By Ross Markman
Richard Pierson went into Tuesday night's Havre City Council meeting as a Democratic candidate seeking to reclaim the position he's held for the last eight years city council member.
He left as not only the eighth member of council, getting the City Council's nod over Republican Jerry Hanson, but also as its chairman.
Just minutes after the council voted 5-2 to appoint Pierson to the vacant seat, it voted again, this time 5-3, naming Pierson its new president.
Pierson's appointment comes on the heels of a three-month-long, voting fiasco that originally saw Pierson emerge as a 293-292 winner of the Nov. 6 election. Several days later, a recount showed that Hanson had actually won the election by the same one-vote margin. Even further inspection revealed that three of the ballots lacked the official stamp of approval administered by election judges, thereby nullifying those votes and making the election a 291-291 tie.
That left the decision up to the City Council.
The ballot confusion behind him, Pierson said he's ready to move on.
"I'm honored. I'm glad I was their choice. And I'm surprised about (being named) council president. I hope I can live up to those people's expectations," Pierson said. "Most of these people (on the council) I've worked with. I hoped they would choose me based on merit, knowledgability and experience."
According to council member Emily Mayer Lossing, that's exactly why she voted for Pierson.
"He has the experience to do the job and I like to see some sort of experience on a city council," Lossing said.
Gary Schubert, the lone Republican on the council, joined Democrat Tom Farnham as the only two members to vote in favor of Hanson filling the vacant council seat. Schubert said his reasons for voting for Hanson went beyond party lines.
"My feelings were that the people supported Hanson. And that's all I'm representing is the people of Havre," he said.
Hanson said that although he anticipated Pierson's victory Tuesday night, he's unsure how he feels about the result and is uncertain if he'd ever venture into local politics again.
"I have some mixed feelings right now. I'm a little bit (disappointed)," Hanson said today. "I still don't think the voters of Ward 2 should have been penalized."
Resident Chuck Grant agreed, suggesting to the council that it was violating the U.S. Constitution by appointing Pierson.
"The intent of the law is not to deny the citizens of this country the right to vote. It means a lot to me to have my vote counted. And I consider this my vote," Grant said.
"Unless you go with the law and the majority of the voters, the intent of the Congress is not there," Grant added.
According to Mayor Bob Rice, leaving the matter to the council was the only solution, and more importantly, it was a legal solution.
"I have researched this with the city attorney. He has shown me statute upon statute that shows this is the right thing to do," Rice said. "There was no winner. That's why the council is voting on it. This is the way the system works and it's the best system we have right now."