2023 Bethel City Council Candidates Forum highlights
During the Sept. 19 Bethel City Council Candidates Forum, six of the eight candidates competing for four seats spent the evening discussing their priorities for addressing the city's main issues. They discussed how to fill the many empty positions in the city government, improving city infrastructure, and alcohol.
At the broadcast forum were incumbent council members Mary “Beth” Hessler and Mark Springer, and newcomers John Lloyd, Mikayla Miller, Danny Suiter, and Nick Watson. Two candidates could not make it. Incumbent Henry S. Batchelor Jr. and newcomer Teresa Keller were out of town and absent from the forum.
On alcohol, nobody suggested making changes to Bethel's current policy for now. Newcomer candidate Watson raised the idea of a DUI stop point, and incumbent Hessler and newcomer Suiter agreed.
When asked about what the police department's top priority should be, Hessler, Suiter, and Watson each said that police should focus on enforcement.
“Just focusing on one aspect would be to start with small infractions. Because once you start with small things, it eventually leads to bigger things,” said Watson. “And that would be traffic enforcement. There is a speeding problem in town. There is a drunk driving problem in town.”
On the other hand, newcomers Miller and Lloyd suggested making changes to the department's two-week on, two-week off scheduling, arguing that more consistent employment would bring them closer to the community. Incumbent Springer brought up the police department's key role in curbing the inflow of drugs and opioids into the region.
Miller focused on stressing more community activities and investment in social services to curb social problems.
“Community maintenance, maybe considering doing volunteering and getting people to help clean up the community on a more consistent basis, rather than once a year,” Miller said. “Also, more community family programming. Get kids out there, get communities more recreation, find other places, other third places for kids to be other than these kind of less, or more, in disrepair areas.”
When asked about which infrastructure the candidates wanted to improve, almost everyone agreed on focusing on roads, and on water and sewer infrastructure. Suitor and Watson would aspire to bring running water to every house in Bethel, and Springer talked about road surface treatments. The candidates largely agreed that Bethel should start enforcing the city's 2010 ban on single-use plastic bags and styrofoam containers, with the exception of Hessler.
“I would be delighted to try personally to do with single-use bags,” said Hessler. “However, enforced, being banned, I don't know how we would do it. I would be more inclined to promote incentives than to do it in negative enforcement somehow. That's my opinion.”
The candidates agreed that the city council should have a position on the proposed Donlin Gold mine, but only Watson stated a strong position opposing it.
As for city personnel shortages, most candidates favored better benefits, but also brought up the housing shortage in town.
“I've brought people here. And it's, it's, they love their employment, they love where they work, but they don't have a place to live,” said Suiter. “You can't beat the wages that we offer people here and bring people here, but then they get here and they don't have a place to stay, and the cost of living is very high.”
Watson suggested training local carpenters, and Hessler suggested simplifying site planning and permitting. Springer brought up looking into their zoning ordinances.
If you missed last night’s live broadcast, you can listen to the full candidate forum online and each candidate will be interviewed on Coffee at KYUK in the coming weeks.
The Bethel Municipal Election is Tuesday, Oct. 3. All terms last two years.