Aaron Rhoades and Charlie Pierce stand in a conference room in the George A. Navarre Borough Administration Building on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Aaron Rhoades and Charlie Pierce stand in a conference room in the George A. Navarre Borough Administration Building on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Borough legal recommends special mayoral election

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Legal Department is recommending that assembly members call a special election to finish out the remainder of Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce’s term.

Pierce announced last week that he would be resigning effective Sept. 30 from his second term as mayor, set to expire late next year. He cited plans to focus full-time on his 2022 gubernatorial bid.

In a Tuesday text message to the Clarion, Pierce declined to comment on his resignation.

Preliminary election results show Pierce set to advance to the November general election.

“Given the results of the primary election, it is clear that I cannot simultaneously discharge the duties of this office and run a competitive campaign for Governor,” Pierce wrote in his Aug. 26 letter of resignation. “So, I have decided to resign in order to campaign full time.”

The future of the borough’s top job has been unclear in the days since.

An Aug. 30 memo written by Kenai Peninsula Borough Attorney Sean Kelley said existing borough code and Alaska state statute is ambiguous on the line of succession.

“This is a unique situation,” Kelley wrote. “On several of the issues discussed below there is either no controlling law or ambiguity in the law and reasonable minds may disagree on how to proceed.”

Kelley’s memo, published as part of the assembly’s Sept. 6 meeting packet, recommends that the assembly accept Pierce’s resignation, declare a vacancy in the mayor’s office and call a special election to fill the unexpired term. The legal department further recommends that the assembly appoint an interim mayor until a new mayor, elected during a special election, takes office.

The assembly, Kelley wrote, can deliberate the qualifications of an interim mayor in private as long as the appointment is made publicly. If the assembly does not appoint an interim mayor by the time Pierce leaves on Sept. 30, Kenai Peninsula Borough Finance Director Brandi Harbaugh is an “approved alternate.”

Pierce on Aug. 3 of last year designated Rhoades as the administrative officer responsible for exercising the powers and duties of the borough mayor if Pierce is absent or incapacitated and unable to discharge the duties of his office. Harbaugh is the approved alternate administrative officer when both Rhoades and Pierce are not options.

Rhoades is also expected to leave the borough on Sept. 30. He was brought on as chief of staff last year and has known Pierce for 20 years.

“It is further anticipated that Chief of Staff Rhoades will serve through Mayor Pierce’s last day in office,” Kelley wrote.

Kelley said Wednesday that he is not aware of Rhoades tendering his resignation, but rather that Rhoades “has indicated” his last day will be Sept. 30. Rhoades has not responded to Clarion requests for comment.

There’s nothing in the borough’s code that says Rhoades cannot continue to serve if Pierce leaves, but, Kelley said, as far as he’s aware, every chief of staff has departed with their boss during times of transition.

“I think it is fair to say that the standard practice is that the chief of staff does not continue to serve at the end of a mayor’s term or, in this case, in the event the mayor steps down,” Kelley said Wednesday via email.

Until last week, Rhoades, who has a background in human resources, was also the borough’s acting HR Director. That position was previously held by Kim Saner, who left the borough late last year. Assembly members during their Aug. 23 meeting confirmed Justen Huff as the borough’s new director of human resources.

Tuesday’s assembly meeting can be streamed live on the borough’s website at kpb.legistar.com.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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