Candidates in the Oct. 5 municipal election spoke about diversity and budget solutions during a Friday forum held by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Among City Council candidates were Jerry Cleworth and Shoshana Kun competing for Seat A, as well as June Rogers, who is running for reelection for Seat B. Rogers’ opponent, Jonathan Bagwill, was not present.
Speaking about the city budget, Rogers said she would spend more on equipment upgrades for Public Works, which could in turn help “shave some of those dollars if we were to look at things through the eyes of innovation.”
Kun also said that the Public Works employees “deserve to get paid more and have more enhanced retention bonuses.” Kun would also increase the budget for de-escalation and diversity training at the Fairbanks Police Department. To reduce spending, Kun suggested giving some engineering projects to private industry.
Cleworth said he can’t think of anything he would cut from a “pretty lean city budget, but he would focus on funding for snow plowing, as well as improving the response to stolen bicycles and damaged possessions.
To ensure that public safety and the city are well-staffed and represented, Cleworth said the city can improve marketing and advertising open positions. Rogers agreed and said that, “The government announcements in the newspaper are no longer valid.”
Kun said the city needs to look beyond recruitment.
“There’s systemic prejudice in the hiring process, and I believe the whole process needs to be revamped from the floor up,” she said. “And it’s not only about recruitment, but it’s about changing the way that we are teaching our police at the academy as well.”
To support a safer workplace for police employees, Cleworth said police management should be strict in addressing workplace issues.
“It is difficult to single out an employee and say, ‘You know, you can’t work here anymore, you need to move on,’” he added. “But that vigilance starts right with the management of the police department, (...) and then the administration has to back that up.”
Rogers said that the “solution is to speak of things,” because “we cannot exist with things in a closet.”
To bring unity to a polarized Fairbanks community, Cleworth said “Rhe first step is just having civil discourse,” and the City Council should listen closely to people who speak at public meetings and, if necessary, extend the time for a comment.
As a behavioral health counselor by training, Kun agreed that listening is key to understanding.
“It’s very important to not only listen to the person that’s in front of you,” she added, “but seek out people and organizations such as NAACP and become part of those organizations so you can be part of the dialogue.”
Rogers said she believes that all of us have the ability to be united, cohesive and kind. “Ee just need to do it, and we need to remember to do it over and over and over and over.”
As for Assembly, attending the forum was Seat A candidate David Guttenberg, Seat F candidate Savannah Fletcher, and Seat G opponents Kristan Kelly and Lance Roberts.
Gutenberg said he thinks the budget is “about going through things and figuring out what people want.” He said the borough needs to take care of major maintenance “because we might be spending money in the short term, but we’re going to be spending a lot of money and saving money in the long term.”
Fletcher said a big budget priority for her is maintaining infrastructure and taking care of community centers. She also said she would like to increase the budget for education.
Roberts said he “can’t think of anything that needs increasing,” but he would decrease spending on new construction. He said that “there’s a lot of extra stuff in that borough budget, and it won’t be very hard to make some cuts.”
“I would definitely work to do what’s right for the people and to make sure that the government isn’t spending excess money doing stuff, just for fun, or for somebody else’s quality life,” Roberts said.
Kelly said that she would consider partnering with other entities if increasing funding. She said she would support services that “attract other people to live here so that our tax base is actually increased.” She also she said would increase funding for education as well as for Parks and Recreation. To decreases funding, Kelly would cut assembly stipends and look at the contracting process that seems antiquated.
Fletcher, Kelly and Gutenberg said they support the Carlson Center operating as a public community center, while Roberts said he opposes the change because it costs more money.
To address homelessness in the borough, Kelly suggested considering more affordable housing while Guttenberg recommended advocating to the Alaska Housing Authority.
Fletcher added that the borough needs to keep public buildings like the library open, especially in the winter, “so there’s a warm place where people can also access the internet resources for resumes to apply for jobs.”
Roberts said the borough should make sure that organizations such as Rescue Mission are able to stay in business.
School board candidates included Erin Morotti, up for Seat A, and Chrya C. Sanderson, up for Seat B. Other candidates for Seat A, Andrew Graham and Sally Grant, as well as Sanderson’s opponent, Jeffrey Rentzel, were not at the forum.
Morotti said she would push for accurate African-American history to be taught in our district through history curriculum. Sanderson agreed that “students need to see themselves reflected in the history.”
To ensure that all students are receiving an equitable and high-quality education, Sanderson said it’s important to bring experts in a field to guide the board in making education more accessible.
Morotti said the board is responsible for the budget, curriculum and policy, and “each of these areas have the potential for changing the equity gap.” Morotti said she wants more of a focus on diversity in hiring and retention and in collaborations with the NAACP.
“We have a lack of racial diversity. We have a lack of gender diversity. We have a lack of ability diversity,” she said. “Every year I hope for improvement, and every year I don’t see it.”
Sanderson said the untapped source for more diverse staff would be military families because “surely there must be some educators within that diverse group.”
To ensure that students and staff are safe during the Covid-19 pandemic, Sanderson and Morotti said they support universal masking. Sanderson said she wants to make sure there is rapid testing onsite, and Morotti said that in the case of a lockdown, she will make sure that students have a device to learn, breakfast and lunch, and access to school sites.