Clockwise from top left, Dave Kensinger, Marc Martinsen, Brandi Marohl and Jeff Meucci

Voters have a choice of four candidates for two seats on Petersburg’s borough assembly this fall. All four have experience in local elected office but they differ in how they’d like to see the local government’s respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A big part of the assembly’s focus this year has been on pandemic response and discussion. Local elected officials passed health mandates, voted to spend coronavirus aid and took a good part of the summer in considering a controversial permanent change to the municipality’s ordinance on responding to an emergency.

One candidate Dave Kensinger praised Petersburg’s response.

“I know everyone in town feels that we’re isolated and we are,” Kensigner said. “And we’ve been lucky but I think on top of that luck we’ve also had very good direction from the borough, the hospital and the schools in how they’re approaching the problem. And I assume they’re going to have to continue going on the track they are and dealing with the problems as they come and hopefully as an assembly member I don’t have to get in their hair and tell them how to do their jobs.”

Kensinger likes the borough’s CARES Act grant program for local businesses impacted by the pandemic. He encourages residents to support local businesses through the winter. He also would like to see child care assistance or utility assistance from the borough’s remaining 300-thousand dollars in coronavirus relief money. He’s co-owner of Chelan Produce and garden store. He’s also vice chair of planning and zoning commission and vice president of the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce. Kensinger thinks meetings of the assembly can be in person in the future with accommodations for others who want to call in and aren’t comfortable with attending in person. 

Another candidate is assembly incumbent Jeff Meucci. He wanted to see more initiative from the borough manager at the start of the health emergency. But he praised the response of incident commander Karl Hagerman.

“I spend a lot of time thinking well if Karl wasn’t the incident commander, who would I be comfortable with as the incident commander in town,” Meucci said. “And I honestly can’t think of too many people that I would be. I mean I’ve known Karl since I moved here; we’ve spent a lot of time on the basketball court. I trust Karl. He’s done a great job for the community. I think we’ve tried to sort stuff out. I mean this pandemic is making elected officials think in ways that we’ve never had to think before. Whether it’s trying to sort out where we’re going to come up with all the personal protective equipment, giving away big chunks of money to organizations and businesses that have been hit by the pandemic.”

Meucci highlighted the assembly’s decisions on funding child care assistance through the end of the year and grants to local businesses. He wants to see the borough hold on to the remaining 300,000 in CARES Act funding until later this year to see if there are additional needs in the community. Meucci says he misses in person meetings and wants the assembly to address this topic at its next meeting.

Meucci has served on the parks and recreation board, city council and was mayor in the late 90s. He narrowly lost a race for borough mayor last year. He’s retired from a career as a research diver with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

One candidate Marc Martinsen does not trust the statistics and thinks the world, United States and Petersburg panicked unnecessarily.

“I think these numbers are totally messed up,” Martinsen said. “We won’t know that for another year and people might kick back and go what the heck were we thinking. This wasn’t worth ruining an economy over. I mean it’s a perfect example of a person can be smart but people are dumb stupid animals.”

Martinsen does not want the local government to mandate any business closures or limit gatherings. He wants to see remaining CARES Act funding paid to residents for child care and he’d like to see in-person meetings reestablished. Martinsen has commercial fished and worked in the family business for harbor and dock construction. He works with the Petersburg Indian Association on transportation projects. Martinsen was on the city council in the late 1990s and early 2000s and has run for the assembly four times before this year.

The borough government briefly had a face covering mandate in place early on in the pandemic. It also ordered residents to shelter in place and the closure of non-essential businesses. But state mandates soon replaced some of those local orders and went much further to prohibit gatherings and force business closures.

Another incumbent, Brandi Thynes is finishing up her first term. She thinks the local government should respond to the pandemic but only to a degree.

“I think that that’s part of us being leaders is we have to respond especially when it’s been declared on a state and national level,” Thynes said. “That being said I don’t think that we need to be taking measures such as closing businesses either. Taking precautionary measures, putting out information, all of that is something that us as a borough should do. But when it comes to, like I said, businesses and other things, I think that needs to be up to the people. And there needs to be some sort of responsibility for your own health.”

She wants to see additional CARES funding go to help local residents with utility payments or a needs-based assistance program. Thynes also agrees in-person meetings should resume with allowances for people who only want to call in. She grew up commercial fishing and now works as an electrician at OBI Seafoods.

The top two candidates in next week’s election win three year terms on the assembly. Their comments are from an assembly forum on KFSK from last week.