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The City Council on Thursday night voted 9-1 to appoint former councilman Larry Brewster to fill a vacant seat in the Heights. By doing so, the council avoided a special election that would have cost about $20,000.

Before appointing Brewster, the council again rejected Mayor Ron Tussing's nomination of Angela Cimmino to fill the seat, left open a month ago when Joy Stevens resigned. Two weeks ago, the council voted 5-4 against Cimmino's appointment.

Seven council members voted against Cimmino and three voted for her, while only Heights Councilman Denis Pitman voted against Brewster. Pitman said he voted against Brewster only because he wanted to respect the people in the Heights who chose him over Brewster in last year's election.

Brewster was sworn in immediately after the meeting, and he'll have a ceremonial swearing-in on Nov. 24. His term ends on Dec. 31, 2009.

In the two-hour meeting, 22 people spoke about who should fill the vacancy. Thirteen people, including himself, spoke in Brewster's favor. Cimmino and two others spoke in favor of her appointment.

Cimmino is a former chairwoman of the city Zoning Commission and active on other civic boards. A former School District 2 trustee and councilman, Brewster was defeated a year ago by Pitman.

After the meeting, Brewster and Cimmino hugged and Pitman joked with Brewster. Brewster said he almost certainly won't run for the seat when his term ends next year, but Cimmino said she is considering it.

"Give me a hug," Cimmino said to Brewster as they met afterward.

"I hope you run next year because I have no intention to run," Brewster said to Cimmino.

It was a tense meeting before the matter was resolved. Cimmino's ex-husband, Paul Cimmino, verbally sparred with Councilman Vince Ruegamer over how the process was handled. Others attacked Tussing for refusing to nominate Brewster after Cimmino's initial defeat two weeks ago.

"(Tussing) is dangerously close to dereliction of duty," said Tom Zurbuchen, a Heights resident.

Later, after Tussing nominated Brewster, Zurbuchen and others thanked him.

Mary Anne Souza, who lives in the old part of the Heights known as the Bench, said Brewster is a good advocate for Heights transportation problems.

"During his time on the council, Mr. Brewster fought like a wild man on this issue," Souza said. "He'll get right back on it."

Uriah Edmunds, a former chair of the Heights task force, said Cimmino deserved the seat.

"It's time the council takes a giant step forward with some new blood," Edmunds said.

After hearing public comments, council members talked about whom they wanted for the job. Tussing said he was fine with Brewster until he interviewed Cimmino. He said Cimmino's enthusiasm impressed him, while he recalled that Brewster stopped attending work session meetings after he lost to Pitman but before his term ended.

"I felt that Mr. Brewster lacked some of that (enthusiasm) in the past," Tussing said.

Tussing also criticized some council members for their silence at council meetings while lobbying in private for Brewster. He cited a pro-Brewster letter signed by seven council members that he said amounted to a "serial meeting."

"In effect, the citizens are being blackmailed to a certain extent because the council has indicated, behind the scenes, that they prefer another candidate," he said.

Councilman Ed Ulledalen objected and said that Tussing had signed similar letters on other issues. Like others on the council, Ulledalen said he preferred Brewster because of his previous council experience.

"You allude to secret, back-room stuff, but you asked for comments," Ulledalen said to Tussing.

Ruegamer said Brewster's experience will be needed next year as the council attempts to build a budget during very tough financial times.

"We have a budget issue coming up, and to dismiss that (as unimportant) is crazy," Ruegamer said. "To tell me that someone is going to understand the budget if they've never seen it is beyond me."

The surprise of the night came when six people spoke on behalf of Ray Tracy, another candidate for the position and local head of the Democratic Party. Tracy wasn't a finalist for the seat, but he offered himself as a compromise candidate.

"I'm here to be the controversy-free candidate," he said.

Council members encouraged Tracy to stay active in city politics, but some said his close ties to the Democratic Party hurt his chances on the nonpartisan council, especially so soon after a major election that included Tussing running as a Democrat for the state Public Service Commission.

Contact Matt Hagengruber at mhagengruber@billingsgazette.com or 657-1261.

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