Niceville Council Narrows Field to Four Candidates to Fill Vacancy

Niceville Council Narrows Field to Four Candidates to Fill Vacancy

a photo showing the four finalists to be appointed to the city council position left vacant by abner williams. the finalsts are: Kristen Shell | The Deputy Planning Director of Walton County Doug Tolbert | A Niceville Planning and Zoning Committee Member Doug Stauffer | The Pastor of Faith Independent Baptist Church Suraj Patel | A Niceville General Contractor
Niceville City Council is at a crossroads as they unveil finalists to replace Abner Williams. The debate over a swift appointment or a thorough decision-making process unfolds, with Councilman Nodjomian hinting at an upcoming seat opening in 2025.

Via secret ballot, the city council members named the four finalists to fill the empty seat left behind by former Councilperson Abner Williams’ resignation at the January meeting of the Niceville City Council. The appointee would serve over three years of Williams’ term on the council. 

According to the Florida Attorney General’s Office, voting by secret ballot and not releasing the ballots after the fact is illegal.

Each council member ranked their top picks from one to four, whittling down the field to what the council agreed would be the finalists. 

“It was really close,” Mayor Dan Henkel said of the vote. Henkel did not vote and worked with City Attorney Dan Powell to tabulate votes. 

Related: Deitch Named Niceville’s New Manager

The Finalists

The Four Finalists, in the order Henkel named them, were: 

  1. Kristen Shell | The Deputy Planning Director of Walton County
  2. Doug Tolbert | A Niceville Planning and Zoning Committee Member
  3. Doug Stauffer | The Pastor of Faith Independent Baptist Church
  4. Suraj Patel | A Niceville General Contractor

You can read more about the finalists and the other candidates who were not selected here. 

In total, 11 people submitted applications to serve on the council. One officially withdrew before the workshop. 

“I was impressed that you all want to be citizen services to the City of Niceville,” said Councilman Bill Schaetzle.

Related: Ready to know your local elected officials’ net worth? Florida Legislature passes new law requiring disclosures.

The city council will meet again on February the 19th to make a final decision on the new council person. Council will host interviews with each of the hopefuls before making a decision. 

Not Rushing The Vote

Before the City Council made their selection for their finalists, the council members debated whether or not to have a new member on the council by the date of the next city council meeting, February 13th. 

Councilwoman Cathy Alley advocated for an appointment as soon as possible. “I’m always the standout that doesn’t agree with everybody,” Alley started, “I think that we should have somebody in place next month; I don’t think it’s that difficult,” Alley added that she thought a replacement could be found and appointed to the council before the next regular business meeting on the 13th. 

Councilman Sal Nodjomian argued the opposite point: “I don’t subscribe to the theory that we have to have somebody to see by the next council meeting, Nodjomian said over the phone, “That’s an artificial time that we are potentially setting ourselves. We have very successfully operated with a member of our council not present. We’ve run the risk of a tie vote and if we had a tie vote, we’ll move on to the next meeting when we have enough people. So I don’t think we need to rush to a decision that we will have to live with for the next three years. “

An Announcement from Councilman Nodjomian

Niceville City Councilman Sal Nodjomian thanked all the applicants for offering to serve the city and encouraged them to run for his seat in 2025. 

“Several seats will come available or are potentially going to be available, mine being one of them, and I’ll just say right now, and I’ve said it before, I’m not running again. So if you don’t make it tonight, I guarantee at least one seat will be available come March [2025]. I would love to see some competition, which the city has not seen of late. There’s been a trend to let the incumbent hold on to the seat. And I would love to see people actually running and say why they want to serve our city.”


Christopher Saul

Christopher Saul

Christopher Saul is the publisher of Mid Bay News. He graduated from Southern Methodist University's School of Journalism with a Convergance Journalism Degree and a Master's Degree in Public Administration From Florida State.

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