PALMER — The Palmer City Council sat in silence at their special meeting on Tuesday to elect an interim council member to replace retired Deputy Mayor Pete LaFrance. The council sat in silence not once, or twice, but three times for minutes, waiting for a better opportunity to present itself. That opportunity was given to Imran Chaudry, who was selected as the interim Palmer City Council member until elections in August. Chaudry is the only candidate that remained an applicant for the open Council position that was not on the ballot in October. Steve Carrington crossed over on his previous votes to cast his vote for Chaudry alongside Julie Berberich, David Fuller and Sabrena Combs, ending the weeks long search and possible violation of city code.
“We’ve had two weeks to change our minds and I don’t see that happening, we need a solution,” pleaded Sabrena Combs.
After the council gaveled into their special meeting and reiterated their arguments for the two candidates that votes had been cast for, Richard Best and Jill Valerius, the vote remained deadlocked. Best had served on the council less than one year ago, but was voted out last election. Best took a job with Representative Ben Carpenter (R-Kenai) as his Chief of Staff. Valerius runs Now Health in Palmer. When the council originally went into the committee on the whole to discuss the candidates, there were five. Chaudry was sick on the night of the original selection, and Larry Hill withdrew his name. That left Palmer Mayor from 2001 to 2004 Jim Cooper, Valerius and Best. After votes to narrow the candidates down to Valerius and Best, the council asked additional questions, most of which centered around a possible time conflict between Best’s job in the legislature and his possible duties as a city councilman. Best negated the concerns, saying he would not have a problem conducting the city’s business, and noted that members of the current council were attending the meeting telephonically.
Multiple motions came to the floor that were not voted on as the final solution. Fuller moved to vacate the seat, simply leaving it empty until October. City Attorney Michael Gatti acknowledged that the city’s code and charter seem to contradict themselves, but it was clear that the council must have appointed a new council member within 45 days. The deadline was August 10. The negative impacts of not having a council member would be minimal, but Gatti warned that the council could find themselves in gridlock as they currently were more often. Fuller made another motion to postpone the meeting, which was not seconded, and finally moved to decide the city council member selection on a coin flip, which also was not seconded. After two at-eases and a phone call to Chaudry, who was currently in Seattle and unaware if he was still able to commit to the position, the council voted Chaudry as the interim council member. Just before the vote was taken, Mayor Edna DeVries made a motion to recess the meeting, which did not pass. Chaudry has no prior government experience, but will serve the remainder of LaFrance’s term.