Duane Dvorak hopes to build on a career as a civil servant if elected to the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly.
“I consider myself to be a real newbie to this,” he said. “As a newish politician, my thoughts are constantly evolving. I’m constantly looking for new information.”
Dvorak grew up in Washington hearing stories about Alaska, and said he always wanted to move to the state. He joined the Air Force after high school, and then joined the Air National Guard.
He relied on the G.I. Bill to fund his college degree, beginning in a community college in Spokane, and eventually transferring to Eastern Washington University, where he received a degree in urban and regional planning. Dvorak was the first person in his family to earn a four-year college degree.
“I really come from a blue-collar background, and I think that even though I’ve held professional positions during my working years, I’ve always considered myself blue-collar at heart,” Dvorak said. “I think it’s allowed me to relate to a wide range of people.”
After graduating, Dvorak moved to Alaska, where he spent one season commercial fishing, which convinced him he was “meant for onshore work.”
Dvorak’s first government position was as the city clerk of Whittier where he also filled in as a building official, personal property assessor and acting city manager.
“I got to try my hand in a lot of different things, but I still craved a planning position,” he said.
He was elected to the board of the Chugach School District serving Prince William Sound in 1987. After only six months on the board, he moved to Kodiak for a job as an associate planner at the borough and resigned from the Chugach board.
While he enjoyed his time in Kodiak, he craved more professional opportunities. In 1994, he moved to the Wasilla planning department, which grew from a one-person position to a three-person office. He also handled a small annexation for the city.
Dvorak left Wasilla soon after Sarah Palin was elected mayor, and worked in Anchorage’s planning department.
In 2001, he returned to Kodiak, where he served as the borough’s community development director until 2005. Dvorak retired in 2013 in order to spend more time with his family members, who live in Washington. He lived in Washington for just a few months, before returning to Kodiak.
While this would be Dvorak’s first elected position in Kodiak, he will rely on his professional experience to hit the ground running.
“My whole 30-year career has been a career of shrinking budgets,” he said, cautioning against treating the current situation as a “crisis.”
“I think a lot of bad decisions have been made in the name of the word crisis,” he added. “I don’t think throwing out simple answers to complex issues is going to get us where we need to be.”
Dvorak said he hopes to get feedback from the community through a survey or poll before making the difficult decisions related to the budget gap left by the state’s withdrawal of $2.6 million in funding for school bond debt reimbursement.
“I believe in the middle way, a balanced approach to things. I really abhor extreme responses to things we’ll all have to deal with sooner or later,” he said.
While Dvorak is the only candidate this year without prior experience on the assembly, he is already thinking of legislative proposals.
If elected, he will advocate for a move to all mail-out ballots, so that every borough resident will receive a ballot in the mail, rather than having to go to the polls on the day of the election.
“We would get more participation,” Dvorak said, noting that a mail-out ballot system already exists in King County, Washington, where he worked briefly after retiring. “People could think about it the privacy of their home. They would have their time and then they would just have to mail it off. It’s proven to work. You don’t need polling places.”
In 2018, only 13% of registered voters in the borough cast their ballots.
“I think it’s a very rational system,” he said.
The Kodiak Daily Mirror reached out to assembly candidates to get more information about their reasons for running and what they hope to accomplish. Here are Drovak’s responses.
Kodiak Daily Mirror: What compelled you to decide to run for a borough assembly seat?
Duane Dvorak: In 2018, I was discouraged to see only two candidates run unopposed for two seats on the assembly. I attempted to recruit people who I thought were well qualified to serve, but at every turn was declined. At some point, I decided that maybe I should do what I had been asking others to do; to be the change that I would like to see in the world.
When an opening on the assembly occurred right after last year’s election I put my name in for the position. I wasn’t selected by the sitting assembly members, but the seed was planted. I resolved to put my name up for consideration at the next election.
KDM: What experiences have you had that best prepared you to fill this role?
DD: I have worked for half a dozen municipalities in Alaska and Washington. This has exposed me to many different forms of government and approaches to budgeting and problem solving. My area of expertise is in land use planning. However, planning can be viewed as a universal way of thinking that touches on nearly all aspects of community. In this role I’ve been involved in many projects located in urban and rural settings. I’ve dealt with projects and issues related to facilities, transportation, housing, education, government operations, and many other municipal functions.
Wherever I have lived, I’ve always tried to give back to my community. Currently, I’m the chairman of the Brother Francis Shelter Advisory Board and belong to numerous other civic and service organizations as a volunteer such as Kodiak Hospice and Palliative Care, VFW Auxiliary, and Kodiak Elks Club #1772.
I feel that my ability to listen and process information is particularly relevant to this position. As a lifelong learner, I enjoy reading and looking at data. I like to gather information from many different sources and make my own trend extrapolations based on what I perceive. I also consider myself to be a “people person” who enjoys interacting with people and hearing their concerns and aspirations. And, I consider myself to be an optimist.
KDM: What do you think are the biggest issues facing the borough currently?
DD: Figuring out how to balance next year’s budget, in light of school bond debt being shifted from the state to the borough, has to be at the top of the list. However, I believe that just cutting the budget is a simple answer to a complex question. We need to budget with levels of service the community wants and is willing to pay for. It may also be prudent to look at other potential sources of income to help alleviate the burden from falling only on property owners.
In the past year, nearly a third of borough employee positions have been vacated or turned over in both management and non-management positions. Although some of those departures may have been planned retirements or relocations, the majority of those vacancies were elective departures. This kind of turnover is not an indicator of a healthy organization with high morale in the workforce. The departure of so much institutional knowledge in such a short period of time increases the likelihood of important borough projects being delayed or falling between the cracks. In addition, it places a great strain on the human resources staff to recruit replacements, with some important positions going vacant for extended periods of time.
I would also include deferred maintenance on borough facilities. This issue may be related to past efforts to cut budgets or not raise taxes. However, these chickens will always come home to roost eventually, and they will never be any cheaper than they are in the current moment. Facility maintenance should always be done in a timely manner. We see this with the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center facility, but it has been a recurring theme with the hospital, borough buildings and schools.
KDM: How do you hope to address these issues?
DD: With regard to the budget, I realize that my voice would only be one of six on the assembly. I think it would be a disservice to the many constituents that I have yet to hear from to stake out a firm position at this early juncture.
When the time comes, I would like to look at the information presented by the borough administration and look at how best to balance borough revenues with borough expenditures and levels of service. As a planner, I believe in process and inclusiveness. I believe that good process leads to the best decisions in the long run.
Due to past budget constraints, it may bear investigating whether there is adequate staffing in key positions and whether potential shortages of key staff may be resulting in staff burnout or turnover.
If the borough is going to have a responsibility to build and maintain facilities, then it must provide adequate maintenance support for those facilities. I would advocate for full funding of facility maintenance needs, many of which can be projected for the life of said facilities using facility management software.
KDM: Are there any pieces of legislation or topics of discussion that you are particularly looking forward to addressing if elected?
DD: I have been interested in the subject of government consolidation for a long time. I would like to see this matter pursued to the point that a decision for or against can be made. I can’t say whether this is good or bad idea because the information upon which to make an informed decision has never been developed for the public’s consideration. I’m not afraid to ask questions. The answers needed to move past this issue don’t need to be hard to find.
Once a new form of government is envisioned, it will most likely differ from the two governments we are familiar with now. Those people who are elected to that new government would ultimately determine what the cost of government services will be. Despite any projections from the consolidation study process, a new government will have to find its own balance of cost vs. service. The better metric might be to look at how well the new form government will represent the will of the people and attend to the job of governing, with less emphasis placed on the estimated cost.
KDM: What are the biggest challenges you foresee in your role as a borough assembly member?
DD: It will require me to re-prioritize my other community involvements. The assembly workload is very high and I would want to be as prepared as possible for meetings. Beyond that, I see myself working hard to become a better listener — to fully consider and comprehend what people are telling me and to best match the vision and desires of the community with a borough government capable of meeting those expectations.