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Mayoral hopefuls explain views

September 29th | Shady Grove Oliver Print this article   Email this article  

Six candidates filed to become the North Slope Borough's next mayor. Voters will choose their next representative in the general election on Oct. 3. The Sounder spoke with each of the mayoral candidates about their thoughts on some of the greatest issues facing the borough, along with their hopes and goals for the position. The Sounder ran the first half of the interviews last week; this is the final portion.

The candidates were not given the questions before the interviews took place, so they didn't know what would be asked ahead of time. These are their spontaneous answers based on their own knowledge of the issues:

Q: What do you think needs to change, if anything, in education in the borough to help our students? What can the mayor's office do to support that?

Harry Brower Jr.:

"I read something in the Sounder earlier about the education being a little bit low, with the students receiving their education [having] fallen below the normal standards across the state of Alaska, so I think there needs to be more consistency in retaining the teachers for multiple years to be able to give some evaluation to the learning of the students and what's being taught to them. [That] would give a better assessment on whether it's improving the teaching skills or if the comprehension of the students is being identified in a positive sense. I think that's something that we need to develop consistency in retaining teachers for a long period of time to help utilize their expertise in making these evaluations."

Ned Arey Sr.:

"My goal would be to make sure we work with the state of Alaska and the federal government to seek out additional funding, and finance jointly with the North Slope Borough School District and the borough and provide the services with the education and other cultural activities that pertain to our North Slope that's part of the education curriculum and to make sure we continue to achieve the goals for the students. At the same time, [we need to] continue with the capital improvement projects for the schools that are in need of renovation, repairs, for all the infrastructure to make sure we keep those schools open for the services needed."

William Hopson:

"I think the school district does a terrific job. But, up here, when people get out of high school, they have families, and they don't want to leave their families to get education and job training, which sometimes takes six months. One of my priorities would be to work with Iḷisaġvik College and get a place where they could train and get a license before they even go back home. A trade school or something would be in my mind."

Delbert Rexford:

"First and foremost, education is a fundamental foundation to improving the quality of life of not only for our children, but future generations. [That also goes for] adults that choose to go to post-secondary education, trade school, and technical school to create a firm foundation to enter the job market. How can we improve education? The state of Alaska and the federal government require certain minimal standards for delivery of education. Originally, when education was an issue, we wanted control of our education so we could start certifying our Inupiat people to become teachers. This is not to show disrespect to the current teachers that are out there, that are performing and educating our children. But, the intent was to assure that our Iñupiat people had an opportunity to become certified teachers and to work within the school district that was newly formed at the time and which is our current school district. We value the teachers. How do we improve it? I think that it is a curriculum issue that the school board tackles each year and under my term, when elected into office, I would fully support findings and discoveries that would enhance the quality of education for our children and to support Iḷisaġvik College in its entirety because it's post-secondary and it improves quality of life and the betterment of a person to enter the job market competitively."

James John Martin:

"We've been supporting our education for our children for years and years and we continue to do so. We seem to have, in one way or another, a lack of cultural awareness. When the new teachers come up, we do put them through a cultural immersion program. Some of them take to it and some of them don't, apparently. If we're going out of our way to educate those people how to be culturally sensitive to us in our area, then the least we can do is be courteous in return to them for coming up to teach our children. ... What I would change is the big prejudice thing that is happening all over our country right now, including our little communities. I don't think we have a place for prejudice up here in our small communities."

Frederick Brower:

"Currently, the North Slope Borough assists the North Slope Borough School District and Iḷisaġvik College by helping them with operation funds. As mayor, I would ensure that continued funding source is available, but that goes into the bigger picture as far as the borough's needs of all departments and any other responsibilities that they do. But, the success and future of the North Slope Borough are our residents and our children. I'd like to continue to foster that relationship in the sense that, because we can't drive what the principal's going to say today, we will hope and assure that the school district that we're helping to fund is doing what they need to be doing to ensure they're doing things within their responsibilities. Basically, it would just be ensuring they have the proper funding to do what they need to do because they can't do it alone. It's unique in a sense in that the school district is a standalone [district], separate from the Anchorage School District and the North Star Borough School District, because those districts rely significantly on operating dollars from the state of Alaska. With today's day and age of recent declines in revenue from the state of Alaska, those [declines] are rippling back to the school districts, and now they're cutting services. The North Slope Borough is kind of impacted because we can't go back to the state and say, 'Well we need some money for the services that we're doing for our residents through any kind of state program.' It's ensuring proper funding [goes to] these two organizations [so they can] succeed within the North Slope region."

Q: What do you think can be done to create more well-paying jobs in the borough and fill outlying village positions throughout the borough that are currently open?

Harry Brower Jr.:

"I think that's something we've been working with our Human Resources Department on to identify potential jobs in the villages and making sure they have the right information to be able to fill out the applications, and also creating more jobs using the corporations or tribal organizations to provide the services into the villages."

Ned Arey Sr.:

"The North Slope Borough has continued to expand with the population over the course of decades and we need to meet the needs to make sure we can be able to put them to work, train them, and continue to provide job programs that will enable them to continue with the workforce."

William Hopson:

"That's a very good question. There was a program back in the 1980s called the RELI program, meaning Rural Employment Living Improvement program, before another administration took it over and changed it around. I would bring back the RELI program, which back then, had four local village supervisors and village employees. If that was to start again, we could put a hundred people to work on the North Slope. These are all village folks who live there. That would employ a hundred people. Today's RELI program doesn't do that anymore and I would totally stop what's going on right now and revamp the original RELI program. Today's program has federal dollars mixed with it and when you do that, it opens up employment for everyone. It's an equal opportunity employer, but the RELI program was more dedicated to village resident employment."

Delbert Rexford:

"We have a huge taxation base and we have a huge operating budget. We have a debt service to pay and we have a permanent fund that we need to increase. Now, there may be, annually, residuals that we can dedicate to labor-intensive programs. When you say high-paying jobs, you're exactly right in that the cost of living is one of the highest in the nation, if not the highest. If we were the federal government, if we were the state government, and not a political subdivision of the state, what would be the minimum wage requirement to survive in the village? I don't believe we've done that study. What are the target jobs that we're looking at? We need to define those, identify them, to ensure that residents who are in need of jobs receive those jobs. This is not to segregate or discriminate against those who are qualified; we need to keep that in mind. The North Slope Borough is a political subdivision of the state and cannot discriminate."

James John Martin:

"We do have a lot of vacant positions in the borough and that's just going out and training the local people how to do their jobs, if they want those jobs. We can't make anybody go to work, but just like we have in the past, we can offer incentive programs to get them training, education, and the wherewithal to support their families. Right now, we have a lot of people that are wanting to be subsistence hunters rather than the white way of living, which we've had all along. We used to be able to balance those out, however, the more we get into the Western culture of things, the more that we're not able to balance it out. Therefore, we'd like to educate and train our young adults how to support their families correctly in this culture. Yes, we can mix in subsistence hunting, we can mix in the whaling, but they still have to be responsible for paying their bills and stuff. Training and education [are important]. The current administration has just alleviated our whole training department, except for one person that's supposed to go to the villages. I have a big problem with that because all of our employees need training just to get to the next step. If we just alleviated our training staff, how are we responsibly able to let them continue up the ladder? If lucky enough to get elected, I would reinstate the training department that we had and make sure all of our employees have the training that they need. More than that, if they want further training, we can provide it for them. We do have some well-paying jobs in our villages. What I would like to do is desalinization plants. If we create more infrastructure, then we create more jobs. Mother Nature has decided that it wants to melt our permafrost now, and not only are our oceans rising, putting us at a bit of a risk, Utqiaġvik is only five feet above sea level, so it doesn't have to rise a whole lot before we're underwater. Concrete barriers would be a big thing. I would love, instead of shipping those in, to create a concrete plant. That way, we have employees up here. We can mix the concrete the way we see it necessary to withstand our Arctic conditions, and more infrastructure creates more jobs. That's one answer. The desalinization plant, the concrete plant, those are things we're going to need up here in each one of our coastal communities, and if we can make an effort to create that stuff on the Slope, we don't have to bear the burden of shipping it in with the high cost of freight."

Frederick Brower:

"So, the North Slope Borough currently has roughly just over 1,000 employees within the 14 different departments. That's just the North Slope Borough. The ability to create jobs as a whole would be the utilization of our capital improvement management in order to basically contract for outside organizations, the government, the borough, by doing renovations to the school, and [other projects]. Within any community on the North Slope, as far as the ability for villages to deal with the hiring process, it's giving them the opportunity and responsibility to get away from that 'North Slope Barrow' sense. With any good organization, any good supervisor or manager, going through the selection process would be to select the best candidate. By doing that [locally], they know who their applicants are and, based off their experience, if [they should be] selected. An individual who is doing the hiring process in a different location is not always aware of who the residents are, what the pool of employment is, does not get that connection to the best services available. What do I need within my community? My goal as mayor would be to give that opportunity. As a hiring manager for the North Slope Borough, those were taken away from us and given to the responsibility of our directors and deputy directors. What that does is create control at a mayoral appointee level for administration to identify who they want to hire, which I feel is wrong in that the North Slope Borough receives state and federal funding and we're local government. We're not a private corporation who [gets to hire] who we want to hire and when we want to hire. There are equal opportunity laws that we have to abide by. My goal as mayor would be to give the opportunity for residents and villages to have that power and the responsibility to do their own hiring, ensuring that and relying on [them] to make the right decision on behalf of the North Slope Borough."

Q: The Arctic waterways are opening up as the ice-free season is getting longer each year. What are your thoughts and/or concerns about increasing tourism by water and the future of the Port Authority?

Harry Brower Jr.:

"I'd have to say that if we could get harbors and areas of the infrastructure regarding harbors and ports, those items need to be [looked at] in terms of tourism and with shipping. Along our North Slope coastline, we don't really have any harbors or ports to bring in these large ships. There was an experience right in front of Utqiaġvik, when one of the ships coming in from the Canadian side stopped near town but couldn't come ashore. They tried bringing their skiffs to shore but even that was a problem, so they just went back on the ship and continued moving southwest. In regards to tourism, I think it would be beneficial to the community in terms of basic economics, tourism through trade and barter with the people that come off the ship. That's something we continue communicating with our corporations to identify that tourism is a big business that we can get use out of. That's something that remains to be seen in terms of building infrastructure in regard to harbors or access areas for coastal communities. For the Port Authority, I think that's something that's really needed on the North Slope. We continue to communicate with the assembly and some of my administration in terms of continuing the Port Authority that was identified by the previous administration to see how we could make it functional on its own. That's something we still work on today."

Ned Arey Sr.:

"With this climate that's been changing and increasing storms and ice receding, that opens up more lease sales from the federal government and even the state, and our goal is to continue to protect our natural resources and to make sure we can be able to work together to accomplish what can be done. It's a tough decision for offshore [drilling] and it's not an easy decision for communities to make. If they come up with the best available technology so they can respond to a blowout or any incident that will occur, as long as they have continued training to provide for spill response and make sure they have staging equipment identified in several coastal locations for this type of activity."

William Hopson:

"Well, definitely, we need a port up here, like I said before, for national security. For tourism, we live in a very sensitive area where the ocean is our life. It's our culture. And as for cruise ships, I would definitely put a limit to how close they can get to our hunting grounds and whatnot. There need to be laws that need to be followed in the Arctic Ocean. For instance, when you talk about Arctic waterways opening up, we have a very sensitive issue. Our bowhead whales are our life, our culture. The Iñupiaqs' identity begins with the bowhead whale. We hunt them during spring migration and fall migration. The thing about that is the bowhead whale winters right there in the dead center of where the international shipping route is going to be. My priority would be, even though it's 800 or 900 miles south, we need to take care of our resources and that's how far I would go to protect our resources and to make sure our main diet, our food, migrates down to the Bering Sea. I want to make sure they are protected and those ships have guides for when they're traveling the northern route. I would probably ask the shipping to slow down — that can be a workable thing — during the spring and migration, a month at a time."

Delbert Rexford:

"The United States as a federal government is actually a nation-state. It's not signatory to certain international treaties. So, the Law of the Sea Treaty act has not been resolved. I think it's crucial that prudent expenditure of those funds are done appropriately so coastal communities that can contribute to the global influx of marine transportation are involved. For example, Utqiaġvik is a strategic location. The Northwest Passage is opening. On the Russian side, they've cut nine days out of the marine transport from the Asian countries to Europe. Utqiaġvik needs to be a central focal point for the North Slope Borough in developing a port that will adhere and provide support services to international traffic that is coming through here and also to the U.S. Coast Guard that has to go down to Dutch Harbor to refuel, resupply, and re-man their Arctic studies in high Arctic waters. We need to be at the table at all times to ensure that when development occurs on and offshore, marine vessels, international traffic, cruise ships that are out there, we are at the table and that we don't exhaust our search and rescue resources and capacity when emergencies occur, which has occurred in the past."

James John Martin:

"Well, we would love to see it open, of course. What happens with that, though, is the freight won't be able to come up. They will not be able to use that waterway for freight because of the unpredictable ice flow. It could be out 200 miles one day and right in on the shore the next day. So, if we try to utilize that as a freight-hauling route, we're going to have a lot of overdue freight. What I am excited about, though, is that travel opens up new areas, of course. When I was working with the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, I asked the president of ICAS if I could initiate a call to our Coast Guard. The Kodiak commander was on the phone and I invited them up to [talk about a] deepwater port in Utqiaġvik. We would allow them to set up their housing and do everything they need to do to have a station up here. That way, they could go east or west and be able to access our waters a whole lot easier than they would be able to from Kodiak. We have initiated a call. That was about eight or 10 years ago. That went very well. The Coast Guard has a presence up here already. They built a hangar up here and we've had Coast Guard airplanes and helicopters up here. That's great. I hope to see more of them and we do invite them up to Utqiaġvik to head up a deepwater port and a Coast Guard facility."

Frederick Brower:

"I had the opportunity to get into the pre-development of the creation of the Arctic Waterways Safety Committee. I was part of the committee that created that committee. How that stemmed was the individuals appointed as a nanuq commissioner, a walrus commissioner, these are the individuals who are selected to be the conduit of the local hunters. Due to the opening of the Northwest Passage and increased shipping activity in the North Slope Arctic region, was those [people were] concerned that there was not enough communication from industry within the aquatic realm, from shipping transporter to the local level. Those commissioners approached the U.S. Coast Guard to request a decision of how we could address this as a whole. It was recommended to create the Arctic Waterways Safety Committee to be the voice, to set rules, that could be manageable for shipping activity within our region. The Port Authority was created under Charlotte Brower's administration. That was created within our municipal code; you can look it up. It's on our website. It will give you the full layout of the full responsibilities and duties of the Port Authority, which includes the creation of roads for economic development and the creation of ports. When the initial rollout of the Port Authority happened, it was stuck on the aquatic mentality that 'port means water'. When I first looked into it, I started pulling up the Seattle Port Authority, the Manhattan Port Authority. All of that creation of the subway system, the responsibility of managing and dealing with the airports [falls to the Port Authority]. It goes well beyond an aquatic responsibility. Within the municipal code, it identified that there was supposed to be, from the Port Authority, the responsibility of a development plan. From that development plan, it stems out and needs to be approved by not only the administration, but also the assembly, of what they're going to be doing and how we're going to be developing within our region. From my understanding, in where I've been working and my tenure with the borough, that's kind of getting off to a slow start. My goal as mayor would be to ensure that those responsibilities are being followed through, the communication is being had, as far as communication with the Arctic Waterways Safety Committee and the Port Authority, not just within those two realms, but also with the state of Alaska, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the federal government."

Q: If elected mayor, what are your ideas for confronting or starting a conversation about alcohol and substance abuse on the Slope?

Harry Brower Jr.:

"These are very serious issues that we've been dealing with for many years on the Slope, in terms of alcohol and drugs in our communities. When I first came on as the mayor, we started an alcohol and drug task force to address some of the issues that we are dealing with in the communities of the North Slope and trying to minimize the impacts of alcohol and drugs, with the support of Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and the Arctic Foundation. They provided some funds, jointly, to get some sniffing dogs into the airports and working with our air carriers and the post office to minimize the effects of that. I think that's something that we're going to continue on the North Slope, along with working with our faith-based organizations to help steer us in the right direction looking at ways to provide treatment and rehab facilities to help our constituents that have the problems, and their families."

Ned Arey Sr.:

"Alcohol has become an epidemic problem area-wide and as mayor, my task would be to continue to reduce the trafficking within these outlying communities and to make sure we have available funds with the federal government, the state of Alaska, and the borough to reduce those types of illegal activities. Also, [I would] continue with the healthy communities initiative and include some of the programs that the borough provides with outreach programs to continue to help those that are in need of treatment, care, counseling, and to make sure we work to achieve a treatment center here on the North Slope, which would be located in Utqiaġvik, and to make sure we can utilize it to help our people get the proper treatment and care and also to include a cultural [component] to get them right into their community in a healthy state of mind."

William Hopson:

"I definitely would help with the education. That stuff needs to be stopped before it even heads up north. That's something the police are working on. I wish there was something more we could do, but I would definitely fund more studies and rehabilitation in all the villages. Rehab works. I know village people want that. In Utqiaġvik, they need that. Not just up here on the Slope, it's needed all over the United States. I would definitely help fund to take that off the streets or to get more people educated on that. Another one would be to bring that to the school, to teach about the dangers of those drugs and alcohol."

Delbert Rexford:

"Alcohol and substance abuse is an epidemic. I work in a position where I learn that many of our applicants can't pass a urine analysis. It's a personal choice. And yet, in the past, we had our regional substance abuse treatment facility. That was localized to provide healing and recovery programs. That was shut down. Today, we need that more than ever. Our children and grandchildren are exposed to drugs and alcohol on a daily basis across the borough. To what levels, I don't know, because I'm not privy to those reports. But, I am aware that it is in epidemic proportions and we are losing many of our finest minds due to this alcohol and drug abuse. I would reactivate the substance abuse treatment center so that our residents in the villages that cannot afford to go to Anchorage, Fairbanks, or out of state, [can] get access to local treatment to heal and to recover. That is the best thing that we can do for them."

James John Martin:

"Well, that's a very good question because each community has a problem with it already, but it seems to be rising. I don't know if it's our young people. We've gained nationwide attention because of our suicide rate on our young people and I would love to turn that around. You know what worked up here the best? We've had the AWARE program [Project Advancing Wellness and Resilience Education] and the DARE program [Drug Abuse Resistance Education]. We educate our children through the schools and the way they try to show them the evils of drugs and alcohol should have long-lasting effects on our children. What we've noticed is, when they graduate, all of a sudden the self-motivation goes right out the window and they are reaching for other alternatives. My answer to that is we had the Mothers Club up here for years and years. Back in the day, they would go chase down little kids and take them home. I think that was wonderful and [for] each school grade child, the mothers were the ones that were running the community after hours and making sure all those kids were home. We haven't had nearly the success that we've had with the other programs as we did with those. It starts in the home. The parents are the first line of defense in this battle. You have to train them from a little child to stay away from that stuff and you keep the communication open as they're growing and they won't be looking for those alternatives. Keep the motivation with the child and they'll want to keep improving themselves instead of falling into a hole of drugs and alcohol. My biggest contribution as mayor would be trying to reinitiate the Mothers Club to have a more active role in getting the kids off the streets and also, keeping those indicational forums alive in our schools, so they can realize that's not the answer here."

Frederick Brower:

"Communication is key to success. For years, the North Slope Borough has been trying to address this situation within our region. My goal, if elected mayor, would be to identify new ways to address it. The definition of insanity is doing something the same way over and over and trying to get different results — nothing happens. With the ability to be more thoughtful in identifying different ways to go about [that] and trying to find different results is trying to break that definition. Finding out ways [so that] when individuals are being sent out for treatment, they have a place to come back to for a transitional home. We had a substance abuse treatment center [in town before] the funding was done away with. During the same time, as far as a daycare system, a specifically built daycare system here in Utqiaġvik was constructed to address the concern of people not being able to go to work because they're managing and dealing with and watching their children and they can't find adequate child care. My goal, if elected mayor, is to identify how we could bring those back and find different ways that could fund the proper solutions to address those concerns at a local and regional level, with the proper communication at a state and federal level, because it can't just be the responsibility of the North Slope Borough — which it is — but it's also a national epidemic. Gov. Bill Walker issued a declaration of disaster for the epidemic of substance abuse, primarily for meth and heroin use. For Gov. Walker to do that was [to make] giant strides of identifying there is a problem and declaring it and giving the sense that the state of Alaska needs to do something about it. It is an emergency, not just in the state but within our region of the North Slope. Fostering the ability to continue communication efforts to identify proper solutions would be key to the success of not only our residents, but also the success of our organizations as a whole."

Q: If elected, how will you ensure transparency and accountability within your administration?

Harry Brower Jr.:

"I think that's something that was one of the first things I identified [as mayor]. Being transparent and being open with all the activities we deal with within our borough, working with our assembly, I think that's the process we're going to continue utilizing if I'm re-elected. That's something we're going to continue, being transparent with all of the communications we generate through our monthly reports, and providing information to our constituents on the North Slope, and working with the assembly. Our reports to the assembly are something that's been very transparent and well-received, as well. If re-elected, I'd like to make sure we continue that process."

Ned Arey Sr.:

"For transparency, we want to make sure we have code of ethics training for our directors, our deputy directors, our managers and our supervisors to make sure they are following the borough's policies and to make sure we are doing our job accordingly at the highest level to meet the needs of each department that the borough provides to its communities and to gain confidence back in the community what their mission and goals are according to the North Slope Borough charter."

William Hopson:

"An open door policy. Transparency in that when you do that, I want to say, you've got one person from each village in top management, that's pretty much transparency. Everybody will know what's going on. There shouldn't be anything to hide with the borough. It was formed to benefit all the people of the North Slope."

Delbert Rexford:

"Transparency is a commitment by the mayor's office. You have contractual relationships, you have contract awards, you have policies that need to be implemented and followed that require transparency. Now, in some cases, there has to be confidentiality until such time that the best interests of the corporation are protected. In those cases, transparency is not available until a court decision is made or until a dispute is resolved. Then there's transparency to assure that the best interest of the corporation is protected. That is first and foremost. In terms of transparency, the informational meetings, the town hall meetings and providing reports to the constituency is crucial to transparency. In terms of other transparency, there appears to be an underlying current of some kind of connotation that something has to be transparent and I don't understand that. Every year we do annual audits. There's checks and balances within the borough. Employees are required to have accountability of expenditure of funds. How do you account for $432 million or $362 million to the constituency and to the residents of the North Slope Borough, whatever the operating budget is? How do you account for it? The PERS [Public Employees' Retirement System] is expensive, you've got Iḷisaġvik College, you've got education, you've got contract awards, you've got programs and services that you provide, so every department has to fulfill their role in being held accountable for expenditures and the delivery of programs and services as intended by the administration and the approval of the North Slope Borough assembly. That has to be a firm exercise on a daily basis."

James John Martin:

"Open door policy. If anybody has a question or a problem, the door is always open. My platform is "working together makes everyone better." If we can't find an answer to it, we'll search for an answer through other entities. Because we do have problems that people face up here and they may be individual problems or they may be problems that affect a lot of people, but they're problems for somebody and we have to find solutions for them if they're North Slope Borough residents. So, I want an open-door policy. I want people to come in and talk. If they do have a problem, let's fix it. It's hard enough to live up here as is, with the cost of living and everything, so whatever issue they might be facing is a big issue to us, as well. [Maybe] they're facing something that another family might be facing in a couple weeks, so let's get to the bottom of it. Let's fix it. We're trying to make healthy, happy communities, so the people want to live in their communities, they want to grow their communities, and be proud of who they are and where they are."

Frederick Brower:

"Being a public official as a city council member, going through the whole APOC [Alaska Public Offices Commission] process, really was an eye-opener as far as my direction and where I wanted to be as far as a public official, because you have to be transparent in your finances. You have to be transparent in your policies as far as that you have to adhere to being in compliance with APOC and not hiding anything. Learning that process four years ago in my first term as a city council member was an initial discussion with my wife. 'Hey, I need your financial information. I'm running for city council.' And she was like, 'What?' And I explained to her that this was what I needed. 'I need all of your finances, anything over $1,000.' And she was like, 'Why?' And I had to explain to her that there are rules for transparency and if I wanted to engage myself into public service that I have to go along with those responsibilities. And she was like, 'Fine. I've got nothing to hide.' That's what I want to take through when elected mayor of the North Slope Borough, that sense that to be transparent is that you don't hide anything. If you're not hiding anything and you're communicating it with residents, with organizations, with the federal government, you should have nothing to be afraid of. By being transparent with everything you're doing, giving the sense that you're giving the ability for anybody [to have] the opportunity to look into yourself or your organization and see what type of operation you have going on. The North Slope Borough apparently has a process through our clerk's office which is a public information request, so we have an established process for getting information from the North Slope Borough. We have an established process and procedure in place for outside organizations to receive information. For an administration to be concerned about information sharing, we're a local government. If you're hiding something and you're afraid to talk about it, common sense tells me something's going on and you're not being transparent to talk about what you're potentially trying to hide. In my administration, it would be full transparency ensuring that policies that are already established within the North Slope Borough are followed and ensuring that departments, such as the clerk's office, who is responsible for that information [is following policies], but also cohesive communication with the law department to ensure that they are protecting the North Slope Borough and the employees with information sharing and those would be my goals if I was mayor."

Q: If elected, what will your top priorities be during your time in office?

Harry Brower Jr.:

"I think the priorities are pretty well straightforward. We have a lot of information that needs to be shared. We have a lot of dealing that needs to continue, with going through the hardships that we have across the North Slope, finding forgiveness, and other ways to make improvements to the lives of our people. The revival of our language and culture is very important. I think that I would like to see that continue and [will support] that effort moving into the future. Continuing building the unity in the community is something that I've been working on as I've been the mayor, building the Atautchimukta, continuing to unite us as one for a stronger future. Working together in different areas of concern from our communities. We've had a lot of communications developed over the years. I think there needs to be more action in addressing these solutions moving forward."

Ned Arey Sr.:

"My priorities are jobs, housing, education, healthcare, for our communities to ensure they are well-addressed. Also, when they have issues in the village, to having problems in our communities, especially overcrowding, employment. In education, it's to keep our students and our teachers and staff for the professional services to keep our students well-educated and in school. On the health issue, it's to make sure we deal with the patient care that's vitally needed, especially in the villages that have a hard time getting the proper care until we address it accordingly."

William Hopson:

"My top priority would be to get the people back to work. A hundred people is a lot of people. In the villages, they have children, they have heating fuel to buy. I definitely would fix up the RELI program first and put these people back to work as fast as possible so they won't have to go through another winter without the resources they need the most. My other priorities would be in this changing climate, one of my biggest priorities would be to work with all the Native organizations up here to develop community development quotas. Everyone in Utqiaġvik and the North Slope knows we have new opportunities for our people to make their own money. That opportunity is already here. We just have to help our organizations get it started. It's called a community development quota, to get our people fishing for salmon, which is now here abundantly. I believe it's going to be more abundant each summer as the oceans warm up. That would be one of my priorities. Those need to open up. The other priorities, like we said, are housing and jobs. Our Native organizations need help in that regard. There are always projects going on on the North Slope every day of the year. The North Slope Borough always had an option to put a local observer in every project the borough has. That option has never been really utilized. I would use that option to put more people to work. They are in our contracts already. That's employment and it helps. We need a strong capital improvements program. The management of the capital improvements program needs to be adjusted. We're getting too dependent on outside management. I want to bring that management back to be more localized. We need to continue enforcing and strengthening our comprehensive land-use plan to protect our subsistence wildlife and habitats, yet provide for regional development to strengthen our tax base. We need to best educate our children and young people so they can be prepared to make it anywhere in the world. The other big thing is I want to start developing a Native food security bank in each village, where our villagers can process food when the migrations are on and make that food available for every family, every community member, whoever needs to have that caribou and fish and whatever it may be. If the caribou aren't here, they're in a different place, but if we had that program running for every needy person, we would have a food security program that's there to help them if they have a death in the family or if they need food. That needs to start up here because that's needed more than ever nowadays."

Delbert Rexford:

"We have housing epidemics, multi-generations living in houses. If you get a good housing program and address it strategically, you can gradually improve the quality of life, the betterment of the community, employment for people, employment for residents, and that's important. It was a problem in 1972 when the borough started and it's a problem today and we need to strategically address it. The next one is health care. We need to improve our relationships with the health care providers so that early detection programs are increased and advanced. When Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital was being proposed, we anticipated we would have a full-fledged hospital to address those issues and that still needs to be done. Subsistence is crucial and important to our Inupiat society. We cannot develop resources without protecting subsistence way of life for Iñupiat people in all of the villages. This does not mean we set aside those employees that are not a part of subsistence, but to respect them as employees and as local residents. That is crucial."

James John Martin:

"Housing, housing, housing. I want to get more housing in each community. We do face several issues. High cost of living is one of them, child care is another one of them, but housing — it starts with housing. If we have more housing so people don't have to live with their extended families — we have three or four families living under one roof — if we can expand that a little and ease the comforts of living in those homes, I think it's our responsibility to do so. In fact, let's have housing available in case somebody needs it. If we had extra housing in the villages, wow, what a first that would be. That's my goal: housing, housing, housing. Child care, of course, [is another priority], the high cost of living I'd like to bring down, erosion, there's all kinds of issues. My main platform, though, is if all the entities come together to work for the common good of the folks, if we all work together, it makes everyone better. If the borough [doesn't] have a solution to the problem, then let's get on the phone to other entities to see if they have the solution. If there is no solution, then all the entities have to get together and create a solution because the problems that face the North Slope Borough people are real problems and it's our responsibility to address them. I'd love to see all the entities [having] open communications working together for the common good of our people."

Frederick Brower:

"Basically, I have discussed my platform through my posts on Facebook. They revert back to housing and responsible oil and gas development and fiscal accountability, capital improvement project management, human resources, economic development and health. Those are my areas of concern. As I stated before, they are on my Facebook page. I encourage people to read [about them]. Consistent communication of your platform and giving a consistent message [is important]. Everywhere I've gone is the same message that I have stated on my Facebook page. The only deviation I have done as far as my communication is this conversation that we've had. Everything else is the same message and concerns into those eight topics that I have selected as areas of concern that I would like to address when elected mayor."

Q: What past experience do you think has prepared you well to be mayor?

Harry Brower Jr.:

"I've been mayor for one year. I've learned a lot of new communication skills. Sharing that, I have the advantage of having the seat of mayor for a year. It's taught me a lot of things about how to be useful to the communities and the people we serve. Holding the facts straight, there's no way of getting around that. Being transparent, we have to face our people every day living on the North Slope and following through with the commitments that we identify."

Ned Arey Sr.:

"With my previous board of directors and organizations and committees that has gotten me over the years to work with a strong will to provide the needs of our communities. With my work experience working with land management and working with the gas fields as assistant manager and keeping our gas line and heat constant and going. Also, I have a construction background with infrastructure as a general foreman. Also, water and sewer projects as a foreman. Also, other items that I've worked in my past as a technician for keeping the schools and teacher housing in order over the years that I've had experience with. And also assistant president and manager for Iḷisaġvik College keeping the students in school and training and the staff."

William Hopson:

"My experiences include that I was part of a famous 1963 Duck-In, when our Native rights were violated. I was five years old when I was cited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for having an illegal waterfowl. I have yet to be arrested for that. I have served in the North Slope Borough Fish and Game Management Commission as an at-large member for over 12 years, I believe. I have a lot of knowledge of the Fish and Game structure and regulations, and all the regulations that need to be changed to fit the needs of the tribes. I am a council member for ICAS. I'm a vice president. I have a lot of communications with all the villages and village councils. We represent all the seven villages in that organization. I'm a past member volunteer search and rescuer and a co-captain of our family whaling crew. I've managed $400 million in capital projects. I know what the monies are to be used for and they need to be used more wisely. Last, but not least, I know the village infrastructure. I've been there building them from when they had no airports to airports to schools to health clinics. I took part as a manager in building the facilities."

Delbert Rexford:

"For the past 45 years, I've been involved in leadership in one capacity or another. The fundamental values of being a Boy Scout, on the oath of serving and being a public servant started at the age of 15 when I was assistant scoutmaster. When I was in high school, I served on the cultural club that educated our non-Native community about who we are as a people. I served on the city council and in that capacity, I served the community of Utqiaġvik and its residents, including getting elected to the Alaska Municipal League. I became the president for all the municipal governments across the state of Alaska. One of the milestones that I have the honor and privilege of citing is because over 100 municipal governments decided to dissolve their operations because they couldn't get enough funding from the state to operate for one simple reason — insurance coverage for their employees, workers' compensation, insurance for their properties. So, we created, though a think tank, the Joint Insurance Association of the Alaska Municipal League. That was a milestone. I was the first Alaska Native to hold that position and now there's been numerous Alaska Natives to hold that position. I served on the North Slope Borough Assembly for six years. I served on the Alternative Energy Committee to identify resources that were [for] alternative energy that we could look at. One issue that has never been resolved is the Barrow Gas Field Transfer Act provision that natural gas has to be provided to Atqasuk and Wainwright. That needs to be revisited and implemented. That will provide jobs and a source of energy that's not so expensive. I served on the Code of Ethics and Conflict of Interest Committee along with my peers on the assembly. I served on the selection of the Assembly Legal Council to codify the outdated North Slope Borough code of ordinances. We were successful in identifying a highly qualified firm. I have been elected into tribal office and understand how tribal governments work. In one case, I volunteered for a year because funds were misspent and mismanaged so we volunteered for a year to get the Native Village of Barrow back on its feet, and look at the process of that today. They are a very successful organization. I've served on the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope representing our people across the region, always protecting subsistence and a balance of development. I've served on the village corporation and its subsidiaries on the for-profit end. Under the North Slope Borough Assembly and working for the borough, I've served as the Inuit Circumpolar Council delegate working with international leadership on Inuit policy that is important and critical to our communities in four countries. I've also served for six years with the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy and the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme in establishing policies to ensure traditional ecological knowledge is implemented within the international and nation-state forums. My exposure to the North Slope Borough as a housing director and executive director of TNHA [Tagiugmiullu Nunamiullu Housing Authority] gives me the experience to look at the housing crisis in its entirety and to ensure we can tackle that. When you talk about housing, you talk about road development, you talk about infrastructure development, light and power, water and sewer, roads, jobs for carpenters, jobs for laborers, plumbers, electricians, construction management personnel, contracting with the village corporations or qualified contractors. I feel my past experience in various roles makes me qualified to take on that responsibility on behalf of the people, for the people, and that's where I feel I'm qualified and able to represent the people of the North Slope Borough and the residents of the North Slope Borough to the best of my abilities."

James John Martin:

"My own personal experience is being a coach for most of my adult life. This falls directly into coaching because you play five individuals as one team to help a cause and that's exactly what I'll take into my administration. The borough, if we try to tackle all these problems singularly, it would take at least three years to do any kind of groundbreaking or applying those fixes because of how long the procedure takes. It has to go through the planning department, it has to go through the assembly, and before you break ground, it's three years. If all the entities combine their resources to actually be truly wanting to help our Iñupiaq people, then we can all get together and cut that time in half. If one entity has money and one entity is ready to go on the project, why not slip the money over to the people who are ready and get the services that we need to those communities in half the time. We're trying to cut services to already below-average income villages. Anything we take way from that, we're going backwards from ANCSA [Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act]. When we signed ANCSA, the whole purpose of that was to get our people out of the poverty situation. Now we're into it [for decades] and how far out have we gotten? There's certain people who are millionaires but there's also others that are still living under the poverty umbrella. By golly, let's get that fixed. Each and every one of us are equal on the face of this planet and I say that we should spread the wealth ... We need to just be closer to the Lord and realize that everybody's equal in the Lord's eyes and nobody should be battling poverty up here. ... Back in the day, Eben Hopson decided that the North Slope Borough was going to share the Prudhoe Bay wealth with all of the state's people. So, the Permanent Fund was created. Back in the day, no one thought it was going to do well and everyone was skeptical. Over the years, what has happened? That fund has grown tremendously. If you divide that by each Alaskan, we're millionaires already. With the precedent set by the court [recently] that it's OK for political scrutiny of that fund, [there should be concerns]. Eben Hopson said that fund will not be scrutinized politically; that goes to the people of the state. When Gov. Walker decided that he was going to jack half of everyone's dividend for political purposes, that went against the whole purpose of that fund. Why don't we pull that back from the state and give it to the people of the North Slope Borough? Where would that put us? Even if we just threatened to do so, we'd have more political clout. This is where the fund originated. This is where the fund should be at and if they're going to scrutinize it in a way that the person that put it to the state had asked them not to do, we're learning about loopholes all over the place ... What happened to good-faith deals, contracts, the shake of a hand, looking someone in the eye and being honest about things? We're losing that with all this political stuff and man, that is a terrible thing, when you cannot trust the shake of a hand that happened 30 years ago to continue down the road ... If they're going to keep using it for not the intended purpose, then why doesn't the North Slope Borough pull that back and give it to our local people?"

Frederick Brower:

"My experience and background is quite unique. When I was growing up, I always told myself I would never get into politics. I got into construction and construction is seasonal, it's never in the same community, and as a former plumber with six weeks on, one week off, four weeks on, two weeks off, rotational, as I started getting older — I graduated when I was 17 and got into the construction apprenticeship program — I eventually got to an age that [I thought] I can't do this forever. I wanted to have a family and get married. So, I moved back home and thought about what direction I wanted to go in life. I got involved in the community as far as emergency response. My father was the former fire chief and director for the North Slope Borough Fire Department and basically, a whole part of my life I grew up in the fire hall. So, that was a goal, once I was old enough to join the fire department, I was going to do that. Then I did that and it evolved. I started off as a firefighter and it evolved into the need for emergency medical response capabilities and that evolved into running ambulance calls, being in tune with the community, and I loved it. My first two years as a firefighter, I got [named] firefighter of the year consecutively. There was that strive to do better, that strive to help our community and our residents through emergency services. Through that dedication, my former supervisors had seen there was the love that I had for the residents and the process of education of myself of learning how to be a firefighter and emergency responder on top of my day-to-day duties as a plumber, [and they were] out recruiting for a disaster coordinator position ... The North Slope Borough human resources process within our rules and regulations [meant] there was an opportunity to hire managers to recruit. I was give that opportunity and became the emergency manager. I then became the risk manager in 2009. From there, I've been doing the risk manager duties since then in four administrations. [I've seen] a lot of different things happen within each of those administrations based on their platform and their goals as mayor. I've had the opportunity to work with the 14 different departments which is unique in the sense that we're the only division in the borough that has extensive knowledge and insight within the operations of the borough. During my tenure working for the North Slope Borough, I've had an opportunity to get involved as far as committees ... Eventually I started becoming the senior individual within the committees and was selected as the chairman of [some of those] committees. At one point, prior to me deciding to run for mayor, I was chairman of all those committees except one and treasurer of the other. As soon as I turned in my letter of intent and the day I did my first event in Anchorage, I was removed from those committees because that was part of my platform. I was juggling all those responsibilities at once, being a father, being an active member of the community, being a city council member, being a board director for the Barrow Utilities [and Electric Cooperative, Inc., or BUECI], really gave me a sense of what it takes in terms of responsibility for an individual to be mayor, but then also through all that experience, it gave me an opportunity to see well deep down to the problems in the North Slope Borough. I would like to take that experience and give myself the opportunity, by way of a vote from the public, to address those concerns. Although I do have my platform, my goal is that if we can get to the point where we don't have problems, then really we have the opportunity to grow. If you get all the problems to the side and get them all addressed, if you clean your place, then it gets to the point where you have to ask yourself, 'Then, what?' That's when you have the opportunity to start developing and looking at different areas of responsibilities and duties of the North Slope Borough, the opportunity to look into other things knowing that you have no issues, you have no problems, you're transparent, you have established policies to address those concerns. That's my goal when elected mayor, besides my eight points, is to address that problem. I'm a very good problem-solver. As a plumber, we're limited to so much resources up here that you have to work with what you have and I got really good at that and have adapted that to my professional aspect of work. Sometimes you have to make do with what you have and that's all you've got. I want to use that mindset and mentality and experience to grow the North Slope Borough — to grow to the point that the issues are corrected so you can really move forward as to what you really need to be doing for the communities and residents of the North Slope Borough."

Q: Is there anything else you want to add that I didn't ask you about?

Harry Brower Jr.:

"I think this is a very good interview. We have lived in a place the world considers a harsh environment for thousands of years. It's our garden. With no outside influences, we survived by working together. Competition for leadership was rare. We looked to providers and Elders for leadership. Respect was earned and natural selection took care of the rest. We found pride in family and joy in the little things. In my life, natural selection has taken a new form, alcohol and drugs and bragging rights at an early age, and some of us never survived it. That's something we're struggling with. We often measure ourselves not by what we accomplish or do for others, but by the inequity we see in our lives, compared to others. We can find that in forgiveness and in helping others to improve their lives and in the revival of our language and culture."

Ned Arey Sr.:

"It's important that people get to know who their candidates are. It's important also when they vote for who their next mayor is going to be. It's the decision of the voters. I am thankful to have that opportunity to be a candidate. I am thankful for my supporters, my family, my wife, who have helped me to campaign, and most of all, thank God for that opportunity."

William Hopson:

"It's part of uniting all the communities if they felt like they were not being part of the borough, but one thing for sure is I want to have one member from each village. There are talented people out there. We must utilize them because they represent their villages."

Delbert Rexford:

"I want the opportunity to serve. I feel I'm qualified to serve as the next North Slope Borough mayor. I have children. I have grandchildren. I have great-grandchildren. The mayor is not about an individual. It is about serving each and every man, woman, and child. It's about being a public servant and being held accountable to deliver programs and services in a fair and equitable manner to all of the people of the North Slope Borough. I just want that opportunity to serve the people with the express priority of housing, healthcare, and subsistence protection, and the quality of education for our children now and into the future."

James John Martin:

"If we come together, working to better the Iñupiaq people, to better their positions in life, if we can all come together and have that as a common goal, then we can do all these projects and we can do all of this stuff that Mother Nature's throwing at us. Our communities will be not only closer-knit communities, but a lot healthier and safer communities. That is the whole purpose I am running for mayor — to see if we can't pull the whole state of Alaska together to help people."

Frederick Brower:

"I think that really touched on everything. I really appreciate the opportunity to run. I really do like debates. Being on the city council, we have the opportunity to debate and have a healthy discussion of identifying the problems and processes. I just wish that our Rotary mayoral debate would be open just like this discussion. We're given questions beforehand with the opportunity to answer them and they're translated, but basically you just go through and read from a paper with the questions they ask. That gives the opportunity for any candidate to seek individuals that are immersed in those areas to give them literature that they can read from. It's not candid. It's not an opportunity based off your experience to address the concerns and the questions such as this interview. This was right from the heart, based on my knowledge and who I am."

Please note, a few of these answers have been minorly edited for clarity or space. Additionally, some candidates used the terms "Barrow" and "Utqiaġvik" interchangeably. The city's name has been edited in these cases to reflect its current legal standing as "Utqiaġvik".

Write-in candidates who did not file to run for mayor by the borough's deadline were not included in these interviews.

Full transcripts of the interviews will be posted to the Sounder's website [www.arcticsounder.com] before Election Day. You can find the first half of the interviews there as well as on the Sounder's Facebook page.

Shady Grove Oliver can be reached at sgoarctic@gmail.com.

 

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