Bethel City Council has appointed Brian Henry as its newest council member. Henry fills the seat left vacant by Naim Shabani’s resignation and will serve until the October municipal elections.
“I wanted to thank you all for that vote of confidence," Henry told the council after their final vote. "I promise to do my best to my ability to do the work at hand.”
Council appointed Henry on Tuesday evening with a four-to-two vote. Minutes after being appointed, Henry took his oath of office. Voting for Henry were Mayor Rick Robb, Vice Mayor Fred Watson, and council members Mark Springer and Raymond "Thor" Williams. Council member Mitchell Forbes voted for Anny Cochrane, and Leif Albertson for Mary Nanuwak. The fourth person nominated, Fritz Charles, did not receive any votes throughout the ballot process.
The majority vote appointing Henry came in the third round of ballots. In the first and second round, all votes were the same as in the third except Mayor Robb voted for Anny Cochrane. Then, in the third round of ballots, Robb changed his vote to Henry to prevent Cochrane and Henry from having to draw straws for the appointment.
Henry is from Akiachak and has lived in Bethel since 2014. He serves as vice-chair of the City’s Finance Committee, and as a council member he will also serve on the Public Safety and Transportation Commission. Henry comes to Bethel City Council with a long background in government, religion, finance, and business.
“I know all the intricacies of owning and running a business - everything from finance management, insurance, legal, the whole works,” Henry told the Council.
For five years Henry served as president and CEO of Akiachak, Limited, Akiachak's village corporation, where he told the council he grew the corporation’s annual capital from $750,000 to $2 million. He says that he also expanded the corporation into a company with five subsidiaries. Henry now serves on the village corporation's board.
The newly appointed council member has also worked as the Business Manager for the Native Village of Akiachak and has managed the now-closed AVCP Allanivik Hotel in Bethel. Henry says that within two years he helped move the hotel from a “sink-hole” to making money and being in the black. Henry has also served as the City Manager for the City of Aleknagik in Bristol Bay.
“In a city structure and system such as this one," he explained in his opening statements to council. "So I’m well aware of all the operations, all the way to making sure that all the budget line items are being accurately reported, to making sure that the reports are on time.”
Henry graduated from the Alaska Bible Seminary in 2008 and has served as a lay Moravian pastor. Finally, Henry says that he has a history of running small businesses and currently owns rental housing in Bethel. Henry believes growing the city’s business opportunities for residents and outside interests is the solution for building the city’s revenue.
“Bethel is a hub community. You have 56 area villages around you," he told council during his questioning for the appointment. "And there are some village corporations, i.e. such as mine, that would like to actually start businesses in hub areas, in cities.”
Henry says that the City of Bethel could encourage the various non-profit and for-profit entities that work with the villages and tribes across the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta to open satellite offices in the region’s hub.
“Now imagine if they came and the City of Bethel owned buildings. Could the City of Bethel lease office space?" Henry asked. "There’s another potential area for revenue. That’s just an idea. I have many more.”
Henry was able to begin sharing those ideas. His appointment became effective immediately, and the council continued its meeting by drafting the city’s budget.