With local elections just around the corner, the candidates for the upcoming Soldotna City Council race spent part of Wednesday afternoon answering questions about their political priorities and aspirations.
Candidates Lisa Parker, Pamela Parker and Dave Carey were the guests at this week’s Soldotna Chamber Luncheon. During the luncheon, the candidates took turns responding to questions posed by moderator Merrill Sikorski of KSRM. Lisa Parker is running unopposed for seat E on the Soldotna City Council, while Pamela Parker and Carey are both vying for seat D on the council.
During their opening statements, each candidate had the opportunity to briefly explain their background and why they are running for a seat on the city council.
Lisa Parker started by citing her longtime residence in Alaska and Soldotna. Parker moved to the peninsula in May of 1991, and previously served on the Soldotna City Council from 2002-2007 and from 2016-2019. Parker held back tears as she reflected on the life and influence of Soldotna Mayor and longtime community physician Nels Anderson, who died earlier this week.
“When he and I were elected three years ago, Nels had a vision that there be more collaboration and cooperation with the city of Kenai,” Parker said. “That’s something that we’ve been able to do, and if I’m fortunate enough to be reelected I want to continue on with that vision.”
Pamela Parker moved to the peninsula from Florida with her husband in 2015. Parker and her husband own two businesses in Soldotna, Everything Bagels and Snappy Turtle Photo Booths. Parker is also active in the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, where she founded the Kenai Young Professionals and currently serves as the president-elect of the Chamber’s board of directors.
“We really love Soldotna, we absolutely love living here, having our businesses here and even recently we’ve had the opportunity to become foster parents to an adorable kiddo, so we’ve also been able to experience all that it means to be a parent in Soldotna,” Parker said during her opening statement. “I’m very excited to be here. This is a great opportunity and I’m looking forward to sharing more information with you all.”
Dave Carey is a retired teacher who has lived in Soldotna since 1961 and previously served on the Soldotna City Council from 1999-2001, as mayor of Soldotna from 2001-2008 and as the Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor from 2008-2011.
“I see it as my responsibility to be a public servant and an advocate for the community,” Carey said. “There are awesome things happening in Soldotna, starting with the park. The amount of people now using Soldotna Creek Park is phenomenal, and the more activities, the more events, the more leisure time is truly wonderful.”
The questions posed to the candidates were formulated by members of the Soldotna Chamber and presented by Sikorski. Each candidate had 60 seconds to respond to each of the questions.
What qualifications do you have to serve on the city council?
Carey: I have the qualification of desire to be of service. I think that’s a very important beginning point for anyone. I have the advantage of having a pretty good record with 19 years of service in different elected offices. I get out and learn about people and the ideas they find interesting. My life, from teaching to coaching to public service, it is pretty much who I am. Three days ago was my 67th birthday, and I believe I’ve still got a bunch of good years. I’m very hopeful to continue a career of public service for the people of Soldotna.
Pamela Parker: My biggest qualification is that I’m ingrained and involved in this community. Between our business, our family and our volunteerism, my husband and I have made Soldotna our home, and we actively work to better this community on a daily basis. We utilize the services that Soldotna provides. We go to the parks, we walk the streets — and sometimes sidewalks — we’ve loved living in Soldotna and I’m very passionate about the direction the city is going. That passion helps because I’m a forward thinker and I can see where the city is headed, and I want to continue on that mission. I want the city of Soldotna to become what it’s headed towards: to the downtown improvement plan with beautiful, wide sidewalks and wonderful parks for families to enjoy.
Lisa Parker: As I mentioned, I previously served on the city council in the 2000s and was reelected three years ago. I was first elected to public office when I was 19 years old in Anchorage. I was elected to the Anchorage Charter Commission, which resulted in what is today the municipality of Anchorage. Since I’ve been a teenager and throughout my life I’ve loved to work with people, I’ve loved to work with my community and my state identifying problems and solutions. My commitment to you: I will work hard, I will listen, and I will be responsive to you. People who have sent me emails know that I respond to any and all residents.
What do you see as the job of a city council person?
Pamela Parker: If I could just say one thing, it would be to listen. I would be representing all of the folks that live in the city, listening to their concerns and using my position to help correct issues or concerns they might have. I think that often times, folks come into this position with predetermined beliefs about how to work in local government. Because this is my first foray into local government, I don’t come with those predetermined beliefs. I’m here to listen, I’m here to learn, and I’m here to find out what folks want for their city. And I’m here to make that happen.
Lisa Parker: As I mentioned I will work hard and I will listen. But the other responsibility we have to the residents of Soldotna is the fiduciary responsibility. To make sure we are spending money wisely. And while we do not have a high property tax, and the majority of the money we get is through sales tax, we still want to make sure we’re spending the money wisely. One thing we’ve seen as a state is that there’s a lot of deferred maintenance for buildings all around the state. That’s one of things that I want to make sure, as a city, we don’t have issues with deferred maintenance in the future.
Carey: I find it’s a relatively complex thing, as with all human relationships. I think you certainly want to listen, and you want to listen to as wide a spectrum of individuals as possible, but ultimately the major thing that the council does that’s unique is that we make decisions on behalf of others. After looking at the information, what is it that will move the city in the direction we want it to go?
What challenges do you see for the city of Soldotna in the coming term?
Carey: The city of Soldotna’s budget is in very good shape, and that’s because of the work of previous councils for 20, 30 years … we have a very significant surplus, and when you have extra money it would appear that you’re taking money that you really don’t need to use in that year.
Lisa Parker: Soldotna as a city is blessed. We’re blessed because we don’t have significant challenges, but homelessness could continue to be a challenge for the whole community and I don’t think that’s something that we can address singularly as a city. I don’t see having savings for the city as a problem. It’s kinda like having our own mini permanent fund.
Pamela Parker: So I’ve got a couple. With all the state and borough budget cuts that have been happening, eventually some additional costs could get pushed down to the city and we need to make sure that we’re prepared. I also think that the potential field house and visitor’s center are issues that will come up during my term. I also believe that the opioid epidemic is still happening, and that has to be something that the city looks into.
What are Soldotna’s greatest opportunities?
Lisa Parker: Our greatest opportunities, besides our people, are our parks and our beautiful outdoors.
Pamela Parker: We have such a diverse economy here, and I think we need to continue pumping time, energy and resources into promoting that diverse economy. Our small business community is fantastic and that’s why people choose to live and raise their families in Soldotna.
Carey: Everything that’s just been mentioned is absolutely true. This past decade I’ve spent my time volunteering at the prison, working with people who are in there dealing with drug addiction, primarily heroin and meth. I’d make a commitment to looking for solutions and programs dealing with addiction.
Do you see a need to diversify our revenue streams?
Pamela: Nobody wants to say that they’re for taxes or pay more taxes. I get it. And the city is in a great position where additional sources of revenue are not needed. However, if that were to change, I personally would be in favor of a bed tax. I think that helps to capture our visitor industry and does not necessarily impact our residents because we already pay that when we go just about anywhere else in the state or the country.
Carey: I find that the funds being collected are more than adequate. This city needs to do a better job applauding and backing the employees of the city, showing the incredible services they provide. I think water and sewer costs need to be lowered, so budget-wise I can see the potential for some cuts.
Lisa Parker: The city needs to continue to remain open for business. As businesses and industries come to the city, we need to let them know we’ll work with them. Pam mentioned bed tax, Seward and over 100 communities in Alaska have a bed tax, so it’s something we could look at to help promote the community.
Do you agree with the annexation plan currently being considered by the city?
Lisa Parker: My response has always been that I will support annexation if the people in the area also support it. We have extended water and sewer services out to Funny River, K-Beach and SBS because they asked us to, so we should annex those areas. But we had a public meeting regarding annexation on Saturday, and of the 35 people that testified, 34 said ‘thanks but no thanks.’
Carey: In my three terms as city mayor, I cast two vetoes. One was on annexation. The people being annexed have to be part of the process and they have to want to do it. Annexation is a form of eminent domain. I would absolutely only approve annexation if there’s a clear process by which the people would be able to vote.
Pamela Parker: This is a super loaded question, particularly because neither Dave nor myself, if elected to city council, will have a say on whether the petition will go to the Local Boundary Commission. So instead, I’m going to focus on what would happen if I am on city council and it has been passed along. I know what we can do if it does get passed along, which is listen to those concerns and make sure we are planning properly during that annexation process to account for all the concerns we heard on Saturday.
What do you see as the city’s role in attracting new businesses and families to Soldotna?
Carey: That starts with the people who live here and radiates out to the people they know. Certainly we need to be friendly and engaged in our community. I believe we really take this place for granted, it is so positive for so many levels. The best thing we can do is continue to be a dynamic and growing place.
Pamela Parker: The city needs to actively work to get people to move to the peninsula. The city needs to build a business and community climate that encourages people to come here. We need to make sure our codes are not prohibitive to businesses starting and being successful. We need to make sure our roads and streets are safe and our parks are accessible year-round. I think the city plays a very active role in that process.
Lisa Parker: The city, in cooperation with the chamber, has done a good job in attracting businesses and people. When people come here, they immediately find they like the area. Part of it is the area, but it’s also the people who are just so friendly. I said years ago that I think Soldotna is one of Alaska’s best-kept secrets.
Soldotna has two major projects on hold at the moment: the Field House and the Soldotna Visitor’s Center. Do you see a path forward for either of those projects?
Pamela Parker: Absolutely, I see a path forward for both of those. I think the visitor’s center is much needed, and that’s not just because I’m the president-elect on the chamber’s board of directors. However, in listening to the feedback we’ve received, perhaps the location we were initially looking at in Soldotna Creek Park might not be the best place. I was bummed that the field house did not pass, but there are some funds available from that campaign that could be used to restore and renovate the existing sports complex.
Lisa Parker: The sports complex was a vision of Nels Anderson. He wanted to bring it back to the voters immediately, but the council decided to take a step back. I think you’ll see upgrades to the sports complex in the years ahead, but whether we go with the big complex that had been identified is still a question. Over the years I’ve been a consultant for folks working on plans for the visitor’s center, so based on the work that’s been done I think it would be an opportunity to bring small conferences to the peninsula and keep stay open for business year-round.
Carey: For any structures in the city we need to look at keeping up with maintenance because it’s so much cheaper to address it early than to do it later. On building new structures, if the people in this area are adequately informed of what could go on if we went ahead with this complex, the people can make the decision based on their pocketbooks. If a demonstration could be provided that would show what we’re missing out on, the people might be more likely to support it.
If you could wave a magic wand that would get the job done, what would you like to see for the city of Soldotna 10 years from now?
Carey: I’d like to bring back all the people who have lived here and spent their lives here. My family knew a lot of the homesteaders, and to me part of the greatness of Soldotna are the shoulders upon which we all stand today. I’d like for those people to see what we became and listen to the wisdom they have for how to move forward.
Pamela Parker: Honestly, I would love to see a gorgeous downtown area along the river. I’m picturing cute little shops owned by my friends and neighbors, maybe a couple apartments above them, and you can walk or ride your bike from one side of town to the other safely. Cars are not flying down Redoubt at 50 miles an hour. It’s a safe, vibrant community with a diverse economy. Thankfully I don’t need a Harry Potter spell to make that happen because the city is already headed down that path, I’m just happy to be a part of making it happen.
Lisa Parker: The development of the riverfront district would be one, and the other would be building a pedestrian bridge across the river so that kids can get from here to the baseball fields safely.