Election Forum: Get out and vote!

Cordova city election is March 7.Part two: Q&A with Cordova City Council and School Board Candidates

A break between cold weather fronts and snowstorms occurred on the afternoon of Jan. 18, providing for a gorgeous view of the Cordova Boat Harbor under cloud-streaked skies. Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times

Cordova’s regular election is set for March 7, in the Cordova Center.

The Cordova Times’ 2017 Candidate Forums are provided to our readers as a community service, to better inform voters of the candidates running in this election.

In part one, we presented the candidates running for the newly created Cordova Community Medical Center’s Hospital Authority Board.

This week we present the candidates running for three year terms on seat B and seat C on the Cordova City Council. Terms for incumbents Timothy Joyce, seat B, and Tom Bailer , seat C, will expire this month.

Candidates Kenneth Jones, Michael “Van” Schumm, and RJ Kopchak are vying for council seat B.

Candidates, Jeff Guard and Enrico Venzon, are running for seat C.

Those elected will begin their terms in March.

Candidate Michael “Van” Schumm declined to participate in the election forum.

Incumbent Cordova School Board candidate Sheryl Glasen is running for a second term. The open school board seat is uncontested. Of the five seats on the school board, Glasen’s is the only one currently up for election.

City council candidates answered questions regarding their views on the community, substance abuse issues, optimizing the city’s operating budget, raising city sales taxes, and what they consider to be management priorities, should they be elected.

The school board candidate, incumbent Sheryl Glasen, answered questions regarding the Cordova School District budget, challenges facing the school district, how to tackle substance abuse issues as relates to Cordova’s youth, and priorities facing the school district.

In addition to the city council and school board seats, five candidates are running for the newly created Cordova Community Medical Center’s Hospital Authority Board:  Sally Bennett, Dorne Hawxhurst, John Harvill, April Horton and Kristin Carpenter.

Get out to vote March 7, at the Cordova Center, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., in community room A.

 

Council Seat B Candidates:

Kenneth Byron Jones

Candidate for Cordova City Council Seat B

How long have you resided in Cordova? 

25 years, nine months.

Why do you consider yourself to be the best candidate for the job? 

While I may not have the lengthy experience of some of my fellow candidates, I believe I have the qualities necessary to effectively serve our town. I am an open book. I do not have any hidden agendas. I have been, and will continue to be, a supporter of a limited government, financial responsibility, and open and honest politics.

What would be your top priority as a city council member?  

Fiscal responsibility, fishing industry growth, public safety, support for effective education, local year-round jobs, and housing growth.

What steps need to be taken to balance the City of Cordova’s annual budget? 

In addition to reforming the existing city tax code, expenditures need to be cut in order the balance the budget. It is not a very popular view, but one that is necessary to maintain essential services. There are many cost-saving measures the existing council has been working hard on, I would continue this delicate work along with my fellow council members.

Should local city sales tax be increased? 

No, I do not believe the tax rate should be raised. Nobody likes taxes, especially me. It is my view that raising the existing tax caps and eliminate exemptions to the sales taxes currently in place would be preferable over a raise in the percentage by which we are assessed.

Where would you decrease city funding? 

As I said before, all non-essential city expenditures need to see some form of cut, across the board, in order the balance the budget. It is not a very popular view but one that is necessary, to maintain essential city services.

What types of programs do you support in Cordova? 

Like all of us, I want to see Cordova thrive, today and far into the future. To me, this means more students in our schools, expanded shipyard and harbor facilities to better serve our industry’s growing needs, support for local law enforcement in the fight to combat the drug culture growing in our community, and local legislation that will be conducive to economic growth.

What would you do to draw people to Cordova? 

I would be an ally on the council to businesses, individuals, and partnerships that are looking to create jobs, and expand the housing market in Cordova. Decision making on local legislation that will be conducive to economic growth is the best way to draw people to Cordova.

What would you do to make Cordova safer? 

Recently, Cordova was rated the safest city in Alaska over 2,000 residents, with a violent crime rate of 2.7 per 1,000 people, and property crime rate of 7.21 per 1,000 people. That rank is up from third in the state just the year before. However, we are not perfect. I would work diligently with the city manager and police chief to give the department the tools necessary to effectively fight against the growing influence of illegal drugs and property crimes we are seeing in Cordova.

What inspired you to declare your candidacy for a Cordova City Council seat?

Many people have asked me why I have chosen to run for city council. The answer is simple: I want to be more involved as a young voice and decision-maker in our community. I feel it is time for my generation to step up. I believe that young people need to be involved in addressing the issues that all Cordovans, including my generation, will face for years to come.

RJ Kopchak

Candidate for Cordova City Council Seat B

How long have you resided in Cordova? 

43 years.

Why do you consider yourself to be the best candidate for the job?

Arriving in 1974, a young Vietnam veteran chasing adventure, I fished, spent time at Shelter Cove, worked with the Eyak and Chugach people to establish Bidarki, was a managing director for the Copper River Fisherman’s Co-op, helped acquire funding establishing mental health programs at CCMC, served on CDFU and UFA boards, and helped negotiate strike settlements. In 1989, when vice-mayor, I was co-founder of the science center, to-date our community’s most successful public/private partnership.

A founding board member of our regional salmon marketing organization, and co-author of a regional economic analysis focused on the PWS/ Cordova, I understand sustainable fisheries will remain the cornerstone of our economy. I also understand the critical role of the non-fishing economy in maintaining year-round community health.

What would be your top priority as a city council member?

To help plan and develop new public/private partnership opportunities that will creates new and preserve existing jobs.

What steps need to be taken to balance the City of Cordova’s annual budget?

Our community should do an analysis of service demands and revenue streams to best understand what sector(s) should see adjustments. I will make every effort to maintain local quality of life through fair taxes –the only way we will attract and/or keep families.

Should local city sales tax be increased?

NO! This is the most burdensome tax on those whose incomes are limited by low wages and seasonally available work. The backbone of the community is our service sector jobs- from processing to shop assistants, mechanics to housekeepers.

Where would you decrease city funding? 

I am committed to keeping all our city workers on the job. They are our neighbors and a major part of the fabric of our community. We can adjust in the short term to maintain service levels while looking at other savings, and new revenue sources. In the long run, we have two areas of opportunity to assure operations over time. One is to save money in years of higher revenues from fisheries to cushion the lean years. During my 35-plus years of commercial fishing, I found this approach critical to family well being and know it will work for our community. The other is attracting new and expanding existing non-fisheries businesses.

What types of programs do you support in Cordova? 

Those that enhance quality of life and place minimal burden on community residents.

What would you do to draw people to Cordova?

Help create opportunity for non-fishing JOBS while encouraging new fisheries and local resident investment in existing fisheries.

What would you do to make Cordova safer? 

My wife and I travel the world over and would consider Cordova to be one of the safest communities anywhere. Nonetheless, we need to continue to address impacts from domestic violence and the local face of the national opioid crisis.

What inspired you to declare your candidacy for a Cordova City Council seat? 

Local opportunities for community growth abound, but there has been little formal discussion of how the community can help. Public/private partnerships are driving development in many communities across the nation that are addressing changing patterns of both revenue and employment.

Over a decade ago, the city council and planning commission, along with a participating public, through open and sometimes combative forums, worked diligently to vision a future that provided growth opportunity for federal and state agencies, USCG, commerce and shipping, fisheries and the expansion of research and secondary education opportunities. Our mayor and new city manager are again beginning the process. It would be an honor to join them.

Council Seat C Candidates:

Jeffrey Harmon Guard

Candidate for Cordova City Council Seat C

How long have you resided in Cordova? 

A total of 16 years: from 1983 to 1996, and again from 2014 to the present.

Why do you consider yourself to be the best candidate for the job?

I plan to retire and spend my golden years in Cordova. I have a vested interest in a town with good governance and the best services we can comfortably afford.  I served on the Cordova City Council in the mid-1990s. I also served on the CDFU board during which time I lobbied on behalf of area fishermen for passage of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. I have fished commercially in Prince William Sound and the Copper River for a total of 19 years, and am a PWS seiner today.

What would be your top priority as a city council member?

My top priorities will be to balance the budget and develop a good, long-term financial plan for the city.  Without these two things, I believe we run the risk of repeating past mistakes, leading again to a boom-and-bust economy.

What steps need to be taken to balance the City of Cordova’s annual budget?

I will work with local citizens, businesses, and organizations to identify our key services and the levels of those services needed to maintain or improve life in Cordova. I would then use this information to shape a budget and fiscal plan we can feasibly fund and maintain.

Should local city sales tax be increased?

I am not in favor of just raising taxes to pay for services. But, sometimes during budget shortfalls, surviving as a community means raising revenue. The two major sources of revenue we have control over are sales tax and property tax. It is not a matter of raising just sales tax or just property tax, because that might disproportionately burden only some parts of the community. Instead, we need a fair balance of sales tax and property tax, to maintain an equitable tax load on all citizens.

Where would you decrease city funding? 

Please refer to my answer to question 5.

What types of programs do you support in Cordova? 

I support any program that improves the quality of life in Cordova and is also financially feasible.

What would you do to draw people to Cordova?

I am not in favor of growth for the sake of growth. If we want to draw people to Cordova, we must first decide what we are drawing them here for. If for tourism, then transportation to and from Cordova, and infrastructure in Cordova, are things we can work on. If we are looking to increase our year-round resident population, then we need to look at facilitating the development of economic opportunities that create new jobs. This may require infrastructure upgrades too. But, without first knowing what types of jobs we are bringing to town, it is hard to answer more specifically.

What would you do to make Cordova safer? 

In terms of crime, Cordova is one of the safest places to live that I know of. We have some drug crime and property crime, but relatively little violent crime. I will work to make Cordova safer by supporting programs for substance abuse prevention and treatment; and by supporting improvements to our local healthcare system.

What inspired you to declare your candidacy for a Cordova City Council seat? 

Cordova is my community and my home. Everyone should do what he or she can to improve life in their community.

Enrico M. Venzon

Candidate for Cordova City Council Seat C

How long have you resided in Cordova? 

More than 10 years.

Why do you consider yourself to be the best candidate for the job?

I have new ideas. I have been involved in fishing industry for more than 20 years, as the dock manager at one of Cordova’s fish processing facilities. I work with fishermen daily. I believe I have a new voice to offer on city council, that represents our community.

What would be your top priority as a city council member?

“My top priority is to make Cordova a better place to live, and to improve the local economy.

What steps need to be taken to balance the City of Cordova’s annual budget?

First, cut expenses and then diversify the economy.

Should local city sales tax be increased?

Yes, if it is necessary.

Where would you decrease city funding? 

The first steps should involve increasing revenue and diversifying our economy, then cutting expenses as it becomes necessary.

What types of programs do you support in Cordova? 

Youth programs and sports programs, and the family resource center.

What would you do to draw people to Cordova?

Advertise and develop more tourist spots.

What would you do to make Cordova safer? 

I will continue to support the police force, the fire department, and our drug free programs.

What inspired you to declare your candidacy for a Cordova City Council seat? 

My love for Cordovans.

Cordova School Board:

Sheryl Glasen

Cordova School Board Candidate:

How long have you resided in Cordova?  

I was raised in Cordova. I attended school in the Cordova School District from kindergarten through high school. I moved back to Cordova in 2001 to raise my family here.

Which school board seat are you running for?  

I am running for the open school board seat, they do not have seat names.

Why do you consider yourself to be the best candidate for the job?  

I have a hard time saying I am the best candidate for the job because I know we are rich in resources here in Cordova and there are many people who I would vote for to be on the school board. My willingness is probably the biggest thing I have going for me, as seen by the lack of other candidates at this time. I also have a heart for the kids. They are my biggest concern and I feel good about putting my time towards something that is hopefully going to benefit all of Cordova’s youth.

You are the incumbent candidate. What was your most important accomplishment during your previous tenure?

During the past three years, the school board had the task of filling the superintendent position, first with finding an interim, and then filling the fulltime position. I feel like we have come out of that process, heading in the right direction. Also, we have worked hard to evaluate our processes to make sure we are functioning properly. I like that we are a board that is continually growing and I look forward to seeing what the coming three years has in store.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a school board member and how did you address this challenge?  

My biggest challenge was to understand how to work in the capacity of a board member. No one person has authority on a board and you have to learn to work together to make decisions. We have had some hard decisions to make and they don’t always go the way I feel they should, but you decide together. Then you go forward supporting that decision.

What is your current, top priority as a Cordova School Board member now?  

Our top priority is and should always be the students. Our biggest challenge we are now facing is fiscal shortcomings, along with the rest of the city and state. I plead with our community members to continue to advocate for our youth at the city, state and federal levels. Our voices are heard and do make a difference. The monies that are spent on our schools are, in my opinion, the most important and rewarding.  Let’s make sure to invest in our future!

What steps need to be taken to balance the Cordova School District’s annual budget?  

We are currently looking at our budget and searching for ways to cut back. The school’s budget is limited in how we can raise revenues, so when the state and city pass through cuts, it is hard to make those up. We are left with looking at cuts. The school currently operates responsibly; now we are going to start seeing the cuts that are felt a bit more.  Concurrently, we will continue to lobby city, state, and federal government to put our schools as our top priority and have that reflected in their budgets.

How would you address substance abuse issues in Cordova as relates to our youth? 

I will continue to address the substance abuse issues as we look at policies and budgeting. We can tackle this issue better as a community than as individual entities, so having family involvement is key. I think it would be beneficial to have more programs that involve everyone. Hopefully the DARE program, which is brought to us by the Cordova Police Department, continues and grows in our community.

What would you do to make Cordova safer?  

Looking out for one another, caring for each other, and getting involved all make Cordova a safer place to be. It really is true that it takes a village to raise a child, and I feel so blessed to live in a village that is willing to step in assist each other. We have ways that we can still grow, but if we all individually make the choice to care for each other and get involved, then we are heading in the right direction.

Why did you decide to run for another term for the school board?  

I feel like it takes a while to understand your role as a board member and I would like to continue, now that I am feeling a bit more confident with the duties. It takes a lot of time and energy, but it is worth it. Our students are worth it.

In case you missed it: 

Q&A with the Cordova Community Medical Center Hospital Authority Board Candidates

March 7 vote includes CCMC board candidates

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Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson is a staff writer and photographer for The Cordova Times. She has been writing in one form or another for 30-plus years and has had a longstanding relationship with The Cordova Times starting in 1989. She’s been an Alaskan since 1976 and first moved to Cordova in 1978. She’s lived in various West Texas towns; in Denver, Colorado; in McGrath, Cordova, Galena, Kodiak, Wasilla, Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska and in Bangalore, India. She has two children and three grandchildren. She can be reached at cgibbens-stimson@thecordovatimes.com or follow her on Instagram @alaskatoindia.