WASILLA — The two remaining candidates for the office of Borough Mayor squared off in an entirely civil and incredibly friendly forum at Evangelo’s in Wasilla on Tuesday afternoon.
The lunch forum was sponsored by both the Greater Wasilla Chamber of Commerce and the Palmer Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Marty Metiva. Former Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle recently withdrew his candidacy for Borough Mayor, leaving former Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman and Deputy Mayor Matthew Beck and current Mayor of Palmer Edna DeVries to participate in the forum on Tuesday. Questions were submitted by members of the crowd that were in attendance and answered by both candidates in opposite order for each question for nearly an hour. DeVries responded to a question about her most impactful achievement during her most recent term in office as Palmer’s Mayor.
“Overall as I stand back and look, is allowing the people to address their government and come and be able to talk to their elected officials either privately or in a public meeting and not to be shut down or ridiculed but allow that input to their elected officials,” said DeVries.
Beck and DeVries made light conversation with one another during the forum and both expressed desires to run a clean campaign and respect for their opponents. Beck described being taken to dinner by DeVries and her husband when Beck was first elected to the Assembly in 2013 and showed a breadth of knowledge on current Assembly issues. Beck responded to a question on alternative revenue streams for the Borough, which were discussed at length during special Assembly meetings early in 2021.
“The last two budget cycles they’ve actually been able to lower the mill rate of the property taxes because as our borough has continued to grow, the income stream from our property taxes has grown equivocally with that growth, and so they haven’t had to institute any new taxes. I don’t support any new taxes. If I become Mayor and if they propose new taxes, I would veto those because I think as we continue to grow we continue to welcome new businesses and get that income that comes with those new industries and new businesses as they build,” said Beck.
Beck demonstrated knowledge of the Assembly discussion on a road bond package that will appear before Mat-Su Borough voters on the ballot on November 5, stating that the Assembly hoped to use incoming Federal funds to pay for the projects. DeVries remained skeptical of the Federal government and the possibility of available funds for road bond projects. DeVries answered a question about the role of the Borough in planning and development.
“The less restrictions that government can put on businesses either in the area of development or zoning and ordinances I feel are the best. Government needs to get out of the way to allow businesses the creativity that all of you have here in this room to be able to start businesses, to develop your business and to go for it is something the government should encourage and we should not be standing in your way and so that is my philosophy regarding what I saw as a business owner and as a real estate broker and developer over all of these past years,” said DeVries.
Beck said that since announcing his bid for Borough Mayor, he had begun attending community council meetings as far north as Talkeetna and Trapper Creek. Despite his six years on the Assembly representing greater Palmer in District 2, Beck said that he hopes to govern for the entirety of the Borough if elected, and answered a question about disagreements and compromise.
“You’re working for the collective whole of the borough, not just kind of perceived individual interest or what you’ve come with but it’s what you’re hearing people talk about on the streets and you’re representing the whole in general, and so we had great debates and at the end of the day we really worked hard to roll our sleeves up and get things done. A lot of people remind me frequently is that all a pothole wants is to be repaired, it really doesn’t care how it gets repaired.”
Beck noted the lengthy heated debates over the legalization of recreational marijuana as he was a member of the Assembly and that public hearings had been continued to allow for more input from members of the public. Asked about what ordinances or decisions by the current Assembly the candidates disagreed with, DeVries noted that the veto of the reconsideration of Ordinance 20-025 in December of 2020 by Mayor Halter was not a decision she agreed with.
“The present mayor did veto it and so I would be willing, very willing to work with the Assembly to bring that back and I promise you I will not veto it. I’m a very strong supporter of the second amendment and also there was a piece of property that a young group of youth that wanted to purchase for a youth shooting range and the borough assembly decided not to sell that land. I would like to see that resurrected,” said DeVries.
Candidates were asked about funding of the Mat-Su Borough School District, which has been discussed after an ordinance was brought forward by Assemblyman George McKee which sought to examine the level of funding provided to the school district. DeVries stated that she felt that responsibility for funding of the schools fell to the state. Beck offered his perspective, having served on the Assembly when the 6.3 mill rate was passed.
“That gives them a very solid number for the way they plan because the budget plan, the school district plans a year in advance and a lot of their work is guesswork and what we did as a borough assembly is we took the guesswork out of a lot of that and they know from the borough what they’re going to get. I like that formula of 6.3. I don’t think I would favor any change,” said Beck.
DeVries mentioned on multiple occasions the work done by Triverius that is used to clean navy ships and falls within the city limits of Palmer within the industrial park. DeVries also mentioned Airframes Alaska, a nationally acclaimed business that recently moved to Palmer after a long history in Anchorage and Fairbanks as positive local business growth during her time as Mayor. DeVries was the final candidate to answer a question on what her two top reasons were for running for Borough Mayor, mentioning how long she has lived in the Mat-Su to begin with.
“I have been very supportive of it and over half and I’m going to be very personal, over half of my grandchildren live in this borough now and so I am very selfish in that way that I want them to be able to have the freedoms and the enjoyment of what we share here in the Mat-Su Borough and we don’t want to become Anchorage, okay. So that to me is one of the biggest reasons that I’m running for Mat-Su Borough Mayor and I think the second one is the fact that I care for people. I care what happens to you, I care what happens to our borough, I care what happens to our state and so those are the two things that motivate me,” said DeVries.
Both candidates were offered the opportunity to ask a question of their opponent, but neither took the chance. Both Beck and DeVries wished their opponent well and thanked them for the work they have done in the community. Beck was first to answer what his reasoning was for running.
“I think I’m a good listener. I’ve demonstrated that when I was on the borough assembly to listen to people to really help their voice be heard and I will work really hard to continue to do that, to listen to people so they can be heard, be involved in the process. I’d like to see people that often get overlooked to be drawn in and welcomed into the political process and a part of this borough and the work that we’re doing,” said Beck.