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. Winger’s interview took place on Sept. 16 and has been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you decide to run for election?
Winger: “I was asked to run two years ago and I ran against Bob Malloy and Robert Peterkin. I came really close in that race and just kind of regrouped the last two years, really focusing on my family, what’s important.”
Winger said she was asked to run again this year, and although she has been busy transitioning her kids to home-schooling, she felt she needed to represent the people who had already supported her.
“I do want to be a voice,” Winger said. “I did say I would come back in two years and rerun, and I wanted to uphold my promise to the people that had supported me last time.”
What skills or qualifications do you bring to the table as a city council member?
Winger: “You know, living here my whole life, I think I’ve seen things that work and things that haven’t worked. We need to offer more for our children. We don’t need to just be bar based. We need more kids activities.”
Winger mentioned several areas of possible improvement for the city that she has identified through growing up and raising children in the community. Opening up the dog park in the city, improving the city’s relationship with the Kenaitze Indian Tribe and implementing things like splash pads and kayak rentals at the local parks are some of the areas where Winger feels the city has the potential to grow.
“There’s just so many things that we could definitely improve,” Winger said.
What would be your biggest priority for the city council going into 2021?
Winger: “I would definitely like to have more activities available for children, just because what we’ve seen with COVID, everything has been stripped away from them. They weren’t able to do their sports or their camps and they were unable to go back to school. They are now back in school, and my kids are home-schooling just because of the constant changes.”
Aside from the areas Winger already mentioned, giving extra support to the Kenai Community Library would be another part of Winger’s plan for making Kenai more kid-friendly.
“I would give more for the kids to do that are stuck at home and trying to adjust to the changes in their social lives,” Winger said. “The library has a lot of programs they offer for the kids. They do a little Lego club that’s a great program I think we could really boost and get into the schools.”
How do you feel the city has handled its response to the ongoing pandemic?
Winger: “I think they’ve done good. They’ve gotten the (CARES Act) money and they’ve gotten it out there, now it’s just getting it into the hands of the business owners. Putting it on a website, putting it in the paper, that’s all fine and dandy, but we need to be literally handing that to the businesses.”
Do you think that anything about the city’s pandemic response should be changed as we head into the winter?
Winger: “Some people don’t even know there’s anything out there yet because they’re so consumed in their own life and their own business. So I believe in mailing an application to every business that is current on their business license, they should be getting a hard copy sent to every single business.”
Beyond being more direct in distributing grant funds to local businesses, Winger said the city has done a good job of encouraging the best practices of mitigating the spread of COVID-19 without implementing any mandates that infringe on personal freedoms.
“I like that we’re not mandating things,” Winger said. “I think at this point we all know what to do and how to do it.”
What are some of your biggest concerns for the city going into 2021, and do you have any plans to address those concerns?
Winger: “We obviously have this surge of COVID money coming into our town right now, so making sure that we’re responsibly spending that. I know we’ve allocated so much for public service, I want to make sure are doing every bit of training and we are upgrading all of our first responders’ equipment. So when all this money is said and done, and we’re looking at keeping a balanced budget, we’re not trying to backtrack and get all these things that we once had money for.”
Why should voters choose you as one of their city council members this year?
Winger: “That’s a great question because I am a new face. A lot of people don’t know who I am. But it is time for a new face. New thoughts being brought forth. We can keep electing the same people and keep Kenai in the same position we’re in. It’s time to elect different faces, change it up, grow it, and really start adding to Kenai, not just maintaining what we have. We need to add to it and make it thrive. I don’t want to live in the past; I want to look at the future. I’ve got three children that I want to stick around here. I want them to want to raise their kids in this town. It’s a great town for a family, but we have to make sure we’re growing it. We can’t just keep it where it’s at.”
Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at firstname.lastname@example.org.