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Poway mayor Don Higginson promised May 19 would be an interesting night: the city’s four sitting councilmembers were scheduled to appoint a candidate to fill the vacant council seat left after mayor Mickey Cafagna lost his bout with cancer last month.

The most interesting part was watching the council try to meet the stringent timeline set forward in the agenda.

Within a few hours, the council was expected to interview the remaining nine candidates for 12 minutes each, deliberate on the interviews, and then come to a consensus on one candidate.

Some questions they asked the candidates: what was their biggest civic accomplishment; where they stand on affordable housing, employee pensions, and labor unions; what methods would they use to resolve issues during city council meetings.

As for the nine applicants, their backgrounds varied. There was a nicely dressed former banker who previously served as the city’s mayor; a retired Marine determined to help right the city’s financial ship; a former assistant city manager of Poway who touted his knowledge of how the city works; a doctor who offered her skills at diagnosis and treatment of problems; a human resource manager for Hewlett Packard who promised top-notch mediation skills; and a senior project consultant for San Diego Gas and Electric whose first line of her résumé read, “I love Poway. It’s that simple.”

After each applicant had been interviewed, the council took a quick break, called the session back to order, and deliberated on which candidate was best suited to fill the empty seat.

Mayor Higginson asked his colleagues to nominate two candidates, in hopes of finding a consensus. He joked, “I feel like I’m on Dancing with the Stars or American Idol.”

Then, councilmembers began to list the criteria they were looking for in the new councilmember.

Longtime city councilmember Betty Rexford wanted someone that would be ready to “hit the ground running,” already experienced, and aware of the city’s issues. She chose former assistant city manager John Fitch and former Poway mayor Carl Kruse.

Councilmember Jim Cunningham picked two candidates who would symbolize a forward step in city politics, people able to provide a new outlook on old issues. He nominated the Harvard-educated doctor, Alexandra Page, and Sabrina Butler, the senior project consultant and lover of all things Poway.

Mayor Higginson chose former assistant city manager John Fitch and political newcomer Alexandra Page. Councilwoman Merrilee Boyack chose former mayor and retired banker Carl Kruse and Sabrina Butler.

After nearly an hour of deliberation (well past the time allotted on the agenda) and four different motions all ending in stalemate, the city council was at an impasse.

With no resolution in sight and with further items on the agenda, the council decided to postpone the announcement and hold a second round of interviews with four final candidates. Those candidates were: Carl Kruse, John Fitch, Alexandra Page, and Sabrina Butler.

Outside, after the ruling, Poway residents were heard chattering.

“Sometimes, you just have to make a decision,” one woman said.

For more on the candidates, go to ci.poway.ca.us or attend the second round of interviews at the special meeting on Tuesday, May 26, in council chambers at 7p.m.

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