Candidates to fill a vacant seat on the Kenai City Council got a taste of election-night drama Wednesday, as the council took six rounds of voting to settling on Kenai attorney Jim Butler by a 4-2 margin over former Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President Tim Navarre.
Butler and Navarre emerged as the leading candidates after fellow council hopefuls Jim Jenckes, Mike Boyle, Neil DuPerron and Barry Eldridge were eliminated during three rounds of preliminary voting by the five seated council members and mayor Pat Porter. Then the fun began.
After the fourth round of voting, Navarre and Butler garnered three votes each, with council members Rick Ross, Joe Moore and Linda Swarner backing Butler while Porter, Blaine Gilman and Cliff Massie voted for Navarre.
Nothing could be settled after a fifth round of voting, and it appeared as if the council was heading for a repeat of its last special council appointment, when it took 10 rounds of voting to settle on John "Ozzie" Osborne Sr. to replace Duane Bannock in 2003.
Council members appeared unwilling to go that route, however, and began suggesting alternative solutions.
"I really would like the council to consider some other options," Swarner said after the fifth round.
"If we're tied 3-3, lets have a special election and let the voters decide," Ross chimed in.
Those comments proved to be premature when the results of the sixth vote were announced by Kenai City Clerk Carol Freas.
"That vote, Navarre has two votes and Butler has four," Freas announced.
The council then took a short break to allow the news to sink in.
During the break, it was revealed that Gilman had switched his vote to favor Butler, tipping the balance and deciding the election.
During the break, Gilman said he changed his vote because he believed the vacant seat needed to be filled, and didn't want to wait for a special election.
He said the choice was between two qualified candidates, and he didn't want to hold up the process when it was obvious either Butler or Navarre could do the job.
"I thought they were both good candidates," he said.
Navarre didn't appear too upset with the decision, saying the process was a fair one.
"Sure I'm disappointed, but it's the process and it works," he said.
Butler said he was humbled by the experience, and found the council's decision to be an honor.
"It's a privilege the council would think I could contribute," he said.
He did acknowledge that the process was a bit tense for everyone involved, but praised the council for the way it made its decision.
"It's always awkward for everyone," he said. "I just felt like the council took the process very seriously."
The special vote was needed to fill the seat vacated by Porter when she was elected mayor in October.
The council members based their decision on how the six candidates performed during a question-and-answer session that preceded the regular meeting.
During that 90-minute meeting, the six hopefuls were quizzed on a variety of issues pertinent to city government, ranging from future expansion of the Kenai library to reducing the Kenai Airport's operating deficit.
Following the regular council meeting, the council was unanimous in its belief that Navarre and Butler as well as the other four applicants answered their questions well and provided a strong pool of people to choose from.
"I think all the candidates presented to the city council were all very well qualified," Porter said.
She said she backed Navarre because of his lengthy record of government involvement.
"I was more geared to someone who could step up right away and take over," she said.
Council member Joe Moore said he stuck with Butler because of the way he performed during the earlier interview portion of the meeting.
"I went with Jim because of the way he presented himself during the question and answers," he said.
Moore agreed with Porter that any of candidates would have been qualified to serve on the council.
Six people presenting themselves to serve on the council was seen by many involved as a good thing, especially considering only three candidates filed to fill two vacant seats during October's regular election. Indications are that at least two of Wednesday's applicants could return next year when Butler's seat as well as Gilman's and Swarner's will again be up for grabs.
"I'd like to come back," Jenckes said. "It's a really neat process."
Likewise, Navarre said he's leaving the option open of making a run at the council when the regular election rolls around next year.
"I'd certainly consider it," he said.
For now the council has a full complement of members, and Butler said he's anxious to get down to business, adding that he plans to bring a fresh perspective to the council.
"I'll bring the views of a small business person and a parent," he said. "I'll try to do a good job."
In other action Wednesday, the council:
Passed Ordinance 2072-2004, which amends the city code to prohibit parking recreational vehicles on vacant private property lots. The ordinance makes it illegal for anyone to use an RV as living quarters "on private property with no principal permitted structure located on the property, except as otherwise allowed" in city code.
Voted unanimously to name Moore as vice mayor. The previous vice mayor, Jim Bookey, lost to Porter in his bid for mayor and did not seek reelection to the council.
Recognized the Kenai Central High School football team for winning its third consecutive Alaska state small-schools championship.
Reappropriated a $151,314.05 state grant in the city budget to go for diesel fuel clean-up work at the airport shop site.
Awarded a $17,500 bid for flooring replacement at the Kenai Recreation Center to Decor Industries Inc.
Supported Alaska Stranded Gas Municipal Advisory Group resolutions 2004-1 through 2004-6, which recommend a number of provisions the state should consider when entering into natural gas pipeline contracts.
Set for Dec. 6 a special meeting to discuss plans for the Kenai Multipurpose Facility during the 2006 Arctic Winter Games.
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