Council election not over yet

A Nov. 3 run-off election will determine whether political newcomer Heath Smith or incumbent Beau Burgess is the winner of the second open seat on the Homer City Council.

Donna Aderhold was the clear winner of one of the two open seats on the council, garnering 46 percent of half the total votes, which were divided to account for two seats.

However, there was some confusion about how many votes were needed to declare a winner of the second seat. 

According to the city’s code, a run-off election is needed when no city council candidate receives upwards of 40 percent of the vote for a respective seat. 

Until Monday, City Attorney Thomas Klinkner had interpreted that to mean that only one candidate needed to get more than 40 percent of half the votes to avoid a run-off. Under that interpretation, no run-off would be necessary, as Aderhold passed the 40 percent threshold.

Upon closer reading, Klinkner changed his mind: a candidate for each seat must receive 40 percent of half the votes, or a run-off is required. 

Because second- and third-place finishers Smith and incumbent Burgess received 37 and 35 percent respectively, the two will oppose each other on a second ballot on Nov. 3.

Smith said he wasn’t surprised at the turn of events.

“After having read the code, it was pretty clear that that’s what it dictated so I would’ve been surprised had it not resulted in [a run-off],” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. “The attorney’s interpretation was a little creative, I thought.”

Burgess agreed. “It’s always good when the government follows its own rules,” he said.

He’s glad to still be on the ballot, but more for his supporters than for himself.

“For me, council is a job and I would’ve been happy to have my Monday nights back but I would be happy to be on council again as well,” he said. “I definitely was happy for the sake of all the people who were really bummed that I hadn’t made the first round.”

Neither candidate is thrilled by the thought of starting up a campaign again, but both say they’ll put up signs.

“I think that, you know, you’ve gotta keep beating the drum,” said Smith. “Turn out for run-off or special elections are historically lower and so there’s work to be done. … I think there needs to be some effort to get the word out that the vote is still on and hopefully we can get people involved in getting their voice out there.”

Only 27 percent of registered voters turned out to cast their ballots in the Oct. 6 municipal election, a statistic that disappointed sitting council members. Gus Van Dyke, Bryan Zak and David Lewis all made a point of mentioning it in their closing comments.

“Four thousand, five hundred and ten registered voters in the city of Homer, 1,233 good mindful people who give a you-know-what about the city of Homer turned out to vote. That’s so disappointing to me, it’s unreal,” said Van Dyke. “I just want to put out one last appeal. We’ve got a couple more elections coming up and I’d certainly like to see at least a double amount of people coming out to vote. All you people who didn’t vote, there’s no excuse for it. Well, if you’re dead that’s one thing, but if you’re alive, you should vote.”

Burgess said he hopes that a city group will sponsor a forum for the candidates in the coming weeks.

“I felt like during the debates Heath didn’t really take any position on any issue or outline any sort of concrete strategy as what he would do as a city councilperson,” he said. “I always think it’s good when you get to see the candidates side by side and hear their thoughts on the issues.”

Both Smith and Aderhold were in the audience on Monday night. Aderhold will be sworn into office at a special council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 20 at 6 p.m. and in some ways Monday’s meeting was a symbolic changing of the guard, as it was the last meeting for council member Francie Roberts. A math teacher at Homer High School, Roberts served on the council for nine years and also served as mayor pro tempore. She chose not to run for re-election.

The mayor called a recess during the meeting to serve cake to celebrate Roberts, and many of the night’s comments were expressions of gratitude for Roberts’ service.

“She has been an undying support for me in her nine years here on the council,” said Wythe in her final comments. “We don’t always agree but we always work things out together and I believe we have done some great work together for the community of Homer. And I know Francie has been just a great supporter for all the committees, commissions and activities that she has chosen to participate in and put in a ton of time at this table and at those tables as well. You are going to be very missed. “

City Manager Katie Koester thanked Roberts for her patient guidance — the same guidance she demonstrated as Koester’s geometry teacher a few years ago, she said.

Roberts accepted the praise humbly, saying she didn’t deserve all the thanks she was receiving.

“Good luck to everybody, I know you’ve got a hard go with the budget coming up so good luck to all of you and thank you again,” she said. “It’s been a pleasure serving Homer.”

Annie Rosenthal can be reached at annie.rosenthal@homernews.com.

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