A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)

A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)

Special election for mayor could take place as early as January

A special election is necessitated by Charlie Pierce’s resignation — as his current term does not expire until the end of next year

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk’s Office has proposed for assembly consideration Jan. 9, 2023, as the date for a special election to replace outgoing Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce. That’s the earliest the special election could be held per borough code if legislation calling the special election is passed by assembly members on Oct. 25.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship outlined in a memo to borough assembly members published Tuesday a potential timeline for the special mayoral election. A special election is necessitated by Pierce’s resignation — effective Sept. 30 — as his current term does not expire until the end of next year. Pierce announced in late August he would be stepping down to focus on his 2022 bid for governor. A statement released by the assembly Sunday says Pierce was asked to consider resigning as part of a resolution to an allegation of harassment, which an investigation initiated by the borough found to be credible.

The proposed timeline is on the agenda for the assembly’s Sept. 20 Policies and Procedures Committee meeting, which begins at 3:30 p.m.

Assembly members on Sept. 6 voted 7-2 to appoint Mike Navarre as the borough’s interim mayor. Navarre, a two-time former borough mayor and former state lawmaker, will take over Oct. 1. Until assembly members set a special election schedule, it’s unclear how long Navarre will serve in the interim mayor position.

Under the timeline outlined in Blankenship’s memo, the assembly would, in October, need to introduce legislation appropriating money to run the special election and then approve that legislation. The candidate filing period would open between Oct. 31 and Nov. 14 and the special election would be held on Jan. 9, 2023, according to the memo.

A special mayoral runoff, which would occur if no candidate receives at least 50%-plus-1 of the votes cast, would be held on Jan. 30 under the proposed timeline.

Per borough code 4.10.050, a special election can be called “at any time at least 75 days prior to the date of the election.” Alaska State Statute says that the last date a special election could be held is April 2, 2023. Those dates are if legislation calling for the special election is approved by assembly members on Oct. 25, Blankenship’s memo says.

The winner of the special election will serve from whenever the special election results are certified through the Oct. 3, 2023, regular election, when a new mayor will be elected to serve a three-year term.

Already, names of people who may be interested in running for borough mayor are circulating.

Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings, who currently serves on the Soldotna City Council, filed on Aug. 26 a letter of intent to run for borough mayor in 2023, according to the Alaska Public Offices Commission. She ran against Pierce for the borough’s top job both in 2017 and in 2020 and said Monday there’s a lot that needs to be done at the borough.

“There’s so much that needs to be done that just gets swept away when you have drama,” Farnsworth-Hutchings said. “I don’t have drama, I will tell you. I’ve had many, many employees, and I have not had anybody file anything against me.”

James Baisden — Pierce’s former chief of staff — has also expressed interest in the position. Baisden, who currently serves on the Kenai City Council and is a former Nikiski fire chief, said last week that he submitted a letter of interest for the interim mayor job, but was not put forth as a formal nomination by a member of the assembly. Now, he says he’s “considering” a mayoral run in the wake of an assembly appointment he said left the public out of the process.

“They allowed nobody else to participate in the process,” Baisden said of assembly members.

Sen. President Peter Micciche, who announced earlier this year that he will not seek reelection to the Alaska Legislature after 10 years of service, said Tuesday that he has received multiple calls from borough residents who have asked him to run. It’s important, he said, that a special election be held as soon as possible. Micciche is also a former Soldotna mayor and city council member.

“I’m very interested in being the next elected mayor of the Kenai Peninsula Borough,” Micciche said.

The final special mayoral election timeline will ultimately be determined by assembly members.

Tuesday’s regular assembly and committee meetings can be streamed live through the borough website at kpb.legistar.us.

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

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with additional information about James Baisden’s current title.

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