Former Mayor Mike Navarre will take over as mayor when Kenai Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce steps away at the end of September to focus his efforts on his campaign for governor. The vote was taken at Tuesday night’s Assembly meeting and was something of a surprise.
Assemblyman Richard Derkevorkian wanted to get more public input before the decision was made.
“I pushed for this appointment to be postponed until the next assembly meeting on Sept. 20 to allow interested parties to submit resumes for the Assembly to review at the next meeting. This would have allowed the public to be involved in the process. The candidates would have been included in the agenda packet, and the public would have had an opportunity to comment on the proposed candidates,” he said.
Assemblyman Tyson Cox of Soldotna, however, drove the push for getting the appointment done quickly. The Assembly voted 7-2 in favor of his proposal; there was little public involvement. Derkevorkian and Assemblyman Bill Elam were the only members who voted against it.
“This completely bypassed involving the public,” Derkevorkian said.
The item was a “lay down,” which means it was a last-minute item and the public was not aware that something as important as choosing an interim mayor was on the agenda. “There would have been no interruption to borough activities if we had waited until Sept. 20. Mayor Pierce’s resignation doesn’t take effect until the end of the month,” Derkevorkian said.
Navarre, a Democrat and political activist, was mayor of the borough from 1996-1999 and later from 2011-2017. He was elected to the Alaska House of Representatives, was the commissioner of the Commerce for former Gov. Bill Walker, and is a co-chair of the Walker for Governor campaign.
There was an air of orchestration to the quick deliberation and vote, without inviting public comment. Navarre, who attended the meeting for the first time in a long while, sat in the back of the room for most of the proceedings, but came forward to speak to the Assembly at one point during the deliberations. He said he sees the role as a caretaker position. But his role will involve work on the 2024 budget.
Pierce is leaving the borough with as much as a $30 million surplus, after not raising taxes during his five-year tenure.