Read KSTK’s other local election coverage here.
Wrangell’s full-term assembly race is uncontested: there are two candidates and two seats. Both candidates have been appointed to serve on the governing body before. They’re coming back with ideas for how to stabilize the local economy and address Wrangell’s infrastructure issues.
Besides the two uncontested seats that Dalrymple and DeBord are running for, incumbent assembly member Dave Powell is up for re-election. He’s been on the assembly since 2015. Former mayor Don McConachie Sr. is also running for that seat. KSTK will air a story on that race later this week.
Two candidate names will be printed on Wrangell’s October 5 municipal ballot under the “Assembly Member – Three Year Term” section: Bob Dalrymple and Jim DeBord.
The assembly appointed Dalrymple in January. The former U.S. Forest Service District Ranger for Wrangell says in total, he’s spent about two years as an assembly member.
“That was very valuable to me,” Dalrymple says, “Because there’s a huge learning curve when you’re new to the assembly, and I think just about now I’m sort of getting it under control.”
Since Dalrymple retired as Wrangell’s district ranger, he says he’s looked for other opportunities to serve: “I really like Wrangell. It has huge challenges, but it has great opportunities too, and to be part of that is very compelling to me.”
Like Dalrymple, DeBord was appointed to the borough assembly in 2018, and served for a year.
DeBord says he decided to run for the assembly this year because of two main issues. One was a water report that notified the community about high levels of a potentially harmful substance in Wrangell’s drinking water.
“When it first came out,” DeBord says, “My wife was pregnant. And we saw the report that said that wasn’t really safe if you were pregnant, or nursing. So that really kind of got my attention.”
The other reason was a meeting at which Wrangell’s assembly passed the community’s first mask mandate. Earlier this year, DeBord was part of an effort to recall Wrangell’s Mayor Steve Prysunka. The recall effort accused the mayor of violating state and local law by giving insufficient notice of an emergency meeting of the Wrangell Assembly last November.
Wrangell’s borough clerk rejected the petition in February for having insufficient legal grounds.
DeBord says the swift action by Wrangell’s mayor and assembly unsettled him.
“Not the mask mandate itself,” DeBord explains, “But the way that that came about, where we were told: there won’t be any further discussion on this topic for weeks, unless significant public notice is given first, and I find out on a Thursday afternoon that there was a meeting about it, and it passed. I really didn’t think that that was constitutional. And even if it was, it was — in my opinion — not the way to go about passing the first mask mandate, or anything for that matter.”
But DeBord says he hopes if he’s elected that his involvement in the mayoral recall attempt won’t cause tensions in the assembly: “I have been there with those people before, and everyone was very professional — and we had our disagreements before, when I was there the first time, and everybody treated each other very professionally. So I don’t think so. But I guess we’ll see.”
Both Dalrymple and DeBord say the economic future of Wrangell is of top concern. That includes the city’s revenue, but also the aging public infrastructure.
DeBord echoes Wrangell’s city manager, saying that hundreds of millions of dollars are needed in upgrades, replacements and stabilizations around town.
“All the buildings were built about the same point in time, and they’re all coming due to be replaced at the same point in time,” DeBord says.” It’s a lot of money, and it’s money that we don’t have, so we have to figure out some type of alternate way to raise the capital that’s needed.”
Other than focus on finances, infrastructure and economic development, Dalrymple says one of the most important things the borough should be doing is engaging with its biggest landowners — the federal government for the Tongass, the Alaska Mental Health Trust and the Division of Forestry which manages state forestlands.
“We have to be at the table with them,” Dalrymple says, “And we need to be vocal, otherwise we sort of get forgotten about, I think. When you have a landowner — like 98% of the borough is National Forest — they are huge, what they do or don’t do has a huge impact on the borough, and we just need to be positively engaged with them.”
Plus, Dalrymple says, that could lead to funding opportunities.
“They’re all mostly federal funding opportunities that are larger than the Forest Service as well, that we really need to engage with to kind of restabilize our economy here,” Dalrymple says. “I think it’s a little wobbly after the whole pandemic.”
On the state level, Dalrymple also says he believes the assembly needs to keep pressing for accessibility, whether for reliable ferry service, or a year-round local office of Fish & Game.
“I don’t know that the state has really been working well with us on a lot of issues like the ferries, and in my opinion, this most recent location of the Fish & Game folks up in the Forest Service office, which happens to be locked, and that that’s a real issue to me,” Dalrymple says.
DeBord says he’s interested in looking into development of the borough’s natural resources, specifically timber, as a way to stabilize the local economy and make headway on pressing municipal projects: “Get the timberlands cruised, see what the available timber is, and see what the value of that timber is. And then try to determine where to go with that. I don’t want to cut every single tree we have all at the same time, I think that would be a poor decision for the long run. But I do think that is the major nest egg that we have that we might not have even realized that we have available to us.”
There’s a lot on the Wrangell Assembly’s plate. Ultimately, Dalrymple says, what’s most important about the assembly is that its governing comes from a varied group of Wrangellites, and acts for all of those interests.
“I think it’s important, too, that it’s from a broad variety of the public that we represent,” Dalrymple says. “It’s really powerful and the most basic democratic sense.”
Early voting is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Wrangell’s City Hall, up until Election Day. Qualified voters can also apply for a mail-in ballot.
Wrangell’s local election will be held on Tuesday, October 5. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with balloting at the Nolan Center.
The transcripts below have been edited for clarity and flow. Content has not been changed.
FULL TRANSCRIPT OF KSTK’S CONVERSATION WITH BOB DALRYMPLE:
Sage Smiley (KSTK): Do you have any previous municipal government experience?
Bob Dalrymple: I do. I’ve been appointed to the assembly twice, now. I don’t know cumulatively how much time that is, but this most recent time was since January, so I’ve had roughly two years, and parts and pieces to that. So that was very valuable to me, because there’s a huge learning curve when you’re new to the assembly. And I think just about now I’m sort of getting it under control. But yeah, that’s been my experience.
KSTK: So what made you want to continue serving on the borough assembly, then?
Dalrymple: Well, I think it’s still just like the first times that I put my name in the hat; I’ve always been involved with public service. And since I’ve retired, I miss that, and I wanted to continue that and this was a good forum to do that. And of course, I really like Wrangell. It has huge challenges, but it has great opportunities too, and to be part of that is very compelling to me.
KSTK: Are there any specific issues that prompted you to want to continue serving on the assembly?
Dalrymple: I think it’s just an overall concern for the wellbeing of the community, specifically with the economy here. That’s probably the key part that I view that needs to have some constant attention to it. I don’t really have any personal agendas. Other than that, I do think that the borough should be very active and engaging with the big landowners that are on the borough, which is mainly the Forest Service, but also Mental Health and the state forests. We have to be at the table with them, and we need to be vocal, otherwise we sort of get forgotten about, I think, and when you have a landowner — like 98% of the borough is National Forest — they are huge, what they do or don’t do has a huge impact on the borough, and we just need to be positively engaged with them.
KSTK: So what do you think is the most important function of the borough assembly?
Dalrymple: That’s a good question. I guess I think that we bring in a variety of the citizens’ voices, and we work with the administration. And we provide guidance and oversight, basically, I mean, just as a function. But I think it’s important, too, that it’s from a broad variety of the public that we represent, so it’s really powerful in the most basic democratic sense.
KSTK: Speaking of, you know, democratic senses and the process itself, what would you say to someone to kind of explain to them why they should vote for you for this position?
Dalrymple: Well, I think I bring a lot of experience in administrative functions and public service. I had a long career with the Forest Service in administration, and that included a lot of the aspects that are similar to the borough with budgets and projects and public involvement, and the outside influences that bring pressure on your opportunities and things. I think I bring a reasoned, in-depth perspective on things. I am pretty thorough in my thought process, and I think that probably some people would say I’m not very emotional about things, but I am. I just keep it controlled. But I think that’s what I would say that I bring to it.
KSTK: Is there anything else you’d want to say about you know, serving on the assembly or running for office in general, or issues that you think are important?
Dalrymple: I think some particular issues I’m interested in, like I already mentioned, is working more closely with the Forest Service, especially, and a lot of that is tied with funding opportunities that are just coming up. We have to be prepared and engaged, and basically have some ideas on board or they’re giving us very short time periods to react. And again, I have a basic understanding of how that process works, and I think I can help the borough with that. There’s other — they’re all mostly federal funding opportunities, you know, that are larger than the Forest Service as well, that we really need to engage with to kind of restabilize our economy here. I think it’s a little wobbly after the whole pandemic. And then I think we need to continue to work with the state. I don’t know that the state has really been working well with us on a lot of issues like the ferries, and in my opinion, this most recent location of the Fish & Game folks up in the Forest Service office, which happens to be locked, and that that’s a real issue to me. I guess that’s one of my agendas I’d like to work on is to help the District Ranger here get his door unlocked and open to the public again.
KSTK: Definitely. Thanks very much for your time today. I appreciate it.
FULL TRANSCRIPT OF KSTK’S CONVERSATION WITH JIM DeBORD:
Sage Smiley (KSTK): First of all, will you tell me a bit about you — what do you do in town, how long have you been here?
Jim DeBord: I’m an occupational therapist, I work at the hospital. I’ve been here almost seven years now, moved up from North Carolina along with my wife in late 2014, early 2015.
KSTK: Nice. How do you like Wrangell?
DeBord: Love Wrangell. We moved with the intention of staying two or three years.
KSTK: So now you’ve been here seven?
DeBord: Hopefully will be lifelong Wrangell residents.
KSTK: So what is your motivation for running for the borough assembly?
DeBord: I was on the assembly a few years ago and got off. And really the catalyst for me was the water report, when it first came out my wife was pregnant. And we saw the report and said that wasn’t really safe if you were pregnant, or nursing. So that really kind of got my attention. And then the first mask mandate and the way that that rolled out — not the mask mandate itself, but the way that that came about, where we were told: there won’t be any further discussion on this topic for weeks, unless significant public notice is given first, and I find out on a Thursday afternoon that there was a meeting about it, and it passed. And I really didn’t think that that was constitutional. And even if it was, it was, in my opinion, not the way to go about passing the first mask mandate, or anything for that nature.
KSTK: So you mentioned the water and kind of the public process of that first mask mandate, or the lack of a public process for that first mask mandate — are there other issues that motivated you to rejoin the assembly? And if I understand correctly, you were an appointee, the first time around?
DeBord: Right, correct. I was appointed, I’ve never been elected. So this is the first time I’m running for an elected position.
KSTK: But other than those two issues, are there other issues that prompted you to take that step to running for the assembly again?
DeBord: Yes, the bigger issues to me are our finances and infrastructure. Those are the two huge issues that we have. And obviously, infrastructure is directly related to finance. I was on the Investment Committee, and I’ve kind of kept tabs on our investments as part of the changeover to the new investment company, which has helped our investments from the older one. So finances, and then working on our infrastructure: the water plant, the buildings, the roads, the phone poles, and we have tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure-related issues here that need to be addressed sooner rather than later.
KSTK: Yeah, I know that the borough manager often talks about the quarter of a billion dollars of infrastructure needs that we have, it’s definitely significant.
DeBord: Yes, I mean, because unfortunately, all the buildings were built about the same point in time, and they’re all coming due to be replaced at the same point in time. It’s a lot of money, and it’s money that we don’t have, so we have to figure out some type of alternate way to raise the capital that’s needed.
KSTK: Definitely. So in terms of other issues, you’ve talked about that first mask mandate and that process, and you were someone who signed on to the mayoral recall application. Do you have a sense of how that might impact dynamics on the assembly? How do you feel about that, going into this knowing that you are running for an unopposed seat, and so will likely will get this position?
DeBord: I hope not. I don’t think so. I have been there with those people before. And everyone was very professional — and we had our disagreements before, when I was there the first time, and everybody treated each other very professionally. So I don’t think so. But I guess we’ll see.
KSTK: I guess so. What do you think the most important function of the borough assembly is?
DeBord: To me, it’s managing our funds. The management of our funds and making sure that we have the funds available for things we need and we just don’t seem to have that, and we have to find some way to obtain those funds.
KSTK: Are you coming in with any ideas in that regard?
DeBord: I do have an idea on that, and it’s something I’ve been working on for a few years. The borough has entitlement lands that I’m trying to get clarification on and make sure that we can do this, but look at: what is the city’s ability to cut the timber? And what is the value of that timber? From the research I’ve done — I’ve been talking to some of the people at the state, and some of the people in the logging industry — it seems to be tens of millions of dollars. But obviously, those things change based on how much of the land we have is timbered land, how old timbered land is, what’s the market price and availability for timber. So one of my big things that I would like to get done while I’m on the assembly, this term, would be to get the timberlands cruised, see what the available timber is, and see what the value of that timber is. And then try to determine where to go with that. I don’t want to cut every single tree we have all at the same time, I think that would be a poor decision for the long run. But I do think that is the major nest egg that we have that we might not have even realized that we have available to us, potentially. But just to get clarification on all that and see what the actual value of those entitlement lands’ timber value is.
KSTK: I think Assemblymember Dalrymple was saying something like 98% of the borough is forest lands, federal forest land. Of course, those aren’t borough lands, but —
DeBord: No, these are actually — the land is the borough’s land. But I think traditionally it was done as is cut up in the small lots and sold off. And when you do that kind of thing, it ends up costing more to survey and sell it off, then we really don’t really get a lot of tax revenue back off of those. But timber is one of the world’s — one of the best renewable resources in the United States. My family came from timbering back in Virginia. It’s how we built our farm and my great grandfather had built up the industry there. So I really would like to see what the value of that is. And hopefully that can help get us out of some of the financial strength constraints we have.
KSTK: So this may be a question geared a little bit more towards people in a contested seat. But if you want to use it as an opportunity to talk about other issues you care about, what would you say to someone to tell them why they should vote for you?
DeBord: I love this town. Like I said earlier, I came here with the idea of staying just a few years, and within a few months, we knew it was just an amazing, unique opportunity for us. Awesome town. They don’t make them like this anymore. You see the sense of community here. I came from a community that was very similar to this, it’s how I grew up. That community has declined substantially to the point that nobody wants to stay there, the population continues to decrease back home, and people just continue to move out. And I don’t want to see that happen here. I love this town and I want to see it be successful and take care of the things that we need as a community to make sure that it is successful, and continues to be successful.
KSTK: Thank you so much for your time.
DeBord: Thank you
KSTK: Really appreciate it.
Get in touch with KSTK at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 874-2345.