government, it can feel a little lonely.
You don’t hear from people as much as you would wish to, and so I would like to say everything about how to reach me is publicly available, phone numbers and emails.
There’s a lot of things that happen in our community that I don’t know about and can’t really know about unless someone reaches out and talks to me about it. And as a candidate and as a person that has served in the city for a little bit of time, that’s really important to me. I like to speak with people and know what’s going on.
Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at firstname.lastname@example.org.