City voters pick newcomers — and Hawley

VERGENNES — In what officials said was strong turnout for a special election, Vergennes voters on Tuesday — out of a field of 14 candidates — chose three political newcomers and former longtime city manager Mel Hawley to fill four vacancies on the Vergennes City Council. 

Joining Hawley as councilors are city restaurateurs Dickie Austin and Ian Huizenga and contract administrator Jill Murray-Killon. 

Hawley and Huizenga won terms that will expire this coming March, while Austin and Murray-Killon earned council seats through March 2022. 

Hawley defeated former councilor David Small by one vote in that race. Small did not immediately respond on Tuesday night to a request seeking comment on whether he would ask for a recount. 

Small, Huizenga, Murray-Killon and Austin had campaigned as a team and urged residents to support the four of them as a group. 

Among the candidates that Huizenga, Murray-Killon, Austin and Hawley defeated were former mayor Michael Daniels and former multi-term councilors Ziggy Comeau and Randall Ouellette. 

Other candidates had less civic experience, but, like the winners who lacked political backgrounds, had pledged to work hard on behalf of the city and its residents after a summer that saw a mayor and three other councilors resign.

Those resignations occurred after a much-criticized July council meeting in which City Manager Daniel Hofman unveiled text messages from then mayor Jeff Fritz that appeared to threaten Deputy Mayor Lynn Donnelly and Councilor David Austin. 

A number of residents objected to the fact that Hofman shared the texts with Donnelly and Austin before the meeting, but did not share the texts with other members of the council beforehand. Some publicly likened the meeting to a coup against Fritz.

The new councilors will join Donnelly, now serving as mayor, and David Austin and Councilor Lowell Bertrand on a newly configured city council. Hofman said they could meet as early as later this week to handle business that has been postponed since July because the council has lacked a quorum.

The vote tallies for each race on Tuesday, which posted a 36 percent turnout, were: 

• For the two terms that expire in March 2021: Ian Huizenga, 383; Mel Hawley, 339; David Small, 338; Michael Daniels, 251; Julian Cesner, 73; Michel “DJ” Djordjevic, 22; Rainwalker Winterpainter, 19; Justin Bassett, 19; Raymond Paul, 9. 

• For the two terms that expire in March 2022: Dickie Austin, 470; Jill Murray-Killon, 379; Ziggy Comeau, 176; Beverly Biello, 155; Randy Ouellette, 94; Julian Cesner, 62; Michel “DJ” Djordjevic, 41; Justin Bassett, 33; Raymond Paul, 21. 

The Independent plans to publish a more detailed article about this election in Thursday’s print edition. 

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