There are three candidates running for the two open seats on Wrangell’s Borough Assembly this year. That’s incumbent assembly member Dave Powell, and challengers Alex Angerman and Brittani Robbins.
KSTK’s Sage Smiley sat down with the borough assembly candidates for a forum in KSTK’s lobby.
KSTK (Sage Smiley): Thank you all so much for joining me for a borough assembly candidate forum today. I really appreciate you all being here. If we could start out and just go around and everyone introduce themselves briefly. Who are you?
DAVID POWELL: I’m David Powell, I’ve lived here for 57 years.
BRITTANI ROBBINS: I’m Brittani Robbins, lived here for 32, known him all 32 of them (laughter).
ALEX ANGERMAN: I am Alex Angerman. I’ve lived here since 2011. And I’m the CARES Act Coordinator for the WCA at the moment. If you guys can say your careers, too?
ROBBINS: I’m currently the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce.
POWELL: I manage the Bay Company.
KSTK: Very nice. So tell me a bit about your previous government experience, whatever kind of government experience that is.
ANGERMAN: I am currently a member of the Planning and Zoning Committee with the city. If I do get elected into this position, I would have to step down from that position. But so far, that’s my city experience. I majored in Urban and Regional Planning, and so that’s where I transferred in the only thing I could do and Wrangell with my degree. So it’s been pretty cool so far, I’ve been in it since last year.
ROBBINS: I’m about to start my second year on the WPSD School Board, second year chairing the Budget Committee for the school. As the Chamber of Commerce, I work very much hand in hand with the city and actually have to push myself in there sometimes, and I try to attend Assembly meetings, just to educate myself a little bit more on that. I don’t use my degree (laughter), so just saying, sometimes we change [careers], you know, that’s my experience in government.
POWELL: I started about 15 years ago on the Parks & Rec board, and I did that for five or six years. Got off it for a little while, and then I had people approach me about running for the assembly, and I thought about it a lot and decided to do it. And I did that about – I’ve been on the assembly for about seven years.
KSTK: Awesome. So in your case, this question will be slightly different because Mr. Powell currently sits on the borough assembly. But what made you want to throw your hat in the ring to run for borough assembly? And then what made you want to run for reelection?
ROBBINS: I wanted to run – like I said, at the Chamber, I work very closely with the city. And with the changeover in administration, I’ve been seeing some pretty amazing things happening. I’ve been going to the Assembly meetings, I’ve given my opinion plenty of times as the public, and I just want to be a more integral part. And I want this community to succeed. This is a community that I grew up in, that Alex spent a lot of her time in, we’re watching her little brothers grow up here. My kids are growing up here. I grew up with Dave’s kids, you know, this community matters to me a lot.
POWELL: Okay, so re-election – I did a lot of when I first got on, I wanted to sell, I don’t want the city to have land. And housing is terrible here. I mean, you get a lot of people who want houses and when they come up for sale, they’re sold right away. And now the market has gone ‘Boom,’ and we need to get more housing for people to do it. And that’s why I ran and that’s why I’m – it’s a really long process, which is, if you guys both get on there, you’re gonna find out that city politics is a lot of meetings. It’s a lot of work, a lot of patience. I thought I’d just get in there and go, ‘Okay, we’re gonna sell some land in three years later, everything’s gonna be hunky dory.’ Well, it doesn’t work like that. So for re-election, I really want to finish a couple things up. We did – I’ve done a lot on there. As a lot of people know, I’m pretty boisterous, so I come right out and I say what I think on the assembly. So but that’s why I want to run for re-election is because I’d like to follow up. I mean, we’ve got some lands that are coming up for sale. We have a meeting tomorrow night (September 27), in fact, that we’re approving a couple, and then the Institute property, I’d really like to see that go all the way through.
ANGERMAN: So my main thing that I have been telling people when they ask me this question is: I want to be a voice for the younger generation in Wrangell, and to motivate younger leaders to look to local government when they want to have solutions for their community. I also care about the housing and daycare crisis, which I’m sure we’ll talk more about. And I also think that younger generations might have some more innovative ideas for the community as far as economic development, infrastructure goes, so I kind of want to be that bridge.
KSTK: Absolutely. So I mean, you’ve all sort of talked about these motivating issues, and maybe it’s the same, maybe it’s different. What do you think is the biggest issue facing the borough right now?
POWELL: The biggest facing the borough right now? Well, one thing is our old hospital is costing us $80,000 to $100,000 a year, it’s not going to get any better, you can’t just shut it down, so that’s a very big issue to me. There’s infrastructure, we have a very big infrastructure, our buildings have not been taken care of for years. That’s a big issue. We’re coming into – I mean, right now, we’re doing pretty well over this pandemic thing that we’ve came out pretty good on it – [but] inflation is all going up, I can see where we’re going to have to tighten up a lot of strings. I just see a lot of things coming down the pike that are going to hurt us. You’ve got the State of Alaska not wanting to give money to municipalities anymore, we might get into the State of Alaska doing either income tax or sales tax. That’s going to hurt the City of Wrangell. So there’s a lot of stuff there that’s going to hurt us.
KSTK: Definitely. How about you, Brittani?
ROBBINS: I would echo what Mr. Powell said, the hospital – that’s a huge issue, and that’s one I mentioned many times. The Institute property which you mentioned, that was supposed to have had something done when I was in high school; I have kids now, my daughter is in middle school. So it’s been quite some time. And the infrastructure, like he said, we need improvements. We need new infrastructure. And like Mr. Powell said, there are things coming down the line that are gonna hurt this community, and they’re going to cost us a lot of money. So what direction can we go to kind of curb that economic downfall?
ANGERMAN: I do agree with both the other candidates. I’ll specify a little bit more on infrastructure with: road and water conditions, that’s a big echo with the community – they have talked about that a lot. And I will also say daycare, just because it is something that’s something the community does voice a lot and would create a positive boomerang back to the city, if there is some sort of investment into a daycare, just because there’s a lot of people out of work because of that. And then I will say that the old hospital even though there is no real solution for it, at the moment, I will say that it could be combined into something different that could do two birds, one stone, like possibly using it for a building for daycare, if we could make that feasible or something like that. But it definitely does need to be looked at more seriously.
KSTK: You’ve all voiced a lot of pretty big issues. And of course, any community is facing big issues – maybe that’s heightened because we’re a pretty small community dealing with all of these issues, it’s a pretty small tax base and all these things – so this is sort of a two-part question. What do you think the borough assembly has been doing well to address these issues, and what can the borough assembly do better? And you know, what would you do, what would you want to see the borough assembly do if you were to be elected, or re-elected to the assembly? So how about we start with you, Brittani?
ROBBINS: Oh, man… (laughter). I mean, going to the meetings, I think the borough is trying very hard to get the public voice, and it’s very rare to have the public voice in the issues that they’re discussing, but I think they’re trying to do their darndest to get that input. So I think that’s important. They are trying to get the stakeholders here to tell them – to help influence their decisions. So I think that’s a – I mean, that’s most important. We’re the ones who have to live here, right. And I hear conversations, I see literature about changes economically that would be helpful for the community, and I think they’re, I think things are going in the right direction. I can’t speak exactly to what I would do differently because I know that the city, you know, local government – there are rules and regulations. I don’t know all of them. I’m still learning. And I’m happy to say that I’m still learning, and I don’t expect to go in there and wave my magic wand and make everything rainbows and butterflies. I need to learn what changes can be made before I can say what changes I would make.
KSTK: Absolutely. How about you, Alex?
ANGERMAN: I will also say that I’m still learning. As the youngest candidate, I will admit that this whole thing is a learning experience for me, and I’m very grateful to be here. I would say that the communication from the city has improved greatly. I think that a lot of that has come from the pandemic and the forcible use of Facebook and public radio being used more frequently because we all had to stay home at one point. So I do want to add to that, and say that more social media presence and more presence on different platforms to communicate with the community even better would be something that I would love to look into. And I also would like to add that the possibility of adding surveys or another healthy way for the community to voice their concerns, other than the Facebook [page, Wrangell] Community Board would be another addition that I would add, because healthy communication and positive communication is something that Wrangell needs and can definitely do.
KSTK: Make sense. Dave?
POWELL: I’m gonna ask you to repeat the question, there’s a lot of good things going on here.
KSTK: Yeah, absolutely. Question is a two-part question. What has the borough assembly been doing well, to address these issues that you’ve voiced, and then what can be done better? What do you want to see improve?
POWELL: I think what we’ve been doing well is: one, we’ve been hiring more people. I never like to bash prior assemblies and anything like that. But I think getting rid of – and I don’t know if this was the assembly’s decision, 20 years ago, getting rid of our maintenance programs and all that stuff. Maybe because everything was new, they thought they could get away with it for a while, I don’t know. But getting them back, and even looking at hiring a couple more for our maintenance, because our infrastructure is huge. A lot of money was given away free: schools, hospitals, I mean, there was a lot of things here. We need to look at increasing our tourism in this town. That’s going to be hard. This is an old town. A lot of people don’t want to sell to tourists and there’s a lot that do, but we need to increase that. And then to do better [at getting the] voice, we need a lot of people talking to us. The other thing is that we need to increase our voice in Juneau, okay? Southeast is stagnant. You go up north, and they’re building roads, building bridges, I mean, everything is going on up north. But for some reason Southeast – our highway, which is the ferry, is terrible. We need to as a community and a voice of this assembly, start yelling, and screaming that, ‘Hey, we need help too, we are part of Alaska.’ And so that’s where I think we could do better is maybe our voices loud, too, and not just as an assembly but as a town.
KSTK: What is the most important function of the borough assembly, if there is to be just one, and what is your most important function as a borough assembly member? I’ll start with you, Alex.
ANGERMAN: The borough assembly is supposed to be a representation of the community. But also, the elected officials should be people who can carry out the tasks needed for the community to be healthy and strong, intelligently. So therefore, myself or another assembly member, community member elected, should be able to unbiasedly take on requests from the community and make that into something that benefits. Oftentimes the community asks for a lot that might not be manageable. However, just the listening part is important. And I do know that the community really wants that and the assembly continues to improve on that. So I would say that it would just be kind of like magnifying the community, within a group, a small group of the assembly.
KSTK: How about you, Dave?
POWELL: Well, I’ve learned in the seven years that you can listen to everybody who came, and then you’ve got to kind of filter, so you always have a person, or two people or three people, who are very loud. And a lot of people are very soft spoken. A lot of people don’t want to come to meetings. So you have to listen to the people who don’t want to come to the meetings, and then you’ve got to kind of filter that out, and you have to decide, like she said, unbiasedly, where are you going with it? And the other thing I’ve learned is to encourage people: even if you don’t want to be coming to a meeting, your voice is heard at a meeting. You can tell me everything you want in the world, but me going to me and saying ‘I’ve had community members say this to me.’ ‘Okay, well, why aren’t they here?’ I hear it in meetings all the time. So I would encourage people, if you have something to say, please come to meetings. Even if you’re afraid, once you start talking, you’re going to talk, and you’re going to express what you want. It may not come out, right, but we’re gonna listen to it. I really put a lot of weight on that. I listen to a lot of people and everybody knows where I’m at, so they can find me at anytime, I have people come into the shop all the time talking to me. But you will learn as a new assembly member when you get on there that you’ve got to listen to them and then you’ve got to weigh what you’re gonna say at the meeting about what they said. So it gets pretty tough.
ROBBINS: Yeah, I would echo a lot of what Mr. Powell said. It’s almost like doing business too, it’s an unbiased situation. It might be great for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna be great for the community. And absolutely, I think it would be great if we had a way for people to voice their opinions to the full assembly in other ways than walking up to a microphone. That scares people. I know when I’ve been traveling, I’ve sent in letters that I asked to be read as a person to be heard, so it’s still me saying it, and I’m just as aggressive on paper as I am vocally. That might be an option, but what I think people need to learn is not to be afraid of that. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions. Don’t be afraid to tell us your opinion on something that’s going through the assembly, because that’s what we’re here for, is your voice. We’re a collective to help the community have a voice, and it’s okay if it opposes what one of us might think.
KSTK: So final question is if there are any other issues you would want to highlight or talk about that we haven’t gone over today. And / or why should someone vote for you for borough assembly, what makes you a candidate that deserves someone’s vote. So we’ll start with Alex.
ANGERMAN: We didn’t really touch on tourism too much. I know that Powell talked about it a little bit. But I think that that’s a really big industry that Wrangell needs and through the pandemic, struggled with it a lot. And also, getting the Tribe involved, getting small businesses involved more can grow immensely in the next few years to a decade. So I’m really confident that that could grow, and I could help do that. And I also want to emphasize Tribal involvement, just in the city in general: in our land selling that we’re doing, in the Institute – I know that the Tribe was slightly involved in the Institute and I know that they’re wanting to do a memorial out there just because I’m involved in the WCA. But the more the merrier with the Tribe, I know we’re on Tlingit land, so anything with the Tribe is good. And I just want to reiterate that I want to be a voice for the whole community and emphasize on the young leaders and the next generation coming up and motivate them to start getting involved in local government.
ROBBINS: I like that, like Alex was talking about tourism, she just said it’s something we need. And I don’t think that the community as a whole – I think plenty of people understand that, but I don’t think as a whole, the community understands that. We need tourism. That’s floating us right now, in a sense. So maybe more education into the decisions that are made. You know, I can sit there and I know how to read through these types of agendas, but there are a lot of people who are like, ‘Well, it looks like it’s written in Greek, I have no idea what this means, or what they just passed.’ So maybe a little more education to the community members or layman’s terms, really. I think there’s a gap in the understanding of what the assembly does, and what people think the assembly does, that I think could be addressed. I would say that I want to see Wrangell thrive, I want to see Wrangell back in a position similar to when I moved here. When I moved here – I mean I was four, so not [right] when I moved here – but that economy, when I was going to school, we had to have two teachers for every grade because we had so many students. In 1994 the mill shut down, and of course, everything started to change, and I was here for that. I want to see us work our way back to the level we were at, then. And we can do it. It’s not going to be an easy road. But I want to be an integral part of that development.
POWELL: So, we didn’t touch on a lot of things, okay? One of the things: tourism, I agree with 100%. Our fishing industry, our service units down here at Harbor, we need to – our harbor is one of the entities that make money for themselves, and we need to expand on that, on the service down there that they’re doing, pulling the boats. The 6-Mile Mill is something that the city purchased and that’s going to be up on the ballot, and we didn’t touch on that. To me it’s kind of crazy that we can buy something [but] we can’t sell it without the permission of the people, but that’s just the way our charter is written. And I would like to see, I would personally like to see talks with AML and Sampson to get them out of downtown and maybe move them out in that area. Also, I would like to see our land issues more, and more land for storage units, stuff like that. I would like to see us expand our charter fishing fleet, also. I mean, I think that this town is actually missing the boat on that. I go to every town in Southeast Alaska, they have lodges and everything, I think that if we could push that up a little bit, that also is tourism. So I’d like to see all those things happen. But the only way I can do that is if I was re-elected. So that’s why I’m running.
ANGERMAN: And we didn’t touch on daycare very much either.
ROBBINS: I don’t think there’s enough time. And to touch on everything –
ANGERMAN: The planning and zoning committee also talked about that too –
ROBBINS: Because there’s other forms of tourism, it doesn’t – we need the cruise ships, but it doesn’t need to be cruise tourism for Wrangell to function. And the harbor, you know, moving that stuff out to the mill… I’m a little confused right now as to what’s even happening with the mill.
POWELL: But it’s also very much in early stages. I mean, I couldn’t tell you what all the ideas are out there, there’s so many ideas have been thrown out on that site, it’s crazy. So, I mean, that’s what whoever’s in there is going to help develop that.
ANGERMAN: And I know that the WCA is looking into starting a small daycare, but our hope is growth in the community, and the Headstart and the WCA daycare combined might not even be enough. So I would still, I mean, encourage the city to look into at least maybe helping with a daycare facility, which I’ve had – I think three different people come up and ask about if we can use the old hospital as a daycare, which would be messy, but I mean, it’s, it’s easy to think of combining two birds, one stone with things like that. So I do appreciate the ideas coming forward about that, and trying to utilize the buildings that we already have.
ROBBINS: I wish that the people that come and talk to each one of us would come to these Assembly meetings. That’s how I always leave the assembly meetings, like, ‘Gah!’
POWELL: To reiterate on that, it has been talked about, okay, problem with this building is, it’s in dire straits–
ROBBINS: It’s not safe.
POWELL: –All the infrastructure inside that building is destroyed, all the sprinkler systems inside have been destroyed, it’s got asbestos in it, and that is one of the biggest reasons why we have not looked at – one thing we didn’t discuss is the Public Safety Building. Very bad shape. We talked about keeping the old hospital to move part of that up there so that we can redo that down there. But it’s millions of dollars just to get it up to par, that you could go into it. And that when people ask you basically, you could say, ‘I’ve talked to – I would talk to the city manager, and he’ll explain all that to you.’ Because in our meetings, it has been explained. And it is millions to get that building up to par before it’s actually used. That’s why we tried to sell it, and now we’re trying to get rid of it for just about anything.
ROBBINS: And what I’ve seen, I see this at the school board too, and I saw it when I was working at the school, and I see it at the Chamber, is that nobody has anything to say until something’s been done. And then everybody’s got something to say. So like these people that have these ideas, I think it’s great. Tell us your ideas. But also, if you had been, even just listened to the Assembly meetings, you would know, this was discussed. And I remember it was ‘Oh, another survey, oh, that’s gonna be this many.’ And it just was not feasible to use that building. It’s not a safe place, and then it would cost way too much. Even to just barely utilize it to get it up. It was grandfathered in, my husband worked there, and he was like, ‘You should see the wires in the attic. I’m a little bit afraid of it burning down’. So it’s definitely…
POWELL: Well, SEARHC spent a lot of money on that building, actually, to see if they could actually keep that building and where the hospital is at, there’s land behind it. And they said it was not worth doing it, to keep it up to par for a hospital is a very high standard. It was just not worth keeping.
ROBBINS: I had people saying like when you put a daycare in there, it was like, ‘Oh, no, no, yeah, no, no,
ANGERMAN: I was like, ‘I really appreciate it. Really appreciate the ideas.’
ROBBINS: The school on the other hand, there is opportunity within those buildings. The elementary school, I know there’s discussions of combining, even if it’s moving primary into the intermediate with the intermediate or I know that there are some issues like having a playground or parking here, right here right next to us at the high school, middle school. But I mean, I’m not fully against moving it all. We’re paying how much as a school district, and that building could be utilized. There’s 13 rooms not being used between all three schools?
POWELL: You’ve gotta be really careful about the daycare thing. The thing that the city could do with daycare is probably only land. You’ve got to be careful when you start talking about private business. The government should not be competing with private business, that’s the bottom line. So if you had a daycare startup and you already have a business that you’ve been trying to do with the government, now you’re competing with private business, and that’s basically a big no-no. You don’t want to do that, because those are the people that are paying your taxes, that pay your employees. And there’s a lot of things we haven’t touched on, like our roads out here that need to be fixed, and that’s an infrastructure thing. That’s where taxes, I mean, rates go up, and nobody wants to pay more taxes. Nobody wants to pay more rates. But I mean, it’s something that had to happen, and because we haven’t done it, and I mean, electrical, hadn’t had a price increase for 20 years. And that’s, that’s crazy to me.
ROBBINS: Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either. As a ‘Person to be Heard,’ as just the public. I said, ‘How, why? Why has it taken so long to even discuss it? If it had been a gradual raise, it wouldn’t be so egregious, it wouldn’t be so terrifying. And yet, here we are.’
POWELL: That’s right.
KSTK: I think it’s pretty impossible to touch on every possible problem, but I do appreciate and I hope you see the vision here for being able to have a discussion and talk about and bounce off of each other’s ideas, thanks to KSTK’s new equipment for allowing this [forum format]. If there’s, I mean, if you would want to maybe do a final wrap up, you’ve had a little more discussion. So if there’s anything each of you one at a time might want to add, just to kind of like finally wrap up your candidacy for borough assembly, then we can wrap this up? Go ahead.
POWELL: Well, what I would like to say is, what you just said: here we are having a little discussion, okay? I don’t know how many times, I tell people this all the time, we will have a workshop, and two people show up. And most people don’t understand that – this to me right here is like a workshop. This is how things go, we talk about stuff, nobody’s getting all worked up. And, and you just talk things over and you get to come up with ideas and stuff like that. That’s what a workshop is. A lot of people do not understand that. Okay. I mean, Assembly meetings, a little more formal workshop is not. We have workshops, and like I say we have a workshop on infrastructure, or we have a workshop on the old hospital, or we have a workshop on just about anything. And honestly, a lot of times it’s the assembly sitting there with the workshop, or Planning and Zoning and assembly is only people at the workshop. I encourage people to come to the workshops, even if you don’t want to do assembly meetings, the workshop is is just like a big round table with a bunch of people coming up with ideas. And I encourage them wholeheartedly to at least come to the workshops, when you hear there’s one out there.
ANGERMAN: If the workshop doesn’t work with your work schedule, voice that to the city. And they will probably work around schedules if enough people voice that opinion, because they want people to come.
ROBBINS: Yeah, I would echo that, and it’s the same at the school. We have a workshop, we say we want to talk to our stakeholders and the same five parents come. I’ve been to several workshops at the assembly and I’m the only one there. I’m there and I’m ready, and I’m willing and we have a conversation. But like I said a few minutes ago, one has anything to say until something is done. But nothing is done at a workshop except discussion of ideas. No decisions are made. This is your opportunity to not just talk to Dave, not just come talk to me, not just talk to Alex or, or [assembly members] Jim [DeBord] or Anne [Morrison] or anyone else. This is your opportunity to come talk to all of us and then everyone can have a discussion, and that discussion can be very, very fruitful. So I very much encourage people: please come make yourself known as a whole. You don’t need to be anonymous. No one’s going to lash out at you. We want it. We want this conversation.
KSTK: All right. Thank you all very much for your time this evening. I really appreciate it.
POWELL, ROBBINS, ANGERMAN: Thank you.
Get in touch with KSTK at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 874-2345.