Voters prepare to cast ballots at the Cordova Center on March 1, 2022. File photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith for The Cordova Times

Tuesday, March 5 will bring the Cordova city elections. Six seats — two on the school board, two on the hospital board, and two on the City Council — will be filled. There is just one candidate per seat, and only one candidate is new and not up for reelection.  

Cordovans will also vote on one proposition, which would amend parts of the City Charter related to City Council seats, the terms of the mayor and City Council members, and remove the minimum 40% vote threshold for mayoral and City Council candidates. 

The proposed new text to Section 10-2 would read: “The term of each council member shall be three years and shall continue until a successor has been elected and qualified. The term of the mayor shall be three years and shall continue until a successor has been elected and qualified.” 

Section 10-4 would be edited down to read: “A voter may also write in the name of, and vote for, a person whose name does not appear on the ballot. In case of a tie, the election shall be determined fairly by a drawing from among the candidates tying, in a meeting of the council and under its direction.” 

Section 2-1 will be amended to change designated council seats to non-designated council seats, meaning there would no longer be designated seats A through G and instead just seven city council members.  

Early in-person voting is available at the Cordova Center from 8 to 5 p.m. on weekdays until March 4. Applications for absentee ballots will be accepted until Feb. 27 via mail to City Clerk, City of Cordova, PO Box 1210, Cordova, AK 99574, or by email to [email protected]. Absentee ballots cast by mail must be received by the City Clerk by March 19. Absentee ballots cast by drop box must be placed in the drop box by the close of polls on March 5. There is one election drop box in Cordova, it is located upstairs at the Cordova Center main entrance under the covered drop-off driveway. 

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In-person voting on March 5 is located at Community Room A in the Cordova Center. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

More information can be found on the City of Cordova’s Website: https://www.cityofcordova.net/.  

Candidate profiles 

Pete Hoepfner – School Board 

Why Cordova? What makes Cordova so special? 

Cordova is my home town because I have raised my daughters here, and am a 30-year resident. The sense of community is very strong. Cordova is a town where children and their education is a high priority. In Cordova, “everyone knows everyone,” and the degree of care for each person is evident. The teachers care for the students, the community wants the children to succeed, and the schools are central to the community. 

Why are you running for this seat again, and what makes you qualified? 

I want to continue the work to elevate Cordova students’ educational experience, and help students to reach their own level of success. 

One of the additions that I bring to the table is my seat at the Association of Alaska School Boards (AASB) board of directors for 14 years, my nationwide seat at the National School Board Association (NSBA) board of directors for the last four years, and my prior service as the AASB representative and alternative to the Alaska Student Activities Association (ASAA) for 11 years. I can bring Cordova’s and Alaska’s issues to the table statewide and nationwide. I have filled leadership roles in those organizations — president of AASB twice and president of the Pacific region of NSBA — and sit on many committees at the AASB and NSBA level. 

I sit on many statewide committees as well, most recently the Teacher Retention and Recruitment Working Group and all four subcommittees under this working group, bringing Cordova to the table, working to strategize and bring solutions.  

I also bring “historical” knowledge, being on the board long term, and prior work with renovations on Mt. Eccles, as we are looking at developing plans for the high school building. I am constantly increasing my knowledge about education, and upcoming trends in education by reading many articles and attending many trainings put on by AASB and NSBA every year. Through my work on AASB and NSBA, I bring issues that face Cordova, some brought from the students, and elevate them to the state and national level. An example is student mental health and universal pre-K, which are now top state legislative and federal congressional priorities. I have built many education-related relationships with the legislature, congress, and across the state and nation. 

What lessons have you learned over the last three years? 

Communication with stakeholders and the legislature about education issues and funding, along with engaging parents in their students’ academics, is key to student success.  

What was the biggest challenge of the last three years and what was the biggest surprise? 

Funding of Alaska public schools, and the limited supply of teachers in Alaska and the nation has been a difficult new challenge. I was stunned when the governor of Alaska cut the proposed public K-12 school funding, brought forth by the legislature and the public process, in half. 

How would you describe the current performance of the board? 

The current board functions very well! We are a group of Cordova community members from different backgrounds representing the community. We are all very supportive of the amazing teachers and administrators that are teaching and supporting our children. We always have lengthy discussions, and review data and recommendations before making any decisions. 

How do you work with others who you may disagree with, and how do you make the table bigger to include everyone in the conversation? 

All school board members represent Cordova and the students we serve. We are all presented with data and recommendations from the administration and staff. Sometimes there is not 100% agreement amongst the board, but once the vote has taken place, as a board, we stand behind the decision made. The board increases the table by having many places for community input. The PTA meets and encourages parents to become members. The district has elementary and high school site council meetings where parents are encouraged to attend. On the policy committee, a community member is incorporated, and parents are offered the opportunity to comment on new curriculum. And there are parent teacher conferences that occur at each school. I always welcome emails, texts or calls, and I am always open to a conversation whenever you see me in town, store, PO, or at games! 

What is the most important problem facing CSD, and how do you plan to work on addressing it? 

Funding and the recruiting and retaining of teachers are the greatest challenges facing the Cordova School District. One method for achieving funding of public K-12 schools is by advocating for funding from the legislature and building a grassroots movement in Cordova to expand this legislative ask — including engaging more parents to call and write to Cordova’s representatives who will be in town March 2-3. Alongside the funding of the Base Student Allocation is an important bill, SB88, to change the retirement system of the state. A change in the retirement system would encourage teachers to come to and stay in Alaska. Also, the Cordova High School renovation/construction project will be in the upcoming future, and the district is looking at the initial steps. 

Inadequate funding for education has been an issue across the state. What does this mean for CSD? How do you plan on addressing tight resources within CSD? 

Flat funding for many years has squeezed the Cordova School District budget, while costs of goods, transportation and healthcare have skyrocketed. The admin and board have been able to manage the budget without having to make large cuts to student services. We don’t have any librarians, school nurses, or other “extras.” With a positive outlook of increased funding this year from the Legislature, and a proposed senate bill to change the retirement system, the school district hopes to maintain the existing staffing levels. The school district wants to maintain the relatively small classroom sizes that we have seen in the past. 

What does your mission for public education within Cordova look like? 

The board sets the mission for the school district: “The Cordova School District utilizes our unique natural surroundings and active involvement of parents and community to provide a safe learning environment that offers challenging curricula and activities while developing successful, responsible citizens for the future.” 

I want every child in Cordova to receive an excellent education every day that will propel each student to become a lifelong learner and a productive and contributing citizen. There are many levels of success, whether that means entering the workforce, attending a votech school, or college. I want our students ready to be “on time,” engaged, and critical thinkers. 

Diane Ujioka – Hospital Services Board Members 

Why Cordova? What makes Cordova so special? 

I am a lifelong resident, this beautiful place is my home, and would love to continue living here in my retirement. One of the most amazing things about Cordova is its people.  

Why are you running, and what makes you qualified? 

I was just recently asked to fill a vacant seat, so I am brand new on the board. I don’t know that I am necessarily more qualified than someone else. I am willing to learn about the many issues facing CCMC, do my due diligence regarding the matters brought to the health services board, and I would like to ensure continuity in the medical services provided in our community.  

How would you describe the current performance of the board? 

I am very new to the board, but they seem to be performing well. Departments provide detailed reports and interact with the board very well. 

How do you work with others who you may disagree with, and how do you make the table bigger to include everyone in the conversation? 

I pride myself at being a good listener. Even in heavier debates I think it is important to hear both sides of an issue and identify common thoughts and ideas on how problems can be solved, set goals to hopefully resolve identified issues, and be respectful during and after the process has played out. 

If reelected, how do you intend to address the issues surrounding remote and rural healthcare during your tenure? 

It is no small task to tackle our healthcare issues in remote Alaska. Cordova is no exception. Trying to attract and maintain our healthcare professionals, adequate housing, enough child care especially considering the shift work that is required, keeping our volunteer EMS healthy and supported, having CCMC and ICHC working closely together and working toward efficiencies in services, and reducing expenses when possible are all things that would improve healthcare in our remote community. I am so new to the Health Services Board I am not certain of all the processes, but I have faith that this board will do its best to identify and hopefully resolve the issues that are presented. 

How would you describe the state of Cordova’s healthcare services currently? What could be improved? 

I am grateful for the healthcare that we currently have, but there are areas that are certainly troublesome. One is the fact that we can’t welcome babies into the world here in Cordova. We have to have young families foot the bill for relocation to Anchorage or beyond for four to six weeks in the final stage of pregnancy. That is a huge expense and inconvenience. Dads have to continue working, siblings can’t be pulled out of school for that long, and it is generally hard being away from home for that long. Another issue is trying to keep the elderly in our community. The high cost of long-term care, lack of assisted living facilities, and high cost of traveling elsewhere to get the necessary medical care is driving grandparents and other elderly folks out of our communities far too prematurely. There is truth in the statement that “it takes a village” to raise our families and having adequate health care is at the core. 

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