Candidates trickle in for Surprise District 3 vacancy

City of Surprise Council Member John Williams, right, speaks about road improvements during a Surprise Regional Chamber of Commerce forum Wednesday, July 27, 2016 at Surprise Ford in Surprise. a year later, Mr. Williams has resigned and Ms. Norberg is one of two declared candidates for the council vacancy. (Independent Newsmedia/Jacob Stanek)
City of Surprise Council Member John Williams, right, speaks about road improvements during a Surprise Regional Chamber of Commerce forum Wednesday, July 27, 2016 at Surprise Ford in Surprise. a year later, Mr. Williams has resigned and Ms. Norberg is one of two declared candidates for the council vacancy. (Independent Newsmedia/Jacob Stanek)

Richard Smith
Independent Newsmedia

Thus far three candidates have thrown their hats in the ring for the Surprise City Council vacancy in District 3 caused by John Williams’ resignation.

Gisele Norberg, who ran against Mr. Williams in 2016, said last week she remains interested. Former councilman Gary “Doc” Sullivan, a councilman about a decade ago, made his intent to interview for the vacancy known Wednesday.

Then resident Randal Kidd, Jr. filed his paperwork Thursday afternoon.

“I am  just as committed now to take that position as I was last year. I learned so much on the campaign and being able to learn on P&Z is fantastic and I love being there,” Ms. Norberg said. “It’s definitely still a desire I have. John has done a great job, especially with the youth council.”

Mr. Sullivan served on the council from 2003-2007. He said his neighbors have asked him to run.

“After speaking with my family and listing all the accomplishments of my first term, I realized I have more to give,” Mr. Sullivan Stated in an email

Mr. Williams submitted a letter of resignation from the City Council effective immediately Aug. 15. He wrote that the decision was best for his family, his ability to support my family, and the best way to serve Surprise and his district.

Mr. Williams is the athletic director at Willow Canyon High School, a role he began in the fall of 2015. These increased duties led to him debating whether to seek re-election in early 2016 before deciding to run again that March.

“There’s not much to it. There’s no earth-shattering events. It was a long, hard, slow discussion within the family and really I’m wanting to excel in the career,” Mr. Williams said later that day in a phone interview. ”I did strike a balance but I don’t know how truly 110 percent effective I was in both areas. I wanted to refocus on career and on family and give someone else an opportunity. It’s been something we’ve been mulling over a few weeks and decided it was time.”

Mr. Williams was first elected to the City Council in November 2007. He was re-elected last fall to begin a new four-year term.

In his letter, Mr. Williams stated his intention a year ago was to fulfill his obligations as an elected official with four more years of service.

“My hope, I open the door for someone else, someone that reflects the ideals of the working family in District 3 and Surprise, a visionary who will look ahead and serve the greater good for our district and city. Service will never leave me, it’s what drove me to seek re-election, and is critical for growing a vibrant and engaged community. So while I will no longer serve in this leadership role, I remain as committed as ever to our community,” his letter concluded.

Per city code, City Council must formally accept Mr. Williams’ resignation at a public meeting.

As it is was not included on the Aug. 15 council agenda with enough advance notice, the council will have to take that action at a future meeting.

The council will interview each applicant at a public hearing, during a special meeting at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 5.

Public comments will be received at the public hearing and may also be submitted to the City Clerk through the close of the business day on Tuesday, Sept. 12. All comments will be sent to the council and posted online by the end of the next business day.

Because Mr. Williams had more than two years remaining on his term, state law requires the city to put the remainder of his term on the next council election ballot in August 2018.

Applicants must reside within the District 3 district boundaries — generally southwest Surprise.

The term expiration for the appointment will be Dec. 31, 2018; and the remaining two years of the four-year term will be served by the 2018 election winner.

During the Aug. 15 council meeting, Mayor Sharon Wolcott said Mr. Williams is a good friend to all the council and members of the city staff.

“John’s sacrifice to service is commendable,” stated Ms. Wolcott earlier that day. “I had the pleasure to serve with him over the past eight years through good times and challenging times for our city and he was a very compassionate leader for Surprise. I recognize the challenges of balancing family, work and service and while I will miss him on the dais, I respect his needing to take more time to devote to family.”

Councilman Skip Hall served alongside Mr. WIlliams the longest, joining the council in 2008. He said during the Aug. 15 meeting that Mr. Williams drove crucial efforts in pulling Surprise out of its foreclosure crisis and engaging the city’s youth.

“When I first came on council, we had about 2,400 homes in Surprise that were in foreclosure. It was bad. Councilman Williams took the initiative and put together a committee to coordinate with banks and HOAs to keep those homes in some kind of shape — (and to help) the HOAs that were financially troubled. He brought in banks and made sure they were taking care of properties,” Mr. Hall said. “There were a lot of great things John did, but the other big thing he did was take youth on. There was no youth council or youth coordinator. It was John. I have so much respect for him.”

In 2016, Julia Holland filed papers to run in District 3 then withdrew from the race. Later that spring, Ms. Norberg decided to run. In the Aug. 30 primary, Mr. Williams received 1,249 votes (56 percent) while Ms. Norberg received 974 votes (43.6 percent).

Ms. Holland stated in an email Aug. 17 that she will not seek the open council seat, for the same reasons she decided against running in 2016.

“I think John came to the same conclusion I did when I withdrew my name last year. A fulltime job, children, and other interests don’t allow for the time it takes to give constituents the full attention deserves,” she stated. “I don’t have the time to give District 3 the attention it requires. There are many more who do and I hope they will step up and continue to make it a great district to call home.”

Mr. Sullivan lost in the 2007 District 3 election to Mr. Williams, but became a friend and supporter during Mr. Williams decade on the council.

“John has done a fantastic job! It is a tremendous loss for our city . I totally support his decision to have more family time. When we spoke on (Aug. 15) we agreed that family should always come first. I wished him luck going forward,” Mr. Sullivan stated.

During the 2016 campaign Ms. Norberg continually mentioned the number of council meetings Mr. Williams missed earlier this year while adjusting to his new job demands. Since being re-elected, however, Mr. Williams only missed one meeting, and his absence was excused.

His resignation caught Ms. Norberg off guard.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Like the council members said, what a good job he did in a district that was twice as big of the others for a while,” she said. “I hope and pray that it is about the schedule and time with family, because that is more valuable.”

As Mr. Holland, who is the general manager of Arizona Traditions, stated, there are only so many hours in a day.

“Personally, I’ve known him for years and his passion is kids and their success in life. He thrives in that role and it serves our youth immensely to have him at the forefront leading the next generation. I think he made the right decision,” Ms. Holland stated.

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