Two vie for Seward assembly seat, K-Beach uncontested

Sep 28, 2021

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s municipal election falls on next Tuesday, with candidates running for school board and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, among other local offices.

The borough assembly has three seats up for election: District 1, which covers K-Beach, District 6, which covers the eastern peninsula from eastern Sterling to Seward, and District 9, which covers the southern Kenai Peninsula outside the city of Homer. The winners will represent their districts on the assembly for the next three years, making decisions on items like borough property taxes, school funding, roads and other municipal issues.

District 1’s election is uncontested—the only candidate is the incumbent, Brent Hibbert of Soldotna. Outside public service, Hibbert owns and operates Alaska Cab and The Brew coffee shop, both on Kalifornsky Beach Road. Hibbert currently serves as assembly president, and has chosen to re-up for another three years.

In a conversation with KDLL, Hibbert recalled that he first came on the assembly to replace former member Gary Knopp in 2017, when Knopp won the election to represent Kenai in the Legislature.

Hibbert said serving as assembly president has been a challenge, but that it was educational and he enjoyed working with the assembly members and borough administration. This year has been challenging, with the assembly steering COVID-19 relief funds and navigating other conflicts.

"I look at everything the borough does as a business," he said. "I try to take the experience I have running businesses since 1990, and I try to apply that. I think that everyday world experience is how I approach things on the assembly."

He said he thinks the biggest budget problem the assembly faces is an annual one: school funding. School funding needs have outpaced sales tax revenues, and the borough has to make that up with property tax revenues. There’s always a major struggle over how much funding the borough will supply to the school district. Hibbert said he thinks the borough has a good relationship with the school district right now and appreciates the relationship with superintendent Clayton Holland. He also said the borough landfill has some upcoming issues with waste management, as well as constant road maintenance issues.

The District 6 election is contested, with incumbent Kenn Carpenter of Seward facing a challenge from Seward resident Cindy Ecklund. Carpenter has represented the district on the assembly since 2017, where he chairs the lands committee. He worked at AVTEC in Seward.

He said one of the things he’s tried to do is keep taxes down while providing adequate school funding and keeping the school district administration accountable.

"I think I’ve been responsible in what I’ve done," he said. "I want to continue because I’ve got projects I’m working on property here in seward, getting mor eproperty from the state into the borough’s hands so we can build more houses in here. I really feel like I’ve done an okay job—a good job, actually."

He said he appreciated working with Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce and the staff Pierce has built at the borough. He credited them for keeping the borough in good financial standing and wants to keep that going.

Ecklund has served on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission since 2009. She also serves on the Planning and Zoning Commission in Seward,, as well as at the City of Seward and the Alaska SeaLife Center. She said she’s lived in Seward since 1979.

She says she chose to run this year because several people asked her to. Education particularly is an important topic to her, she said, including support for school staff.

"The students are our future," Ecklund said. "They need good buildings, ongoing maintenance on those buildings, and the st aff needs a livable wage. Right now, our staff at our sites in Seward—I was at a site-based council meeting, zoomed into that—and the teachers are burnt out because unlike last year, they are in school all day, although they still have kids that are at home, and they have to take time and get in touch with those kids and prepare packets for those kids. Last year, they had an extra hour at the end of the day to plan for that."

Ecklund said that as an assembly member she would want to draw from resources like the borough staff and the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District to help her make decisions on the budget cycle. Carpenter also noted appreciation for the borough’s finance department throughout that process, and said Pierce had done a good job consolidating staff to save expenses.

To hear more from those three candidates for the borough assembly, tune in to the Kenai Conversation on Wednesday at 10 a.m., or check out our website.

The incumbent for District 9, Willy Dunne, is term-limiting off the assembly. Three candidates are vying for his seat: Dawson Slaughter of Anchor Point, Mike Tupper of Fritz Creek, and Ashton Callahan of Fritz Creek. More information is available about each of them on the borough clerk’s website at kpb.us, under Elections. KBBI, our sister station in Homer, also has interviews with the candidates.

Absentee-in-person voting is open now for the municipal election. The deadline to apply to vote absentee by mail is today, September 28. You can still apply to vote absentee by fax machine until October 4, and can vote in person until election day on October 5. For more information, check out the borough clerk’s website at kpb.us, under Elections.

KDLL's Sabine Poux contributed reporting.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabethearl@gmail.com.