Council approves primary election canvass amid controversy
KINGMAN – Council held a special meeting Wednesday morning to approve the primary election canvass, which it did by a vote of 3-1, Councilwoman Vickie Kress dissenting, but a group of individuals in attendance reasserted their claim that the top four write-in candidates from the primary election should advance to November’s ballot.
Public comment was not included on the agenda, but councilmembers in attendance, Vice Mayor Jen Miles and councilmembers Jamie Scott Stehly, Stuart Yocum, Vickie Kress and Travis Lingenfelter were unanimously in favor of hearing from the public. Lingenfelter appeared telephonically, and was not present come the vote.
Steve Robinson, District 1 Director for the Mohave County Republican Party, relayed his concerns to the City’s elected officials at Council’s meeting Sept. 4. He spoke again Wednesday and said the City used the wrong statute in ARS 16-645, and instead should have utilized 9-821.01. If the latter were to be used, the top four write-in candidates from the primary election would advance to November’s ballot. Those individuals would be Deana Nelson, Ken Watkins, Scott Holtry and Harley Pettit.
The issue, Robinson said, is that ARS 16 applies to partisan elections, which the Council race is not.
“Every one of these candidates were non-partisan,” Robinson said. “I looked at the last umpteenth number of elections, every one of them is a non-partisan race. That means statuette (9-821.01) subsection F defines who should be on the ballot. I just respectfully request that Council consider that fact.”
Kress agreed, calling it a “unique situation.”
“Because this is so unique, and because we’re looking at the possibility that ultimately five councilmembers will be able to select two Council positions, it’s very troubling to me that it appears that we’re not going to allow the top four candidates that received the most votes to move forward to the general election and that they are discarded,” she said. “And it seems like that’s disenfranchising not only the candidates but more importantly the citizens.”
She said there should be a second look at the resolution by City Clerk Sydney Muhle and City Attorney Carl Cooper. Muhle said Cooper and herself did go back and double check that the City was following Arizona law.
“It has been reviewed thoroughly by Mr. Cooper, and before the write-in process even started, when we realized we were going to have so many write-ins, this was also vetted through the League of Arizona Cities and Towns,” Muhle said.
Scott Stehly said she, too, asked Cooper to take a second look following the Council meeting. The response from Muhle the following day was one of confidence that the City was following the law. However, Muhle said she did not specifically ask the League of Arizona Cities and Towns about ARS 9-921.01.
“As a Council, we must rely on the legal opinions we’re given by our city attorney,” Scott Stehly said. “So I don’t want to make a judgement call today, I want to make a call based on the legal advice I’ve been given by my city attorney. And I believe there will be other routes legally that this group can take if you feel that he (Cooper) is incorrect. But I believe for the other candidates it’s important that we approve this resolution today and move forward.”
Muhle said that route would be through Mohave Superior Court.
The resolution approved by Council officially landed SueAnn Mello Keener a seat on Council with 3,429 votes. Other primary election results were as follows: 3,191 votes for Miles in the mayoral race versus 2,586 for Mayor Monica Gates, and write-in candidate results of 409 votes for Deana Nelson, 375 for Ken Watkins, 292 for Scott Holtry, 239 for Harley Pettit and 165 for Timothy Griepp. Yocum received 108 votes, but suspended his candidacy and was not a valid candidate.