The four candidates running for election to Seward’s city council this year are Liz DeMoss, a small business owner and realtor; Sue McClure, a retired teacher and current city council member; Sean Corrigan, a criminal justice technician and former firefighter; and Selma Casagranda, a Seward High School Senior.
Seward residents will have the option of voting for two of the candidates, with the top two vote-getters winning the seats on the city council. The candidates spoke with the Clarion at different times but answered the same series of questions about their campaign. The municipal election will take place on Oct. 6. Early voting begins Sept. 21.
Why did you decide to run for city council?
DeMoss: I decided to run for city council because I feel like we need a small business voice on the council. We don’t have anyone on the council right now that is a business owner. I have been a business owner in Seward for 13 years, and I feel like now especially, with everything that’s going on, it’s especially important that our voices be heard.
McClure: Well, this would be my last time, I think. We’re transitioning to three-year terms, and I did two two-year terms and a one-year term while we were transitioning. I was also on the borough assembly for two three-year terms. I’m running again because we have so many issues right now with COVID and after COVID financing, that I think I need to be on there for one more term.
Corrigan: I had a couple friends of mine who were asking me to run. They thought that I’d be a good candidate. I’ve known a couple of past council members and they also said that I should look into running for it, and I found it was another way for me to serve the community.
Casagranda: I’ve been in student government for all four years I’ve been in high school, and if I ever find myself complaining, I always need to find a way to fix it. I hate complaining, and I always want to fix what I have an issue with. I’ve grown up here my whole entire life, my mom was on city council, and it just seems like we might as well have some younger people on the board. I’ve never seen anyone younger than maybe 25 be involved, so I just want to be a voice for young people out there.
What kind of skills or qualifications would you be bringing to the table as a city council member?
DeMoss: I’ve been operating a bar and hotel in Seward for 13 years, so I think that I can bring my leadership skills and my work ethic. I also have my real estate license, so I think can bring insight to our housing needs and problems that we have with that. That’s kind of where I see myself fitting in, being able to assist in those areas.
McClure: Well, for Seward, it’s my history, I think. My great-grandparents were here, both sets of grandparents, my mother is still here and was born here. I was born here. My son and his family and my grandson are here, so I have a real vested interest in the history and the future. Skills-wise, I had the six years on the borough assembly, and as far as the process, I have a lot of experience with public meetings and just keeping things level and steady.
Corrigan: My biggest skill would be in public safety. I’ve got 25 years experience in the fire service and ranked all the way up to assistant fire chief with the Seward volunteer fire department, but I’m retired now from that. Also I’ve got over 19 years as a 911 dispatcher and ended that career as a dispatch supervisor.
Casagranda: I’ve been class president for three years and I’m running for vice president of the student body this year. There’s definitely a lot of things that I don’t know compared to the older people, like with the budget, that’s definitely something I’d need to look into. As a person, I’m really good at listening and fixing issues and following through with things. That’s always been my thing in student government — I’m here to listen to you and I’m here to help you — and I think that’s something that I could bring to the city council.
What would be one of your biggest priorities as a council member if you were to be elected?
DeMoss: You know, I think that right now, we’ve got a couple things that we really need to be looking at. I think my biggest priority would be to lock in a couple of positions that we really need to fill in Seward, one of them being our finance director.
We’ve had an interim finance director now for a while, and I think that with the way that the local economy is going to be affected with everything that’s been going on, it’s especially important that we get ahead of our financial issues that the city is inevitably going to have. With lower sales taxes coming and the lack of cruise ships and tourism, I feel like we need to lock in a good finance director. I think that’s our No. 1 issue that we need to be ahead of instead of reactive so we can have a good budget plan for the next three to five years coming out of this.
I also think that crime is an issue in Seward, and I think that comes back, again, to having good leadership in our police department. That’s been, in my opinion, lacking in the last several months, and I would like to see that problem solved as well.
McClure: Trying to figure out what to do with our finances. We’ve gotten CARES grants and stuff, but obviously our sales taxes are down, bed taxes are down. Our economy is going to be hurting generally, city-wise and business-wise. So trying to find a balance of providing the services we need, keeping things hopefully on an even keel, and still having some money, you know, to do these things. I don’t know if we’re gonna have to cut services or what we’re going to have to do, you know. But it’s always evolving and could get worse before it gets better.
Corrigan: One of my big priorities is public safety and emergency preparedness. I noticed with the last tsunami warning that we had in the Kenai Peninsula that in town, in Seward, there was some confusion. Rumor mills and different social media outlets putting out different information. Seeing it from a citizen’s side, it was just really confusing, and hopefully if I become a council member I can put some ideas in there to make it more streamlined and so that everybody gets the same message.
Casagranda: My biggest priority is including the youth. Seward is a small town, and the winters are kind of rough. There’s not much to do, and I think my biggest priority would be voicing that. I don’t know if I’d be able to do anything, or how much I can do in that spot, but I want to make that heard. In the winters the locals are here. It’s not just the tourists.
How do you feel that the city has handled the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic so far?
DeMoss: I think that the city of Seward has done extremely well in handling it. It’s such a touchy subject, and we’re a very small community, and people have very strong feelings one way or another. There’s new information coming out constantly on how we should be dealing with it. And I have to say that our mayor and council members and our city manager have really kind of gone above and beyond to talk directly with business owners and find out how we’re feeling about and make decisions based on that. So I am very appreciative of how they’ve handled it, and I think they’re doing a really good job in such a sticky situation.
McClure: I think we’ve done really well. In fact, the mayor and I co-sponsored the ordinance that has us now with certain restrictions. Masks, 50% occupancy in restaurants and bars. I think because of that, instead of shutting completely down — which was the recommendation of the administration after that outbreak — we came up with a plan that got people aware more and I think we’ve done well.
I’m not sure if we’ve even had one case in the last month, over a month. If we had one, it would be the only one since Aug. 6. So we’ve done really well. People are honoring this (ordinance). You walk around and you see masks. You see people being cautious. That’s what we wanted to institute as opposed to hunkering down again and shutting things down. So we’re trying to keep the businesses as open as they can be, but yet being cautious and aware.
Corrigan: I think they’ve been pretty much following the guidelines that the CDC has been recommending, just like all the other communities. You have a heated debate because you do have some people who are pro-wearing the masks and all of that, and then you have other people who do not believe in wearing it. For me, personally, I wear a mask at work, and our workplace mandates that everyone wear a mask for health and public safety. I do believe that people with compromised immune systems and health concerns should be wearing a mask.
Casagranda: I think Seward has done a really good job of not being overly strict. Our numbers have gone down significantly since we put out that mandate, and I think we’re being ‘COVID-conscious.’ We’re not too far extreme in saying ‘don’t leave your house’ because we have to keep going with our lives, but also, we don’t want to spread COVID.
Do you think anything about the city’s pandemic response should be changed or addressed as we go into the fall and winter months?
DeMoss: I do. I think that it is time to look at lifting the mandate for the masks and the occupancy limit. I think that, now that we’re not going to have as many out-of-state people coming in, we’re going to kind of go back to our local bubble here in Seward.
Right now we have zero cases, and we’ve been doing really well. And when we did have cases pop up, I feel like a lot of business owners took it upon themselves to take action and close and have sanitation practices implemented. So as a community, I think that we really have been working well together just to protect our community members and our businesses.
So I think that we’re going to be coming to a point here where I think that we could maybe ease up on some of those restrictions and then act accordingly if we have another issue, maybe after the holidays, that kind of thing. But I think it’s going to be a topic of conversation that we have to address on almost a monthly basis.
McClure: We’re just considering, myself and the mayor, something that the borough assembly and the cities of Kenai and Soldotna have issued, which is more of just a recommendation to follow all of the CDC recommendations, without the 50% limits and all that.
Our ordinance is up for renewal in the beginning of October, so we’re contemplating instead of that, just cutting back to going along with the rest of the peninsula in saying, ‘This is what we should be doing.’ I don’t know if that’ll happen, but I think we’re going to try and do that at the meeting at the end of this month, when we have to renew the ordinance. In other words we’re going to ease up a little bit to match what the rest of the borough is doing.
Corrigan: I don’t think they need to do any changes right now. Depending on what happens in the fall, we’re going to be approaching the normal flu season so depending on what happens with that I’m sure that the city will still follow the same guidelines that CDC is recommending and also the State of Alaska is recommending.
Casagranda: No, I don’t think so. I’d have to think on that more though, I haven’t really been thinking about the winter.
What are some of your biggest concerns for the city going into 2021, and do you have any plans to address those concerns?
DeMoss: I have a couple of concerns about our local economy, obviously, and coming back to the finance department, I think it’s really important to get someone that is really good and can really look at our future budget and what to expect and make some decisions and some adjustments before we have the problem of not having the income.
I also think that we need to take a look at some of our code. Housing has always been an issue here; there’s a lack of inventory for people that want to buy homes. There is land that’s available, but there’s also an issue of having the utilities extended to that land for development, and it’s very costly. So I would like to see the city try to partner a little bit more with developers in extending those utilities at a lesser cost, to encourage people to develop some land and build what we need.
McClure: I think we just need to look at where the numbers fall. I don’t know what we can cut back, you know, so we’ll just have to see where the numbers are. We haven’t seen the numbers really yet. We can’t overspend and go beyond what we have.
I would hate to raise taxes, I think that would be horrible. I would hate to cut essential services. So I don’t know.
I have great plans for Seward and we were doing really well. We’re still kind of coming along with a new animal shelter, which is one of my pet projects. But that’s going to take money and that might have a setback. But this is one of the main reasons I feel I want to be back on council for another few years, to conscientiously approach what we’re going to do, not fly off the handle one way or the other. Not to cut completely or raise taxes completely, just be what we can be in a level way.
Corrigan: My biggest concern that I want to bring to the table is, naturally, public safety and community preparedness. I’m definitely, having been a dispatcher, I am pro-law enforcement. I do believe that they are critical to every town for law and order. So I’m fully supportive of them as far as public safety.
That’s one big area that I’m looking at, and I’ve also been following the city dealing with the Jesse Lee home. I do feel that it needs to be demolished. It’s a public safety issue, and my concern is that it’s a dilapidated, abandoned building. It is an eyesore. I do believe that it is a public safety concern, being a derelict and abandoned building you’ve had people try to sneak in there, and there’s no reason for anyone to be in there except to get hurt. The agency that’s been wanting to try and restore it, kudos to them for wanting to try, they did their best effort, and in the end it just didn’t pan out to where they could do it. I just feel that it’s need to be demolished. I think that the city can do something to honor the Jesse Lee home, whether it’s a pavilion or a park or whatever the town is feeling would be a good remembrance for him.
Casagranda: The main thing I want to do if I’m on the council is I want to start a student youth council. It can be one person, or two or three. There’s some other cities that do this, where they have one or two or three students or youth that go to every city council meeting, and they’re a voice for the youth. That’s the biggest thing that I want to do, because it’s a big difference being 35 and being 16, and all lives are equally important in that sense.
Why should voters in Seward select you as one of the next city council members?
DeMoss: I don’t plan on going anywhere. I have nieces and a nephew here. I have family. I have a sister that owns an assisted living home. I own a bar and a hotel. I feel like I can bring a voice to the council from multiple different industries and views, and that really is what’s important, and I feel like I can really just bring that insight.
I really want transparency, I want open communication with our community, and I feel like I’m in a position to have that. I really put myself out there. I talk with the community members on a daily basis, and I want to continue to be accessible to community members so I can bring their concerns to the table, you know, and really work together as a community.
And my work ethic. I’ve been working since I was 7 years old. My parents have owned businesses, and I won’t stop until I’m done. I want to prioritize the public’s needs. I want to stay on task. I want to complete projects that we’ve started and not get distracted by certain situations, even like COVID. We absolutely have to pivot and make changes based on current events, but at the same time I want to continue with some things that we had going prior to COVID. So I would like to stay on track and keep an open line of communication with our community.
McClure: I think because of my history here and my history on council, people know who I am and that I’m capable and serious. They also know that I am here. I attend every meeting, which has been an issue not with the people running but other council members, being gone for periods of time and stuff like that. I’m very serious about that and I think the people know that. And they know me. They knew me when I was a little girl here too, so they know me.
Corrigan: I’ve been in the community for a long time. I have served the community, both being with the volunteer fire department for 24 years and ranking up to assistant fire chief and with the Seward Police Department as a dispatcher all the way up to dispatch supervisor for over 19 years. I feel I’ve got a lot of knowledge of the town. I know a lot about the public safety issues in the town, and I feel that I might be able to bring some ideas to the table to keep Seward safe and going.
Casagranda: I think people should choose me because I’m here to listen. I’m new, I’m fresh, and I’m ready to learn. Obviously, I want people to know that there are a lot of things that I need to learn, and I’m totally willing to. I just have a fresh brain at this point, and it seems like Seward City Council has a lot of people who have been in there a long time.