In the race for Kenai City Council this year, two seats are up for election, and three candidates are running: Current city council members Tim Navarre and Henry Knackstedt, and Kenai resident Teea Winger. The candidates spoke with the Clarion ahead of the Oct. 6 election to discuss their campaign. Knackstedt was interviewed on Sept. 18 and has been edited for length and clarity. Navarre’s interview ran in the Sept. 24 edition of the Clarion.
Why did you decide to run for election?
Knackstedt: “I like being involved in the City of Kenai, obviously. I’ve got deep roots here. I know the city very well, I know its history and I think I know what direction it wants to go.”
Knackstedt said that he was born and raised in Kenai and moved back here after acquiring an engineering degree at University of Alaska Fairbanks. Knackstedt noted that in his six years on the Kenai City council, the relationship between the council and the city administration has improved, and he wants to continue the progress that he and other council members have made over the years.
“I want to see the city move ahead and I think that with my leadership we’re definitely going in that direction,” Knackstedt said. “I think there’s a lot of improvements that have happened in the city in the last six years.”
What skills or qualifications do you bring to the table as a city council member?
Knackstedt: “I’m a civil engineer, so I tend to be project-oriented. Like the bluff erosion project, I have a pretty good understanding of the whole process for that. I understand water and sewers, streets, the airport. I’ve been flying in Kenai since I was 16 years old, so that’s about 45 years. The airport is near and dear to me. It’s an economic machine for the City of Kenai. It’s fully owned by the city, it’s self supporting, and it’s extremely important.”
Knackstedt said that one of the things he appreciates about the Kenai City Council is the variety of backgrounds and skills that are already represented.
“The cool thing about having seven people on the council is everybody has their own backgrounds,” Knackstedt said. “Those are the things that I bring to the table that they don’t have in their toolbox necessarily and it seems to work well.”
What would be one of your biggest priorities for the city council going into 2021?
Knackstedt: “The biggest priority for me as a council member is the city’s No. 1 priority, and that is the bluff erosion project.”
The City of Kenai recently entered into an agreement with the Army Corps Engineers to begin the design phase of the bluff erosion project, which Knackstedt said will put a clearer price tag on the project upon completion and increase the chances of acquiring funds from the Corps or elsewhere to pay for construction.
“Once the design is done, it’s on paper, and you can get money for it at that point,” Knackstedt said. “That gets us leaps and bounds ahead of anywhere we have been in the past. So that’s the No. 1 project. There’s lots of other good projects, but that is the big one.”
How do you feel the city has handled its response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Knackstedt: “The city as a whole I think has handled the pandemic very well. The city has health powers that the borough does not have. We could actually close down, we could do much of what Anchorage is doing if we chose to. We have not chosen to go to those levels.”
Knackstedt said that the city did temporarily close city buildings to the public, but they have since reopened. Currently, there are occupancy limits for city buildings, and people are requested to wear masks when entering. Residents can participate in city council and other city meetings in-person or virtually, and Knackstedt said that he felt relying on the residents of Kenai to make the right decisions without strict enforcements has worked for the city so far.
“We’re really relying on the public doing the right thing and that seems to have worked,” Knackstedt said.
Do you think that anything about the city’s pandemic response should be changed as we head into the winter?
Knackstedt: “I don’t think that anything specifically needs to change, but some of the things that we may be able to do is improve reporting to the public on cases and statistics within the city of Kenai, Soldotna and the borough.”
Knackstedt referenced Ketchikan, which established a web-based program that highlights risks throughout the city based on where cases are identified, and said that the City of Kenai and the borough as a whole would benefit from a similar program.
“It’s an extra step above what the state does,” Knackstedt said. “Let’s say we had an uptick here in Kenai and it happened out at the prison or someplace confined like that. Within the program it would establish the risk for the rest of us … we’re not an island. I just came from Soldotna, so we’re all in it together.”
What are some of your biggest concerns for the city going into 2021, and do you have any plans to address those concerns?
Knackstedt: “The City of Kenai is quite large in area and we also as a city own lots of properties for one reason or another, given to us by the state or the federal government. One of the next big steps would be to go through our land use plan to determine what properties are to be available for sale or for other city uses, and this couples well with the work that we’ve done with our sale and leasing program within the city.”
Knackstedt said that the city is in the process of having many of the lots it owns evaluated and also improving the system through which residents can buy land from the city.
Why should voters choose you as one of their city council members this year?
Knackstedt: “Well, I would hope that they would reelect me because they like the work that I’ve done over the last six years as a city council person. And also, if they know me, they know my integrity and drive and what I find to be important, and I would hope that with those attributes that they would consider me again to be their council person.”
Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at firstname.lastname@example.org.