Mike Navarre to fill in as Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor

a man in a windbreaker
Mike Navarre has been mayor of the Kenai Peninsula Borough twice before. He said his interim tenure in the role, beginning Oct. 1, will be to keep the borough relatively stable during its leadership transition. (Sabine Poux/KDLL)

Former Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre will be back on the job, temporarily, while the borough readies for a special election to fill the now-vacant seat.

The borough assembly appointed Navarre to the position Tuesday night — less than two weeks after current Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce announced he was resigning at the end of September to focus on his campaign for governor.

Navarre has been borough mayor twice before, from 1996 to 1999 and again from 2011 to 2017. He’ll serve as mayor until the borough holds a special election to finish out Pierce’s term through 2023.

Navarre said he has no plans to run for another partial or full term. But he said he wants to help the borough through its leadership transition — which he said will be especially important during the upcoming budget process for fiscal year 2024.

“I guess what I want people to know is I see this as a caretaker role,” Navarre said. “It’s a unique situation for the borough in that the mayor has resigned to run for higher office. There’s going to be a time that the borough needs to have consistent management and keep things settled down going forward.”

Navarre will start Oct. 1.

The interim appointment wasn’t a given. Borough Attorney Sean Kelley said in a legal memo last week that the assembly had a few paths forward to temporarily fill the seat before a special election. He said the assembly could appoint an interim mayor or that it could defer to the currently designated administrative officer as the chief executive — Finance Director Brandi Harbaugh.

Assembly member Tyson Cox put forward Navarre’s name at last night’s meeting. He said that, with just a few months until a special election, it was important to get the process underway. And he said Navarre’s name came up repeatedly when he spoke to constituents.

“It’s a tough job for us to do,” Cox said at a committee meeting. “We have appointments to make sometimes. And this is one of those tough times. And I think we just need to make some choices.”

Kelley said there’s no part of state or borough code that dictates how an interim appointment would have to be made. Some assembly members said they would have liked to see candidates apply for the seat.

The assembly ultimately confirmed Navarre to the role in a 7-2 vote.

Navarre represented the central Kenai Peninsula in the Alaska Legislature for 11 years, as a Democrat, and served as commissioner for the Alaska Department of Commerce. He is a business owner in Kenai and today is on the boards of the Rasmuson Foundation and Kenai Peninsula Boys and Girls Club, according to a resume submitted to the assembly.

Navarre said between natural disasters and economic crises, there’s a lot that can come across the mayor’s plate at any time. He said having someone with experience temporarily in the role will help ease the learning curve.

“When I came into the job in 1996, it was overwhelming,” Navarre said. “And it’s not just the learning curve, where you have to learn all that goes on in the different departments and the nuances within the service areas and things like that. But it’s also that you never know what direction you’re going to get hit from.”

He said he’s in talks with a potential candidate for chief of staff to be his right hand. The borough mayor salary is $99,000, according to municipal code.

The borough doesn’t yet have a date for a special election. The assembly will have to decide on a date by ordinance at a future meeting. Navarre said he anticipates a special election next spring.

And the borough has not yet put out a notice or deadline for candidates to file with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. On Tuesday, Navarre said former Sen. Peter Micciche and Soldotna City Council member Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings, both of Soldotna, had expressed interest in running for the seat.

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