Sitka assembly member Dave Miller stepped down from his three-year term early when the assembly met on Tuesday (10-11-22). The assembly must now decide who will fill his seat, while anticipating that another could become vacant in the next month.

Retired fire chief Dave Miller said he was stepping down from his assembly seat after one year due to health reasons. The assembly formally accepted Miller’s resignation at its October 11 meeting. Then it had a difficult task: Deciding how to replace him.

Under city code, if an assembly seat becomes vacant, the assembly must elect a qualified person to fill the vacancy within 20 days. How the assembly chooses the person is up to them. In 2016, when Matt Hunter was elected mayor, the assembly gave his seat to runner-up Aaron Swanson.  In 2014 it chose Michelle Putz from a pool of applicants to fill Phyllis Hackett’s seat after she resigned.

That’s the route the assembly has chosen to select Miller’s replacement. The group unanimously decided to seek letters of interest and select a person from the pool to fill the role at its next regular meeting.

That didn’t sit well with some supporters of Richard Wein, the candidate who came in third place in this year’s municipal election with 925 votes. Several community members spoke in favor of the assembly appointing Wein to the role.

“You should go by the votes,” said Shirley Robards. “1000 votes is a lot of votes…Maybe I could get a petition together and give it to you folks, and see if I change your mind. But I know what you’re doing. You’re looking for somebody that’s going to vote the way you want to vote. And you know, Dr. Wein is a very, very smart man. And he knows what he’s talking about. And I know a lot of you don’t like that, but I think it’s wrong.” 

Wein said a letter of interest is not a vote, and said by filling the seat with an applicant who didn’t run in this year’s election, the assembly would set a precedent that would discourage people from running for public office. 

“What it says is, you know, maybe I should hope that a seat will open up, and then I don’t have to really do any work, except exude my personal charms in order to obtain a seat. I apologize to everyone if I did not graduate charm school. But that’s a fact. But I did graduate a lot of schools, and I love to do my homework,” Wein said, then added, “You will do what you will do. And I respect that.”

But assembly member Thor Christianson said the precedent has already been set and cited himself as proof. In 2014, Christianson narrowly lost out on an assembly seat, and then was passed by in the nomination process. And even though he didn’t like it at the time, he found the process and reasoning legitimate.

“In 2014 I lost by 60 votes, and then right after that, Phyllis Hackett resigned, and I was not chosen,” Christianson said. “The reasoning given was that they wanted to pick somebody who…as much as possible would…represent – I know we don’t have individual constituents– but who Phyllis would [represent].”  

Member Rebecca Himschoot said the assembly hadn’t ruled Wein out, and she hoped he would apply. Member Crystal Duncan also suggested that the assembly could weigh votes garnered in the election as part of their criteria for choosing a candidate. Both Himschoot and Duncan spoke to how running a campaign can be a barrier to entry for some candidates. 

“This might be creating an opportunity for someone who didn’t think they could handle an entire campaign. It’s grueling, it’s not easy,” said Himschoot. “I would like to have a diverse pool of applicants, including diversity of thought, to choose from…and then we’ll make the best decision, when we have that full pool of applicants. So that pool can include anyone who ran for election, as well as people who did not.”

Dave Miller’s resignation is further complicated by the fact that the Sitka Assembly could be facing a second vacancy in the near future. Himschoot is one of two candidates vying to represent House District 2 in the Alaska Legislature. One member of the public said that if the assembly decides to go the route of replacing Miller with the 3rd runner up, it should replace a possible future vacancy with the next highest vote getter. 

Process aside, it was clear many assembly members felt Miller wasn’t easily replaced. Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz said he didn’t like the fact that Miller was resigning, but he understood.

“And I hope that the community feels the same way. I’m glad that you’re putting yourself first, because you’ve put the community first for as long as I’ve known you,” Eisenbeisz said. “And that’s a very noble and humbling thing, and it’s something that I look up to, because I don’t think anybody ever doubted that you put the community first in your decisions.”

The assembly will take applications through noon on Monday, October 24. They’ll appoint a new assembly member at their October 25 meeting. The appointee will serve as an assembly member until the 2023 municipal election next October. Then Sitkans will decide at the polls who will finish out the third and final year of Miller’s term.