PINETOP-LAKESIDE – Many people who may not have been Facebook users became so on Thursday, Jan. 7 just so they could watch the council meeting which was closed to the public due to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases. Eight well-qualified candidates appeared before the council for interview, one at a time, and then councilors adjourned to executive session to discuss the contenders. When council reconvened 25 minutes later, Paul Watson was nominated and approved in a 4-1 vote to fill the seat vacated by Councilor Kathy Dahnk who resigned due to health concerns.
There were nine candidate packets turned in by the Dec. 18 deadline with James Brimhall, Taber Heisler, Paul Watson, Wayne R. Booher, Mark H. Vest, William S. Roberts, Derrick Cavey, Dylan Baca and Derrick Brown, all hoping to capture the vacant seat. Each appeared before council for interview except Vest who withdrew his name from the list on Dec. 31, after making the decision to focus on his new career position at Blue Ridge at this time.
The interview process began about eight minutes after the official council meeting began and lasted slightly over an hour before it was concluded and council went into the executive session.
Councilor Sterling Beus recused himself from the interview process as his son-in-law, James Brimhall, was one of the candidates.
Following the executive session, Councilor Lynn Krigbaum made the motion that Watson fill the vacant seat and Vice Mayor Jerry Smith seconded. Mayor Stephanie Irwin, Smith and Councilors Krigbaum and Jim Snitzer voted in the affirmative and Councilor Mazie Hastings was a nay vote.
Immediately following the vote, Irwin asked the Hon. David Widmaier of the Pinetop-Lakeside Justice Court to administer the oath of office to Watson. Subsequently Watson took his seat among the other councilors for the remainder of the meeting.
In a Jan. 8 press release, Irwin said, “We were very fortunate to have such a strong slate of candidates to consider for this appointment. Each one of the applicants brought a unique set of skills and vision to the table and that made our decision a very difficult one to make. I want to thank all the applicants who decided to step up and were willing to serve our community. It took courage for each of them to put themselves under the spotlight and I am grateful to have such willing community leaders among our residents.”
Irwin invited the remaining candidates to consider volunteer opportunities within the town to offer their expertise and reminded them that there would be an opportunity in 2022 to consider running for council.
Watson is already very familiar with Pinetop-Lakeside. He served as town manager and finance director for the town from 1985 to 2004. He began his public service career in the White Mountains working first in Springerville and then moving on as finance director for the Town of Eagar. Most recently he retired from Navajo County Government as its assistant county manager and economic development director. Just six months post retirement, Navajo County secured Watson’s services as a consultant to assist with the state and federal economic issues plaguing the county due to COVID-19.
Watson has been an active board member for a number of organizations including Summit Healthcare Regional Medical Center, Northern Arizona Council of Governments Regional Council, REAL AZ Development Council and the White Mountains Partnership among others.
The Independent spoke with Watson on Friday following his appointment to the PTLS council. Watson, an avid golfer, had escaped from the rigors of work and managed to do a day turn-around golf trip to Phoenix for a little relaxation.
Watson said, “My only regret last night is I really did not get a chance to say anything. I take the oath of office very seriously. I was really impressed with the level of candidates that put in their applications. There was a lot of good experience in different areas and I felt everyone sincerely wanted to help their community. I want to thank the council for their confidence in me and I look forward to working with them.”
Watson said he had been approached by several people to run for the council seat, but the real impetus for his decision was his wife. When he discussed the issue with her, she told him she believed he should run.
One thing Watson will also bring to the council chair which is not on his resume, is a sense of humor, something anyone who has ever worked with him has seen first-hand. Though serious about any issue he encounters, he never fails to bring a bit of levity to the table.
Watson’s term will expire Nov. 17, 2022.