August 1, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 30

Two candidates for assembly, four to vie for school board

Despite a recent change in election procedures and exemption from state financial disclosure requirements, only two candidates filed to fill two seats up for grabs on the Haines Borough Assembly this October.

Residents George Campbell and Rob Miller are hoping to secure the two three-year seats, and likely will, though voters can still elect write-in candidates.

Incumbents Norm Smith and Steve Vick are not running for office.

Four candidates – Sarah Swinton, Ardy Miller, Scott Doddridge and Lisa Schwartz – are vying for three seats on the school board. Two seats carry three-year terms; one carries a two-year term.

Assembly member Smith said he was disappointed only two people decided to run this year. “I’m surprised there’s not more people stepping up to the plate. A lot of people whine, moan, scream and complain and, well, if you don’t like the system, participate. That’s how I got involved. I got mad as hell and I wasn’t going to take it anymore,” Smith said.

Campbell said he has been experiencing a similar indignation, so he decided to “put his money where his mouth is.”

“I can either sit around and drink coffee and bitch like everybody else or I can get involved and try to change things,” Campbell said.

Miller, who moved to Haines five years ago and currently serves on the borough’s planning commission, also felt getting involved at the assembly level would be more successful at effecting change than other methods.

“I’ve had some thoughts that rather than complain and write a lot of letters, maybe I should just roll up my sleeves and try to do something,” Miller said.

Miller said he expected there to be more than two candidates as well, but seemed indifferent that the fact essentially makes him a shoe-in for office. “I’m happy to volunteer the time and do the job, and I’d be just as happy if someone else came along and ran and I didn’t have to do it,” he said.

Campbell hasn’t been involved in politics since student government in college. However, the borough’s recent spending decisions and entertainment of the idea of a new $8 million “muniplex,” for example, are several factors that drove him to venture into the political arena.

“When you’re struggling to pay your bills anyway and you need to come up with another $8 million, you have to come up with ways to find money... It’s OK to look at doing stuff like that and maybe it pencils out and it’s less expensive than having all these separate buildings, but doing that means we can’t afford to have all of these other things,” Campbell said.

Campbell said he fully expects many residents to dislike his ideas, and possibly even hate him. “Change hurts. It’s human nature. I don’t like change. But some of the problems that we are having in our valley, it’s going to take a change of mindset and it’s going to take a change of actions.”

Miller said some of the borough’s choices regarding money have also shocked him into running for office. For example, recent discussion about burying power lines near the Beach Road and Front Street intersection struck him as unreasonable and slightly absurd.

“I was a little bit appalled when I saw the assembly apparently seriously discussing spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to remove power poles after a construction project was pretty much completed... I wouldn’t have supported that,” he said.

The police department and borough manager Mark Earnest are also two areas of concern on Miller’s radar. “I’d like to understand more about why we’re having trouble retaining police officers. Also, there seems to be a lot of criticism – if not antagonism – toward our city manager and I’d like to learn more about that,” he said.

Miller’s wife Ardy Miller, who is running for school board and who has held a seat on the board since last October, said she hopes to retain her seat because she’s become “a good working member of the group.”

Ardy Miller, who holds a doctorate in education and has taught at several schools, said her multifaceted past allows her to see issues from different vantage points. “I think I bring a really well-rounded and broad perspective to the board. I know what it’s like to be a teacher. I know what it’s like to be an administrator. And I certainly know what it’s like to be a student,” she said.

Assembly member Smith said while he is surprised the exemption from financial disclosure requirements and recent change in the ballot structure didn’t lead more candidates to run, he thinks the July filing period deters people and should be extended or pushed into the fall.

“With everyday summer life in Haines, everybody is running scattered and too busy to think of running for office at this time of the year... Who wants to do that? People want to go out and barbecue and hike and climb,” Smith said.

In June the assembly established a roster-style ballot, eliminating the past system in which candidates vied for designated, individual seats. Last fall the assembly voted to exempt local candidates from state financial disclosure laws.

This year, seats will be filled by the candidates receiving the greatest number of votes exceeding 40 percent, and if terms are different lengths, the candidates with the highest number of votes will be elected to the longest terms.

Look for more coverage of assembly and school board candidates in upcoming issues of the CVN.