Smith unseats Burgess in run-off

Editor's note: This story was changed to correct the date of the special election for Proposition 1. The election is Dec. 1.

In unofficial results in a run-off election for a Homer City Council seat, political newcomer Heath Smith easily beat incumbent city council member Beauregard Burgess with 310 votes to  Burgess’ 192, a 118-vote margin. 

With 115 absentee votes and two special needs votes to be counted, or 117 votes total, Burgess still could not win even if he took every one of the uncounted votes.

Council member Donna Aderhold won election to one of two seats in the Oct. 6 election, taking 44 percent of the vote for a respective seat and passing the 40-percent threshold to avoid a run-off. Aderhold was sworn in last month, replacing former council member Francie Roberts, who did not run for re-election. 

Smith won 37 percent of the votes  for a single seat and Burgess 35 percent and as the second- and third-place finishers, competed in Tuesday’s run-off election for the second seat.

Reached by cell phone while he was hunting for caribou in Adak, Smith said the margin of victory surprised him. Smith was hunting with his son, Kian, 11, and some friends, and celebrated his victory with a meal of ptarmigan Kian shot.

A lifelong Alaskan, Smith, 50, grew up in Homer and is the third generation in his family elected to political office in Alaska. His grandfather, George Sharrock, was known as “the earthquake mayor” of Anchorage in 1964 during the Great Alaska Earthquake.

Smith’s father, Bill Smith, is a former Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member.

The father of six children with his wife, Tara, Smith said in his campaign that he wanted to keep Homer a community where his children could stay and have economic opportunities. That perspective helped him win, he said.

“The only bone I have in the fight is the welfare of my family and the future of that,” Smith said. “I think that came across and resonated.”

Smith will be sworn in after the election is certified at a special meeting of the city council at 5 p.m. Monday in the Cowles Council Chambers, Homer City Hall. As the newest member of the council, he’ll jump straight into the budget debate. Following the special meeting, at 5:30 p.m. the city holds a Town Hall meeting to hear citizen ideas on the budget and to discuss a proposed revenue solution, Proposition 1. To be voted on at a special election on Dec. 1, if passed, Prop 1 would suspend for three years to the Homer Accelerated Transportation and Trails fund a .75-percent sales tax and instead allocate those taxes to the general fund.

Smith said he expects Prop 1 to pass.

“It’s our best route. It’s not a new tax,” he said. “It gives us a nice open window as far as generating a discussion of how we approach any ideas with a new tax and what levels it has to reach.”

Smith said it will be interesting serving on the council in a time of budget woes.

“There are six people on that council. We have to collaborate and work together,” he said. “There’s a city to run. That takes hard work and it takes teamwork. We’re going to have to be on point and do what’s in the best interest of the community as a whole.”

Burgess, 30, was appointed at the age of 27 to the council in April 2012 to fill former council member Kevin Hogan’s seat after Hogan resigned. Burgess was elected in the October 2012 election. As a council member, he helped shepherd a city-wide build-out of a natural gas distribution system and creation of the Homer Natural Gas Special Assessment District. The owner of several small businesses, Burgess also advocated the creation of the Homer Cannabis Advisory Commission. 

Under the citizen initiative legalizing the possession, cultivation, processing and sale of marijuana, cities that create advisory marijuana commissions can receive half the proceeds of the up to $5,000 licensing fees marijuana businesses must pay.

In the run-off campaign, Burgess acknowledged that he sometimes could be abrasive, describing himself as “someone who is going to be more in your face than you want, but is going to work hard to make good professional decisions.”

In response to a text message seeking comment Wednesday, Burgess declined to say anything about the run-off election.

The election canvass board meets at 2 p.m. Friday in the council chambers to count absentee, specials needs and questioned ballots. Including the uncounted votes, turnout was 14 percent for the run-off, compared to 27 percent for the Oct. 6 election.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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