With several local elections coming up, candidates are eager to connect with the community and share what they stand for. On Tuesday, many of them talked about their ideas for mitigating climate change and improving social and racial equity.
Candidates for the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly, Fairbanks City Council, school board and borough mayor seat attended the 3rd Annual Fairbanks Nonpartisan Municipal Climate, Jobs, & Justice Candidate Forum held virtually on Tuesday via Zoom.
Candidates for borough mayor, Robert Shields and Chris Ludtke, attended the forum, while current Mayor Bryce Ward, who is running for reelection, did not.
When asked about equity in administering the Capital Improvement Plan, Ludtke said he believes the borough should only make sure everyone “on the playing field” is treated fairly.
“I don’t necessarily believe it’s the government’s role to achieve equality of outcome,” Ludtke said. “We need equality of opportunity, not outcome.”
Shields said that he believes that equity, resilience and climate action should be at the core of economic development, and that all businesses, nonprofits and municipalities should work to promote innovative technology.
“We need to use the opportunity to integrate nature as a profitable business partner rather than just continuing to consider her as just another cost of doing business,” Shields said.
Both candidates said they do not support policies to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 among borough employees and the community.
Shields said he wants to “start conversations with the most conservative people in the community.”
“I don’t like regulating things to people, because I think they’re mature enough to make sound decisions with good science, and I think they just need to be given the opportunity to be heard,” Shields said.
Ludtke said he opposed the business closures to mitigate the spread of the virus and said that while officials can encourage people to get vaccinated, they can’t force policies on people.
“I generally don’t think it’s the borough’s responsibility to make sure everyone is 100% healthy and safe,” he said. “Individuals make the best choices for themselves.”
As for the Borough Assembly, attending the forum were Seat A candidate David Guttenberg, Seat F candidate Savannah Fletcher and Seat G runner Kristan Kelly. Guttenberg’s opponent, Kevin McKinley, Fletcher’s opponent, Patricia Silva, and Kelly’s opponent, Lance Roberts, did not attend.
Fletcher, who has experience working on the Climate Action Committee, said that climate adaptation should be included in any borough infrastructure planning and that incorporating renewable energy sources will also help create more jobs.
Kelly said she would like to work on a plan for public transportation in the borough to help reduce the emissions from vehicles. She also spoke about improving the Fairbanks trails system as a way to improve mental health.
Guttenberg said the borough could transition borough vehicles to gas or electric and encourage installing more electric charging stations. Tax breaks for property taxes that use more solar was another idea to address gas emissions.
All three candidates spoke about increasing broadband access using federal infrastructure funding.
“You cannot have equality in this community or in any community when you have diverse access to broadband,” Guttenberg said.
“The lack of broadband led to the failure of so many kids for e-learning,” Kelly agreed. “Basically they lost access to their right for education.”
Fletcher proposed an idea to use some funds on improving public spaces, affordable housing and access to water and sewage systems, as well as public transportation.
“A third of our community (...) may not have a car one day to go get groceries,” Fletcher said.
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.
The City Council candidates were asked how they plan to support the economic recovery of service workers and small businesses with a focus on those most impacted.
“The city did make an effort to reach out to different groups,” Kun said, “to address the long-standing financial inequalities that impact women in communities of color.”
Rogers agreed:“ The city has done an admirable job of meeting the needs with the dollars that they received and getting those dollars out to the community.”
Cleworth said that the city directed a big part of funds to small businesses immediately impacted by the shut down order issued last year.
From the $5.5 million dedicated as the last Covid-19 relief effort, the city is giving $1.5 million to restaurants and businesses in the visitor industry “that suffered total losses or revenues,” Cleworth said. The remaining $4 million is considered for the city’s Capital Fund. “That can be utilized on projects that benefit all the people, whether it’s road repairs in front of your house or fixing the infrastructure,” Cleworth added.
Another topic of discussion was training and transparency at the Fairbanks Police Department.
While all candidates agreed that FPD officers are already going through de-escalation training, Rogers said the council should make sure there is always funding for that training.
“It’s a difficult job, and it’s an honorable job, and one that we need to have to make sure we have people in those positions,” Rogers said.
Kun said that she “whole-heartedly supports” the public review committee to bridge the gap and address the historical distrust from the Alaska Native community to the police department.
Cleworth said police management should act on public complaints, weeding out or retraining officers who don’t interact well with the public.
School board candidates included Erin Morotti, who is 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.
Speaking about Alaska Native educational priorities, Morotti said that she always supports “resolutions that lift up our Alaska Native community,” as well as funding for those initiatives.
Sanderson spoke about the importance of representation and that it “goes a long way when kids walk around and they see someone who looks just like them, or dresses like them, or has the language like them. ... It really lifts their spirits, it makes them feel more connected.”
Morotti said she “absolutely supports” age appropriate, LGBTQ+ inclusive, medically accurate sex education.
“Our children are going to learn, regardless whether it’s from a professional, or their family, or their friends, or social media, or TV — they’re going to learn,” she said. “Being able to provide accurate, inclusive and age-appropriate information to them through sex education in our school district is a healthy and safe way to do so.”
Sanderson said that the schools need to make sure their students are safe and have information and access to services, but the families can choose how they want to use them.
“I don’t feel that a school can really get in the middle of that,” she said. “Even if there are parents who may not be supportive of their LGBT student, they still are a family unit, and they have to work out some of these things.”