Three seats on the Soldotna City Council are up for grabs this October.
KDLL has been interviewing the candidates for that race and other municipal races on Kenai Conversation. You can play the interviews in full and learn where the candidates stand on city issues — including riverfront development, COVID-19 mitigation policies and 911 dispatch services — online any time.
Linda Farnsworth Hutchings is running unopposed to keep her current spot on the council.
Farnsworth Hutchings, whose parents were Soldotna homesteaders, said she has seen Soldotna blossom over the years — a perspective she sees as an asset. And now, she said she’s excited to do her own part to make the city better.
“I think it’s just staying involved, and realizing that just because, OK, it’s like this, that we don’t do anything,” she said. “There’s always something more you can do.”
Farnsworth Hutchings is the accountant for Hutchings Auto Group. She served on the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board and Soldotna Parks and Recreation Commission, and was also part of the group that drew up a successful home-rule charter for Soldotna in 2016.
Erick Hugarte is also a council incumbent.
Hugarte moved to Alaska from El Paso, Texas in 2009. He was appointed to Seat B in June.
Hugarte has been open about his struggles with alcohol and gangs. He said he was still struggling with substance abuse when he came to Alaska.
In 2013, he served time in prison for assaulting his wife at their home.
Hugarte was intoxicated and armed with a revolver at the time, according to sentencing documents. He was arrested by Soldotna police and later pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of assault. He was sentenced to serve more than a year in prison and placed on probation for three years.
Hugarte did not respond to multiple recent phone calls or interview requests. But he previously told KDLL that, since his arrest, he’s gotten sober and found solace in religion.
At a Wednesday candidate forum sponsored by the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, Hugarte said he wants to give back to the community.
“I’ve been shown more love in this town than from my own culture back home,” he said at the forum. “And it’s something that just makes me feel special. People, when they see me here, they just see Erick. They don’t see an ex-gang member, they don’t see that. They just see someone who’s trying to help.”
Outside of his role on the council, Hugarte worked at the Surgery Center of Kenai and is now training to be a welder. He’s also spent time on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
Also running for Seat B is Dan Nelson. Nelson just stepped down from the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management after a decade in the role.
He said that experience, paired with his time on the Planning and Zoning Commission, have equipped him with a strong understanding of how each branch of local government functions.
“I’ve been around here and have really seen Soldotna and the Kenai Peninsula develop and grow,” Nelson said. “ I really want to see Soldotna continue on the trajectory that I think it's going. Which is really just an outstanding place to live with a wonderful quality of life.”
Recently, Nelson started his own business. He said now that he has more time on his hands, he would be thrilled to do his part on the council.
Incumbent Jordan Chilson is running to keep council Seat C, which he’s held since 2018.
Chilson works with the IT department at the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. He’s been on both the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
Chilson said service and local government have been important to him since growing up in Soldotna. He said he’s ready to continue with the work he started in his first term.
“For those out there that want to know kind of where I am as a councilman, I could say it really is simple,” Chilson said. “My top two legislative priorities would be, number one, our green spaces and trails, and number two, our small businesses.”
Micah Shields is challenging Chilson for Seat C. Shields owns Small Town Coffee Roasters and Narrow Road Productions, both in Soldotna.
Shields said he sees city issues through the lens of a being dad and a small business owner. He said when he worked at the coffee shop, he heard what was on customers’ minds all the time.
“Everybody would come in in the morning and get their cup of joe, and you’d hear how their day was going,” he said. “So I got to hear a lot of what the community was going through. And I feel like I got a really good feel of how the community operates.”
Election day in the borough is Oct. 5. Absentee voting started this week.
Listen to our candidate interviews in full online. And tune into KDLL next Wednesday at 10 a.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m. for our conversations with the candidates for Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.