It came down to Alan Richrod by a nod in the long, strange trip to fill the vacant 5th Ward seat on the Aberdeen City Council. He narrowly defeated William Simpson, the son of Mayor Bill Simpson, in a 6 to 4 vote Monday night.
Only 10 of the 12 council members were there to vote, since there was one vacancy and councilmember Jeff Cook was excused. It came down to the last vote, cast by outgoing councilmember John Smith, who was defeated in the fall election. A vote for Simpson would have made it a 5-5 tie, leaving it to the mayor to cast the tiebreaker. But Smith voted for Richrod.
It’s been an odd journey for Richrod. Back in spring, when he challenged veteran Harbor politician and councilmember John Erak, Richrod was a long shot. Erak died in early summer and the council appointed Richrod to the seat. Meantime, Erak’s name remained on the ballot, opposed by Richrod, and Erak won the general election. After the election, Richrod had to vacate the seat as soon as the Nov. 5 election was certified, on Nov. 26, leaving the seat open until last night.
Simpson chose to run against Richrod in what promised to be a close election for the appointment which is good until 2015 per state election rules.
The vote was a cliffhanger from the start.
Council President Kathi Hoder, a strong ally of the mayor, led off the discussion, the last item of the year for the council. She mentioned several times it was a tough decision for her. She interviewed people in the 5th ward who told her they voted for Erak, thinking “they were the only one.” Others had nothing bad to say about Richrod, some voted for him. She had encouraged Simpson to run. Her hat was off to Richrod for running against Erak in the first place.
“I hope tonight that no enemies are caused, no hard feelings are caused by our votes, because I like and respect every one of you on this council,” Hoder said. She said it had been extremely hard for her but “I have to know that what I did was right and that everything I do to the best of my ability passes what I call the smell test.”
Peter Schave, the other member for the 5th Ward, then nominated William Simpson and was seconded by Denny Lawrence.
“I nominate Mr. Richrod, Alan Richrod,” said Jim Cook, who was seconded by Smith.
Cook thought Richrod had been done an “extreme disservice” by the election rules, and that the election process would be subverted if Richrod were not appointed. Cook said he believed it only right to vote for Richrod, though he had nothing against Simpson.
Tim Alstrom said he happened to disagree with those comments, that “two fine gentlemen” were running and that people “should vote their conscience.” He’d be happy with the vote either way, it was a tough choice, he said. Lawrence agreed it was difficult to come to a decision.
“I am going to vote for the person who I think will represent the city best,” Lawrence said.
The vote was called for. Roll call? asked the mayor. “I’d like a roll call, please,” said Cook.
Finance Director Kathryn Skolrood read the names. Alstrom: “Richrod,” James Cook: “Richrod,” Hoder: “Mr. Alan Richrod,” Lawrence: “Simpson”, (Jerry) Mills: “Simpson,” (Doug) Paling: “Richrod,” (Alice) Phelps: “Simpson,” Schave: “Simpson,” (Margo) Shortt: “Richrod,” and Smith, “Richrod.”
“Six to four, Richrod,” Skolrood said.
“Mr. Richrod, if you will step forward, we will swear you in,” Mayor Simpson said.
“This is getting to be a habit,” said Cook. Applause broke out, Skolrood did the honors, and Richrod sat in his chair to vote to close the meeting by voice vote shortly thereafter. Many members encouraged Simpson to run again.
Afterwards, Richrod was gracious as council maven Betty Belles, who has her own seat in the audience, gave him her seal of approval. “I tell it like it is,” she said. “I’m doing something right,” he said.
How did he feel? “I’m tired, been working all day,” said Richrod who works in the spar shop at Grays Harbor Historic Seaport. “Actually, I told Bill Jr. ‘there’re two seats coming up (in 2015) so don’t go anywhere.’ Because he’s a good man, he’s eminently qualified and we need fresh ideas and energy because the city has got lots of work to do.”
And there’s more enthusiasm to improve Aberdeen, he said. “I am encouraged by what people are wanting to do,” he said.
Richrod will likely run again for the seat in 2015, he said. Simpson wasn’t quite as sure. Either way, whoever wins that contest will finally finish the term of the late John Erak in 2017, when the cycle will begin anew for Ward 5, Position 10.
Erin Hart, 360-537-3932, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter, @DW_Erin.