Four candidates qualify for three spots on March ballot
By Larry Barszewski
The Ocean Ridge Town Commission has appointed David Hutchins and Ainar Aijala Jr. to fill two upcoming vacancies on the commission.
Hutchins, a retired airline pilot who currently sits on the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, and Aijala, a retired longtime executive with the auditing and consulting firm Deloitte, will be sworn in at the commission’s January meeting.
“I would like to thank you guys for putting some faith in me,” Hutchins said after the 3-0 vote for him at a special Nov. 9 commission meeting. “I think the experience I got at P&Z will be helpful and I’ll do everything I can and I’m sure I will learn a lot more.”
Aijala was not present at the meeting. He was appointed on a 2-1 vote. Former Commissioner Robert Sloat, who served for three months in 2019 in an appointed capacity, also received a vote.
The two appointees will replace Commissioners Ken Kaleel and Philip Besler, who turned in their resignations effective Dec. 30.
Their seats, as well as Mayor Geoff Pugh’s, will be up for election March 19. Candidate qualifying for the election closed Nov. 17, with four candidates in the running for three open seats.
Hutchins, Aijala and Pugh have all qualified to be on the ballot, as has Nicholas “Nick” Arsali, who handles real estate development, investment, portfolio management and brokerage for Southern Engineering and Construction.
The top two vote-getters in the election will fill the two, three-year term openings on the Town Commission and the third-place finisher will receive the remaining two-year term.
Kaleel is resigning rather than be forced to submit a more comprehensive financial disclosure form that the state will be requiring from elected municipal officials beginning in 2024. Besler said he was resigning for personal reasons.
Kaleel and Besler were appointed to their positions in May, following the resignations of Commissioners Martin Wiescholek and Kristine de Haseth. Both had previous experience as commissioners.
This time around, Sloat was the only applicant to have served on the commission, a three-month appointment in 2019 to finish former Mayor James Bonfiglio’s term.
Kaleel and Besler were not allowed to vote for their replacements, so the decisions fell to the same three members who appointed them: Pugh, Vice Mayor Steve Coz and Commissioner Carolyn Cassidy.
The three made their selections from eight applicants — five who originally applied when the two seats were open in April and three who submitted their names in October.
The other applicants were Arsali, Craig Herkert, Victor Martel, Mike Mullins and Peter Wolf.
Aijala served 38 years at Deloitte, including four years as CEO of its world leading global consultant practice. He retired in 2020 and has lived in town since 2019.
Aijala has served on the global board of Junior Achievements Worldwide. He has also served on the board of governors at The Little Club in Gulf Stream.
“I have always been committed to serving the communities in which we live, but until my recent retirement I was only able to fulfill this commitment through my involvement with charitable and not for profit organizations. I am now able to serve the residents of Ocean Ridge without conflict and would be eager to do so,” Aijala wrote in his application for the position.
Hutchins has been a town resident since 1990. He has been a member of the planning commission since 2017 and was an alternate member 2015-17.