Besides choosing the next mayor, Petersburg voters will be filling two seats on the borough assembly in October. Four people are running for two seats on the governing body that decides spending and makes local law for the municipality. The four candidates say they’d take a different approach to serving on the assembly and also differ in some of their top priorities.
27-year-old Aaron Hankins is the youngest of the four candidates. He works as a mechanic for Piston and Rudder and volunteers with the local fire department. He moved here in 2016 after working on a Petersburg purse seine boat for three years. During a recent forum, he and the others we asked about the role of someone on the assembly.
“I believe that in conjunction with listening to not only borough employees and your constituency you have a job to do your own research on any specific topic and come forth with the best answer you can possibly give for the good of the community,” Hankins said. “If you shoot off the hip I believe sometimes mistakes can easily be made and that is to the detriment of the community.”
Another candidate is 31-year-old Chelsea Tremblay. She works at Sing Lee Alley Books and does some work for cruise line companies. Tremblay was raised in Petersburg and recently married. She serves on the library advisory board and has been involved in other local discussions on topics ranging from homelessness and addiction. Here’s her take on the role of an assembly member.
“I see it as listening and being here to arbitrate when necessary and bring issues forward that community members have expressed concern with and sometimes that means also making hard decisions,” Tremblay said.
The only incumbent is 42-year-old Jeigh Stanton Gregor, who’s been on the assembly for five years. He’s a mental health counselor and along with his wife owns True North Counseling. They’re raising two kids. Here’s what Stanton Gregor said about the role of an assembly member.
“It’s our role to take in a pile of information from anyone who has an interest in it,” he said. “And therefore with all that information doing our level best to make wise decisions based on that information.”
Rounding out the group is 59-year-old Marc Martinsen. He has worked as a fisherman and in the family business on dock and harbor construction but now works in transportation projects with the Petersburg Indian Association. He’s been on the city council before and has come close to winning a seat on the borough assembly. Here’s his take on an assembly person’s role.
“I think as an individual you have a core set of beliefs and that’ll dictate what your platform’s going to be,” Martinsen said. “And you stick to that unless you’re convinced otherwise. I mean you just don’t sit on the fence and go either way. You usually have one side of the fence or the other. And you listen and try to get convinced. If you’re not convinced you stick with your guns.”
Candidates were asked if there were any recent assembly votes they would want to overturn. Hankins said he thought the purchase of an excavator for public works was unnecessary. Tremblay wanted to find out more about appraisal and administration problems for Forest Service timber sales in Southeast but otherwise didn’t sound interested in overturning past decisions.
Stanton Gregor said he doesn’t like to overturn the assembly’s past decisions but he thought a full assembly should decide the filling of vacant positions in the police and fire departments. A short-handed assembly in July voted against hiring for those jobs even though they are both in the budget the assembly approved the month before. There’s general agreement among these four candidates about filling those vacant jobs. Martinsen supports the police hire and thinks the borough would have to cut somewhere else to make up for the new hire in the fire department.
In other topics, three of the four sound supportive of a borough land and building exchange with fuel company Petro Marine. Stanton Gregor thought the assembly should go with the recommendation of the harbor advisory board and complete the exchange.
“This has been so thoroughly vetted,” Stanton Gregor said. “It makes sense to move forward on it. All the interested parties are in favor of this. I will be voting yes on it because at this point we’ve voted to do the swap. Going back on that now is in my opinion also being a bad neighbor. Petro’s moving forward. We’re moving forward. Let’s just get the project done and move on.”
Hankins also supports the land exchange and Tremblay is leaning that way depending on all the final information on the properties. Martinsen is a no vote on that and said he has a bad feeling about it.
“I know the soils have passed the DEC (Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation) and all the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) nonsense but what happens when you disturb some of the concrete, move a little more soil?” Martinsen wondered. “Things could change real quick and then you’re going to be stuck with millions or a useless piece of property. We don’t know what’s there. To me just too many variables out there, too many things that can go wrong. Why bother with it. I just don’t think we need the headache. It might be a smooth transition, who knows. It might not be.”
The borough is waiting to get the results of a mold study and an environmental assessment before the assembly makes a final decision on that swap, likely sometime this fall.
In other answers, the candidates were asked where they’d steer money if the borough had a blank check to fund capital projects. Martinsen said he’d expand the community cold storage. Tremblay, Hankins and Stanton Gregor would direct it to a new hospital. Tremblay and Stanton Gregor also wanted more child care facilities.
The four had different answers on the role of tourism in the community.
“I currently support the level of cruise ships that we have in town,” Hankins said. “It helps blow out our economic footprint by diversifying. A little dismayed by the latest dumping incidents seeing it’s, seems like this year has been the year that I’ve been hearing about it since I’ve been here. I wish they would respect our community a little bit more and use better judgement.”
Tremblay is a member of a committee on the visitor industry and works in two jobs dependent on dollars from out of town visitors.
“It’s so big and yet we’re still actually below the numbers of ships that we used to be getting in 2008,” she said of the industry. “And so we’re actually creeping our way back up to that but we’re still below that number and we didn’t even have the visitor fee, the passenger fee, as we do now. And so as we go forward with that revenue generating thing it’s pretty amazing that we just now instituted it.”
Voters will choose two of the four candidates to serve three years on the assembly. Absentee voting is already underway and election day is October 1st.
In the interest of full disclosure, Tremblay is a former summer intern at KFSK, frequent volunteer and daughter of KFSK board president Bill Tremblay.