Kenai Peninsula Borough voters will get to cast their ballots for the next borough mayor on Feb. 14 following a vote by assembly members Tuesday to set a schedule for a special election.
That election is needed following the resignation of former Kenai Peninsula Borough Charlie Pierce, who announced Aug. 26 that he was resigning as mayor effective Sept. 30. The assembly in early September appointed Mike Navarre as interim mayor until a special election is held. Navarre is a two-time former borough mayor and state lawmaker.
The borough’s special mayoral election will be held the week after the assembly’s first meeting in February. The assembly will certify the results during their Feb. 21 meeting and a runoff election, if needed, will be held on March 7.
Kenai Peninsula Borough code says that someone can only be elected borough mayor if they receive “a majority of votes cast.” If no candidate receives a majority of votes, code says a runoff election is to be held between the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes.
Whoever is elected during the special election will serve through the end of Pierce’s term, set to expire late next year. Voters will elect during the borough’s regular 2023 election a mayor for a three-year term. Among those who’ve expressed interest in the position are State Sen. Peter Micciche, Kenai City Council member James Baisden and Soldotna City Council member Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings.
The legislation passed by assembly members Tuesday, in addition to setting the election schedule, also approves the use of $250,000 to run the election. That is how much Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship estimates a special election and subsequent runoff will cost, according to an Oct. 11 memo from Assembly President Brent Johnson to assembly members.
Tuesday’s assembly meeting came less than a week after the Kenai Peninsula Borough and Pierce, who is also running for governor, were named as defendants in a lawsuit brought by Pierce’s former executive assistant, Pam Wastell. Wastell in that suit alleged multiple incidents of sexual harassment of her by Pierce and said the borough failed to protect her from that harassment.
Earlier on Tuesday, Edie Grunwald, a candidate for lieutenant governor and Pierce’s running mate, announced that she is suspending her campaign because of the “recent circumstances” surrounding Pierce. Grunwald said via email Wednesday that she made her decision on Tuesday, after the complaint was made public on Monday. Grunwald said she read it in a hotel while picking up a family member in Homer.
“It was a difficult decision, mainly because some people would assume I was determining guilt,” Grunwald said via email. “My decision was not based on any such determination or speculation. The issue is not mine. And basically I will not be a part of it.”
She reiterated Wednesday that she advocates for the “respectful treatment of women in the workforce,” citing her time in the “male-dominated” military and said it is her “duty and responsibility to stand up and show (her) support.”
Grunwald said that she has not witnessed any inappropriate behavior from Pierce while on the campaign trail and is encouraging people to vote for incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy and running mate Nancy Dahlstrom. Pierce said Tuesday that he is not suspending his gubernatorial bid.
Two people testified before the assembly Tuesday about the lawsuit, including Robin Davis, who said he is a former project manager at the Kenai Peninsula Borough. He called for an independent review of the borough’s harassment policy and said it should go without saying that “employees of the borough do not deserve this sort of treatment.”
“This report need not be a witch hunt,” Davis said. “We need to know what happened and (what) measures that will be taken to prevent it from happening again in the future.”
None of the nine assembly members addressed the lawsuit or allegations against Pierce during Tuesday’s meeting, which can be streamed on the borough’s website at kpb.legistar.com.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at email@example.com.