By DAVID GREEN
For the first time since August 1993, Russ Sutherland wasn’t sitting at the head table in Morenci City Hall as a member of city government.
City voters went for a change in the Nov. 6 general election, favoring mayoral challenger Doug Erskin by a wide margin, 263-109. Erskin took over as mayor at Monday night’s meeting.
Only about 25 percent of the electorate turned out to choose a mayor and city council members.
Incumbent council member Leasa Slocum led in the council race with 226 votes. Incumbent Dick Hewitt and newcomer Art Erbskorn tied with 221 votes.
Unsuccessful council candidates were Carl VanDeWalker with 143 votes, Jeff Lantz with 129 and Wes Clark with 97.
“Time for a change” wasn’t a slogan that Erskin came up with, he said following the election, although he did see it on yard signs that some residents created.
Erskin said he worked with Sutherland for several years on the city planning commission and he doesn’t think their views differ that much on a lot of issues.
Maybe voters were just after “new blood,” he said, but he also believes residents are looking for a say in the way the city is run.
“I really think people want to get more involved,” Erskin said. “I think they want to have a part in the changes they want.”
Erskin attended a council meeting in September seeking more enforcement of property maintenance problems in his neighborhood, but he said following the election that portions of the International Property Maintenance Code might be too harsh for a small town.
“They’re really good guidelines, and some that you have to comply with, but there should be some leeway on other issues,” he said.
Erskin said he’ll be looking for ideas rather than demands, and for more friendly ways to create change.
In the past Erskin spoke of achieving better communication between city hall and the town’s citizens and looking for a way to get students to be more involved.
Erskin said his decision to run for mayor wasn’t a frivolous one and he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“I thought about it for a long time and I hope I do a really good job,” he said. “We’ve got a really good council and I hope some positive changes can be made in the next two years. I’m really excited about it.”
SUTHERLAND ERA—Sutherland was first elected to council in August 1993 when the city was recovering from recall elections and frustrations continued over torn-up streets from the sewer separation project.
He was elected to serve as mayor in August 1997 and was at the helm during other challenges such as the closure of Morenci Area Hospital, the creation of an ALS ambulance service and cash shortfalls.
While Sutherland served as mayor, the city moved forward on many projects including the establishment of a wellhead protection plan, refurbishing the Haulette building for manufacturing space, acquiring a building for a new city hall, construction of a new library, devising a sidewalk repair plan, creation of an industrial park, park improvements, Main Street rebuilding project, the Mill Street rebuilding project and creation of the rental inspection plan.