Blades appointed to council

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Blades appointed to councilThe Ridgecrest City Council voted 4-0 to appoint Kyle Blades to the vacant seat on the council. He was sworn into office immediately after the vote.

City Attorney Keith Lemieux briefed the council and public on the events leading up to the appointment. On Nov. 20 the seat was declared vacant when former Vice Mayor Wallace Martin resigned as one of the terms of a legal claim challenging his eligibility as a resident who allegedly dwells outside of city limits.

The council discussed at its Dec. 4 meeting whether it would order a special election or appoint a replacement to serve the remaining 11 months of the term.

At that meeting the council decided to solicit applicants and stated its intent to independently interview candidates and appoint one at the Dec. 18 meeting.

By the time the filing period closed on Dec. 16, the city had received 17 applications.

Lemieux noted that there is no set process for how the council chooses to appoint candidates, but Mayor Peggy Breeden said that a public comment period would be open to allow each of the applicants, as well as members of the public, five minutes to make a case.

The pool included two former members of council, Chip Holloway and Steven Morgan; as well as several past and present members on the city’s Planning Commission, Matthew Bauduin, Bill Farris, Blades, Warren Cox and Solomon Rajeratnam.

Also applying for the seat was Scott Leahy, who came in third – just behind Wallace Martin – in the 2016 council election and who filed the legal claim challenging Martin’s residency.

Other applicants included Christian Aguirre, Ernie Bell, Brian Bunce, William Carroll, Diane Foucher, Scott Garver, Ronnie Merrill, Jonathan Payton and Lyn Whitcomb.

Most of the applicants introduced themselves and outlined qualifications and reasons for running. Several members of the public also stood up to express support for their candidates of choice.

Speaking from the public microphone, Sarah Wersan urged the council to chose someone who was neutral on the issue of the casino — an issue that has been a divisive subject at City Hall and what many believe to be a motivation’s for Martin’s removal.

“There are issues outside of that for the council to decide,” said Wersan. “I’m just urging you to pick someone as impartial as possible on contentious issues.”

Mayor Pro Tem Lindsey Stephens thanked applicants for their time and willingness to serve.

“I just want to say it’s amazing we have this many,” said Councilman Mike Mower. He said that he hoped that whoever was not chosen would consider running for council next fall. The filing period opens in August.

He whittled his “short list” down to Blades, Cox, Foucher and Morgan.

Councilmember Scott Hayman agreed that it was encouraging to see so many apply, but added it made the decision more difficult.

He said his top three choices would be Blades, Rajeratnam and Farris.

Stephens responded to the request from the public microphone to consider appointing someone with council experience. “I think part of the reason why I got elected was because people wanted a fresh perspective on the council,” she said.

However, she did agree that appointing a member of the Planning Commission would at least give the appointee some experience in dealing with the city. Her short list was the same as Hayman’s — which featured three sitting members of the commission.

Breeden also expressed pleasure at the large pool of candidates.

“However, if you are not all around here after this is over, I say shame on you. It’s very easy to put your name up without having to campaign,” which she said is difficult, time-consuming and expensive.

She named Farris and Bell as her top picks.

She also noted that two candidates had been identified as having potential conflicts of interest with the city — Rajaratnam, who manages a bank the city does business with; and Morgan, whose wife is an employee at City Hall. Rajaratnam said that in order to avoid the appearance of any conflict, he would withdraw his name from consideration.

Mower made the motion to appoint Blades, who he identified as being a neutral person with experience on the commission.

“I could argue in favor of a lot of candidates,” he said, adding that a lot of them might be divisive in the community.

“I second,” said Hayman. “I’ve worked with Kyle before. Spoken with him on numerous occasions. One thing I keep coming back to is that he is humble.”

Neither Breeden nor Stephens provided comment before voting their assent.

Blades’ removal from the Planning Commission would leave at least one opening. Because Farris was Martin’s appointment, that could have created two vacancies. With a staff recommendation and council council consensus, Farris will stay on the commission.

“Thank you for your faith in me,” said Blades. He told the council he understands the gravity of the office, and told the public that he understands that people might feel disenfranchised in not being able to vote on the matter.

“However, I hope to hit the ground running and get to work.”

Pictured: Kyle Blades, who has served on the Ridgecrest Planning Commission for the last few months, is seated on the City Council at Wednesday’s meeting. Also pictured are Mayor Pro Tem Lindsey Stephens (left) and Mayor Peggy Breeden. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-12-20