Whoever is elected to the city council in Bethel will grapple with the city’s response to the pandemic, along with other issues like road maintenance and hiring Bethel’s next city manager. Four candidates are competing for three open seats on Bethel City Council, and each responded to these issues and more during a live forum on Sept. 23 hosted by KYUK.
The candidates are incumbents Mayor Perry Barr and council member Michelle DeWitt, newcomer Rose “Sugar" Henderson, and write-in candidate Conrad “C.J.” McCormick.
When asked how the city should enforce its COVID-19 airport testing and public mask mandates, candidates didn’t have solid answers. But they agreed that some kind of enforcement is needed.
Henderson wanted to work with the council to find a solution. Barr wanted to steer away from fines. DeWitt suggested that the council work with the city manager and attorney to explore an education strategy, and for the council to debate citations. McCormick seconded DeWitt.
“I agree that a citation, or a fine, or something to that effect would be useful," McCormick said. "Education is absolutely necessary as well. I know there are a number of individuals within this community who don’t know what the requirements are.”
Currently, no city employee is charged with making sure Bethel’s codes are followed. When asked if the city should create a Code Enforcer position, each candidate said yes. All of the candidates also supported expanding the fitness center to add a gymnasium with a basketball court.
As to how the city can change its hiring process to retain its next city manager longer, candidates offered various ways of training a local person for the job. McCormick suggested partnering with the local workforce development program. Barr suggested creating a career path, once a city manager is hired.
“We need to grow our own," Barr said. "We need to hire and create a new position within the city manager’s office where we have an assistant executive, or we have a deputy city manager that could step in at a moment’s notice in the event that we lose the city manager.”
DeWitt agreed, and also encouraged the city and the public to support whoever steps into the city manager role. Henderson also favored letting that person settle into the position before the council passes judgement on their performance.
On what to do about four-wheelers speeding down the roads, DeWitt suggested creating more trails to get the four-wheelers off the streets. McCormick, who drives a four-wheeler, urged an approach that factors in people who cannot afford other types of vehicles. Barr agreed with that, and wants to see more enforcement of the speed limit and helmet laws. Henderson suggested posting a separate speed limit for four-wheelers that use the highway shoulder.
“The more the four-wheeler population is growing, the more they’re driving on the highway, doing the same speed limit the cars are doing," Henderson said. "They’re not wearing helmets, and we need to put a stop to that.”
As to how to expand the city’s park system, each candidate took a different approach. Barr suggested creating a park for winter activities like ice skating. Henderson wants to see boardwalks built to connect subdivisions that give people a place to walk away from the dusty roads. DeWitt supported adding a dog park and restructuring how the city administers parks.
“I think we need to look at expanding recreational services," DeWitt said. "Maybe in the form of a contract, since we lost our true Parks and Rec Department. And maybe carving out a division of Public Works to focus on parks maintenance.”
McCormick added that more parks could help retain city employees with the added recreational activities.
When asked about their stance on the Donlin Gold mine, all of the candidates opposed the project.