Besides Esquiro, the Assembly had four people to choose from on Tuesday night, including the three people on the Oct. 5 municipal ballot who weren’t elected to an office: Assembly candidates Michelle Putz and Jack Ozment, and mayoral candidate John Stein.

Former Assembly member John Sherrod, who like Esquiro, did not run on the October ballot, also applied for the Assembly seat.

And the debate over who would fill the vacancy came down to two different interpretations of what voters were saying on Oct. 5.

Former Sitka Mayor Fred Reeder testified in favor of one interpretation.

“I don’t think the voters, in this case, 50 percent plus 2, the majority, said they did not want Mr. Stein on the Assembly,” Reeder said. “Nor did they want the other two candidates who have put their name in. By a resounding margin they didn’t want them.”

Michelle Putz, a candidate in October and an applicant for the appointment, disagreed.

“By no sense of the imagination do I feel like I was voted against,” she said.

Putz finished last in the Assembly race, with 19 percent of the vote, or 1,042 people.

“I do not have 1,000 friends in Sitka, and more than 1,000 people voted for me,” she said. “And so as you look at the next vote getter that went higher, Jack and up to John, those are not people who were voted against. Those are people who were voted for. I think those people who voted for them need to be represented on the Assembly.”

A majority of the public testimony favored that second viewpoint, and others, went a step further, saying it would reflect poorly upon the Assembly to appoint from outside the candidates who were on the ballot – that it would look partisan.

“Well, absolutely it’s partisan,” said Mayor Cheryl Westover. “We don’t have to say whether we’re Democrats or Republicans or independents, but we all have our political ideologies.”

Westover, a self-described fiscal conservative, said she’s been in the minority on the Assembly.

“And, I have to say, quite frankly, the three candidates, I don’t agree with,” she said. “I like them, but politically I don’t agree with them. It would be real hard for me to bring somebody up here – I just spent two years pretty much with the vote being 5 to 2. And that’s OK, because it’s the majority rules, and you live with that. But I think the voters said they do want us to move forward.”

She pointed to Terry Blake’s election as an example of that. A newcomer to Sitka politics, Blake also campaigned on fiscal conservatism, and won the most votes of any Assembly candidate on election night.

Assembly member Phyllis Hackett strongly disagreed with that interpretation, saying it was important for the Assembly to choose someone voters had already had the chance to vet during the campaign season.

“I’m really surprised that we have the option to appoint anybody that hasn’t run,” Hackett said. “That really blows my mind, actually.”

Municipal attorney Theresa Hillhouse says they haven’t always had that option. In 1996, an ordinance was passed requiring the Assembly to appoint the next-highest vote getter in the Assembly race to fill a vacancy. But the requirement was abolished in 2004.

Hackett says she’ll bring that ordinance back to the Assembly for reconsideration.

While all of this was going on, the candidates were watching silently in the audience, waiting to see which of them would end up at the table.

It took two votes, the first one a tie. Hackett and McConnell voted for Stein, Larry Crews and Thor Christianson voted for John Sherrod, and Blake and Westover voted for Esquiro.

On the second vote, Crews and Christianson switched to support Esquiro, and he was sworn in to office.

Esquiro has lived in Sitka for 35 years, and recently retired as general manager of NSRAA – the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. He says he was interested in joining the Assembly because he wants to contribute to the community.

“I’m going to be looking at ways of trying to give the citizens of Sitka their good consistent services, take care of the basics for everybody, and hopefully even come up with some new ideas on things we can consider doing for our citizens,” he said after the meeting.

Westover’s Assembly term was set to expire in 2012. According to city code, Esquiro will serve until the next regular election in 2011.
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