Mike Navarre attended his first Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting as mayor Tuesday night, where assembly members offered more details on what the special election process will look like to find his successor. Navarre, who was appointed as interim mayor by a 7-2 vote of the assembly in September, officially took over on Oct. 1 for former Mayor Charlie Pierce.
Navarre has appointed Max Best as his chief of staff and on Tuesday designated Best as the administrative officer responsible for exercising the powers and duties of the mayor in Navarre’s absence. The approved alternate administrative officer is Finance Director Brandi Harbaugh.
Navarre took time during his first mayor’s report to address concerns voiced surrounding his appointment as interim mayor last month. The assembly received pushback following Navarre’s appointment from some residents who said the process left out members of the public. Others say a majority of assembly members agreed on Navarre as the best path forward.
Navarre said Tuesday that his appointment came after “significant discussion,” including a question and answer session with assembly members in committee, and reiterated that he views the interim mayor position as a caretaker role.
“In terms of the way I intend to conduct myself as far as the administration of government goes, you know, I see this as a caretaker role for me until the next mayor is elected at the special election,” Navarre said.
Navarre said his chief of staff has 25 years of experience working for the Kenai Peninsula Borough and that Best’s presence will help Navarre take care of issues currently facing the borough. Navarre will serve as the borough’s interim mayor until voters select a new mayor through a special election, which has not yet been scheduled.
Assembly members approved for introduction during Wednesday’s meeting an ordinance setting the date of the special mayoral election — though the date was left blank pending an assembly decision — and approving the use of $250,000 from the borough’s general fund to conduct the special election and special runoff election, if necessary.
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.
The earliest the borough could hold a special mayoral election is Jan. 9, however, Blankenship has expressed concerns about being able to follow borough code’s noticing requirements for absentee by-mail voting. Alaska State Statute requires that the special election process be done by April 2.
Assembly members have tossed around several potential dates early next year on which the special mayoral election, certification and runoff election could be held. Assembly Vice President Brent Hibbert during the assembly’s Tuesday Finance Committee meeting proposed holding the special election on Feb. 14, 2023, certifying the results at the assembly’s Feb. 21 meeting and then having a runoff election on March 7.
Assembly member Bill Elam asked during that committee meeting whether assembly member Jesse Bjorkman’s bid for the Alaska State Senate would affect the timeline of the special mayoral election. Bjorkman is running against Tuckerman Babcock to represent Kenai and Soldotna in the Alaska Legislature.
Blankenship said that borough code calls for an assembly appointment when an assembly vacancy occurs. Whoever is appointed to fill the vacancy would serve on the assembly until the borough’s next regular election.
“It’s much more clearly laid out in this section of code (that) when there’s a vacancy at the assembly level, for an application process and appointment,” Blankenship said.
A public hearing on the legislation setting a special mayoral election date and appropriating the needed funds will be held during the assembly’s Oct. 25 meeting. Tuesday’s meeting can be streamed on the borough website at kpb.legistar.com.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at email@example.com.