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Write-in candidates win Phoenix council seats

PHOENIX — Three residents who announced their write-in candidacy just three weeks before the election as a protest against City Hall trounced the otherwise unchallenged incumbents in Tuesday's election.

The Jackson County Elections Office released preliminary write-in candidate results Friday, though a small number of ballots still remain to be counted.

Carolyn Bartell, Karen Jones and Bruce Sophie each garnered more than twice as many votes as incumbents Herm Blum, Mike McKey and Mike Stitt.

All told, voters cast 4,001 ballots for three available council seats. Write-ins received 2,687 combined, with Bartell receiving 910, Sophie, 893, and Jones, 884.

Blum garnered 420, Stitt, 445, and McKey, 449.

Sophie, Bartell and Jones decided to run write-in campaigns in response to steep increases in water rates enacted by the City Council and what they felt was poor communication from City Hall. The council has since put the hikes on hold while it studies the issue further.

Sophie said the trio's first order of business would be communication.

"We can't do anything until the first of January, but we're definitely going to focus on communication, so people don't get surprised anymore," Sophie said. Many residents were unaware of the water rate hikes until they showed up on water bills.

Sophie said other primary issues for the council include the Fern Valley interchange, the Regional Problem Solving process and the city budget.

McKey and Stitt, who conceded the race on election night, offered congratulations for the victors, though they and Blum voiced frustration that increases in water rates prompted the write-in campaigns.

Stitt, who said he would continue to support the city in other ways, including his work at the community kitchen, said the need for the rate hike would be apparent to new council members once they'd studied it.

"We rescinded the rates and said, 'Let's talk about it,'" Stitt said. "The bottom line is the new ones coming in are going to realize the same thing. We need the increase."

The city raised rates in August after a study showed its water fund would become insolvent and repairs and upgrades would not be affordable under old rates. City staff estimated the overall increase would be less than 10 percent over a 12-month period, but residents first paid it in the high-use month of August, and some bills rose a third or more over last year.

Sophie said the write-in campaigns were prompted more by poor communication from City Hall.

"The rate was an issue, but it was the big surprise that citizens got more than anything," Sophie said.

"We don't ever want to let our citizens be surprised by something like that from City Hall again."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.