Four Mayors

Four Interior mayors met in Nenana to share common concerns and start developing a unified vision for Interior Alaska. Left to right, Bryce Ward, Fairbanks North Star Borough; Clay Walker, Denali Borough; Michael Welch, North Pole; Joshua Verhagen, city of Nenana. Photo courtesy city of Nenana

Interior mayors have a lot in common. But they don’t have the chance to talk with each other very often.

That is now changing.

Four Interior mayors met recently in Nenana to share common concerns and to begin developing a unified front on issues affecting the Interior overall. The mayors included Bryce Ward of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, Clay Walker of the Denali Borough, Michael Welch of the city of North Pole and Joshua Verhagen of the city of Nenana. Fairbanks city mayor Jim Matherly had to cancel attending, and Anderson city Mayor Samantha Thompson was out of town. The group plans to meet again in Healy early next year.

“I really did appreciate this,” Walker said.

Usually, Walker said, the mayors just run into each other at statewide meetings. In those brief encounters, mayors try to discuss topics of mutual interest.

It was at those conferences that it became clear it would help to set time aside specifically to work together.

That way, Verhagen said, at the next conference, Interior mayors “can be ahead of the game and be more prepared to share our unified vision and tackle some of these common issues and build up the Interior as a whole, versus going it alone or competing with each other.”

Verhagen offered to host the first meeting and they all met in Nenana last month. The Nenana mayor even grilled salmon for lunch. No action could be taken at this gathering, but they exchanged lots of information and ideas.

“I think it is important for community leaders to not only take into consideration the community that they directly represent but also understand the significance of working together with other local leaders to address issues that are bigger than a single community,” Ward said. “Sometimes being a mayor can be a lonely road, and it’s nice to know others deal with the same issues you do.”

The oldest mayor of the mayoral group, Welch, said the young mayors he shared lunch with that day are impressive in their determination to work toward a better future for their communities.

“If we stick together, we’ll get more done,” he said. “Now, we’re actually planning, strategizing. I think we’ll make it just by sheer determination.”

It makes sense to stand together to face the tough issues that impact all Interior communities, Welch said.

“It goes back to that phrase, ‘When the tide rises, all boats float,’” he said. “I feel compelled now to keep Fairbanks-Nenana-Denali boroughs as a joint effort going from this point forward.”

He anticipates the mayors will work together to market Interior communities for economic development and to press issues of importance to the Interior at the Alaska Municipal League and the Alaska Conference of Mayors meetings.

“This was all about building relationships and brainstorming for our mutual interest,” Walker said.

“We discussed future development and growth and plan to meet specifically to work on goals that will be beneficial to the Interior as a whole,” Verhagen said. “We got to know each other, shared a homemade lunch and I introduced them to staff, my wife and kids. It was a great start to what I hope to be a longstanding tradition.”

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at kcapps@newsminer.com. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.