Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum

City Council candidates (from left) Charles Foster III, Fairbanks Seat C, Aaron Gibson and Julie Smyth, Fairbanks Seat D, and Santa Claus, North Pole, answer questions during the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce candidate forum Tuesday afternoon, August 27, 2019 at the Carlson Center.

Budgets were the largest topic under discussion at Tuesday’s candidate forum hosted by the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce. Four candidates from Fairbanks and North Pole met in the Carlson Center to discuss their plans and approaches to the issues facing their cities. Chad Hutchison moderated the event on behalf of the Chamber.

The forum began with a chance for the candidates to introduce themselves, explain what motivated them to run for office and describe their top three life principles.

Charles Foster III, candidate for Fairbanks City Council Seat C, said he was unhappy with the state of politics and that he was concerned about worker wages, as he is a blue-collar worker. His three life principles were “pragmatism, empathy and whimsy.” Foster is running against incumbent Valerie Therrien.

Aaron Gibson, candidate for Fairbanks City Council Seat D, chose to run because he was concerned about how the city will “weather the next few years” as revenues decrease.

Julie Smyth, candidate for Fairbanks City Council Seat D, said she wanted to run because she cares. She said her three life principles were “honesty, justice and caring for each other.”

Santa Claus, who is running for North Pole City Council against Thomas McGhee and Carly Nelson for one of the two available seats, was the only candidate from North Pole in attendance. He said he wanted to run because North Pole’s population is expected to increase with the F-35s coming to Eielson. He wants to help North Pole with the growth, its financial challenges associated with growth and finally, he wanted “the spirit of Christmas to continue in North Pole year-round.”

The candidates were then asked about their experience in managing a budget outside their personal finances. Gibson and Smyth were both responsible for managing funds in the course of their work. Gibson works for Foundation Health Services. Smyth worked for Taco Bell. Claus cited his previous experience working with budgets on the North Pole City Council and with Alaska Public Broadcasting. He also worked with the New York City Police Department and negotiated with unions in that role. Foster said he learned about budgeting in university.

When it came to increasing city revenues, the candidates were of similar mindsets.

Smyth felt it was important to raise revenues. “You can only cut so much before you get to the bottom,” she said. She went on to say she was excited to learn more and work with the city on this issue.

Claus was excited for the revenue opportunities he expected to come with North Pole’s expansion.

Foster also felt that revenues in Fairbanks would need to increase to support employee wages, which, he explained, would need to rise in accordance with the cost of living. He was excited that revenues were increasing with contributions from the marijuana industry but felt there were other options to explore.

Gibson said he also felt that Fairbanks needed to increase revenues, but that the city had failed to prove it was managing tax money wisely. This, he said, was proven when the city put the issue in front of voters. “Voters have said no,” Gibson said.

All of the candidates agreed that the Public Works departments in their cities were performing as best they could under the circumstances. Claus specifically acknowledged the work being done in Moose Creek.

In a rapid-fire round of questions, the candidates didn’t answer verbally, but indicated whether they supported a statement using either a green card to say “yes” or a red card to say “no.” The candidates were unanimous in many of these questions. They all said they had attended a city council meeting in their cities. They all agreed that the snow removal needs in their cities were not being met. They all felt that their cities could “play a role in supporting the University of Alaska.”

The Fairbanks candidates were agreed that the city should contribute funds to “transform the Polaris Building for a new use.”

The candidates were split in their thoughts on their respective cities’ business licensing and permit structures. Both Foster and Gibson indicated they were dissatisfied with the licensing and permit structures. Both Smyth and Claus indicated they were satisfied.

Valerie Therrien, incumbent candidate for Fairbanks City Council Seat C could not be present due to a scheduling issue.

Municipal elections are Oct. 1.

Contact Cheryl at 459-7572 or find her on Twitter: @FDNMcity.