Bellevue to hold special election to fill City Council vacancy - Omaha.com
Published Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 11:00 am
Bellevue to hold special election to fill City Council vacancy

Bellevue will hold a special election to fill a City Council vacancy created in March when Scott Houghtaling moved.

The council approved the election for Ward 1 after three tense months of deadlock and a raucous meeting Monday evening.

Dozens of residents had asked the council to get the matter resolved, and Secretary of State John Gale wrote a letter chastising the city for taking so long to decide on the next step.

The election will take place Oct. 15, according to the Sarpy County Election Commission.

According to state law, a mayor fills an open position with the consent of the City Council.

But three Bellevue council members blocked Mike Hall, Mayor Rita Sanders' appointee to the post, saying that another candidate, Dave Compton, had better qualifications.

Sanders and the council's other two members had voted down a special election proposed by the council members who had blocked Hall.

On Monday night, Sanders offered a different appointee, Bill Bonitz. The same three council members who opposed Hall — Don Preister, Carol Blood and Steve Knutson — also rejected Bonitz, saying the only correct course of action was an election.

Councilwoman Kathy Saniuk asked Preister, Blood and Knutson whether they would accept any appointee. They said no; they would only approve a special election. “I'd rather see the people make the choice,” Knutson said.

Blood said she would have accepted an appointee earlier, but now wants an election.

So Saniuk switched her earlier vote against a special election. Sanders also reversed course and approved the election, though she said she was unhappy about the cost.

The Sarpy County election commissioner has said the election will cost up to $10,000.

The added expense comes at a time when the city is trying to cut $5 million from next year's budget.

Councilman Paul Cook voted against the election.

Monday night's session occurred before a nearly full council chamber, and the audience expressed its displeasure with the group.

Former council member John Ott said Gale had admonished the council as a parent would admonish a child.

“I think he didn't just slap your hand, I think he flat-out slapped you on the bottom,” Ott said.

He urged the council to approve Bonitz's appointment.

Preister, council president, tried to say that Gale had supported the idea of a special election when he wrote “If it takes a special election, the Mayor and Council must expeditiously move forward with that special election without the need for a citizen's lawsuit.”

But people in the audience interrupted Preister by yelling, “No!”

Later, Saniuk read from Gale's press release: “The role of the council members is to provide a check on the appointment process to ensure that the appointee is qualified and suited for the position. It's not the role of the council to arbitrarily reject an appointee because they want a different candidate — one that more closely meets their political goals.”

At another point in the meeting, Councilwoman Blood argued with Chuck Fredrick, a former councilman and longtime council observer.

The mayor eventually used her gavel to stop the exchange and told Fredrick to leave the podium.

Fredrick, who applied for the vacant Ward 1 seat, had earlier contended that Sanders should appoint Steve Carmichael, who lost to Houghtaling in last year's election.

Fredrick left the podium, but only after telling Blood that he knows more people in Ward 1 than she does and that they agree with him.

Contact the writer: Roseann Moring

roseann.moring@owh.com    |   402-444-1084    |  

Roseann covers Bellevue and Sarpy County crime.

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