By Anne Geggis

A newcomer to the Ocean Ridge Town Commission — who happens to be a relative newcomer to the town — was the top vote-getter March 19 in a four-person race for three seats on the dais.

12420269258?profile=RESIZE_400xVoters were asked to choose three candidates and Ainar Aijala Jr., who filled a vacancy on the commission in January, won nearly 30% of the 1,206 votes cast among four candidates. Mayor Geoff Pugh drew 28% support and Commissioner David Hutchins — another recent appointee to the commission — garnered 27%. Nick Arsali, 68, a retired engineer, was a distant fourth with 15% of the vote.

The two top finishers will serve full three-year terms and Hutchins, 75, a retired airline pilot, will serve a two-year unexpired term.

Aijala, 67, who was sunburned from consecutive days campaigning at the polls, said he thinks his message resonated with voters.

“I’m really thrilled to continue as a commissioner for three years,” said Aijala, a retired Deloitte executive.

Ocean Ridge is facing challenges regarding how much improvement in handling water and sewage the town of 2,000 can afford.

Aijala said that although he’s owned a home in Ocean Ridge for just six years, and not had a role on the town’s governance committees, his executive experience was enough to win voters over.

“I think the residents looked at the challenges facing the town going forward and felt that me being here six years and not for 26 years is not relevant,” he said in a comparison with other candidates. “I think they felt that my background could bring a skill to the table.”

Hutchins said his conversations with voters as he campaigned left him with the impression that most are happy with the way the town is running. Still, replacing the town’s old water pipes is rising to the top of his priority list.

“I believe the figure to change out all the pipes would be prohibitive,” Hutchins said. “We have to work it into the budget as we can.”

The election follows a year of turmoil in Town Hall. Two commissioners resigned in early 2023 following a split vote on making then-acting Town Manager Lynne Ladner’s position permanent.

They were replaced by two others who resigned at the end of the year, one citing the state’s new financial disclosure requirements for elected municipal officials. The town’s police chief also resigned in 2023 to go to Gulf Stream.

Pugh, 61, who will have served 20 years on the commission by the time he ends his new term, said that he aims to keep things running steady.

“I think we have a good team and hopefully everything will be nice and quiet,” Pugh said.

Pugh, who owns a pool business, has presided over meetings as mayor the past year.

He will continue to do so. At its April 1 organizational meeting, the commission unanimously chose to re-up Mayor Pugh and Vice Mayor Steve Coz to their positions for another year. Town Clerk Kelly Avery announced the results of the secret balloting to applause from the crowd.

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