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One of four contenders for a vacant City Council seat in Keene’s ward 4 withdrew just days before the winner is decided.

Frederick B. Parsells sent a letter to City Clerk Patricia A. Little July 26 that said he was bowing out. The letter is included in the City Council’s agenda packet for its meeting tonight; the packet was released Wednesday afternoon.

Parsells’ withdrawal leaves three candidates in the running for the ward 4 seat: David Lanier, Robert J. O’Connor and Michael Remy.

Per Keene’s city charter, the sitting councilors will vote tonight to fill that seat, along with a vacant at-large seat. The terms for these positions expire Dec. 31.

Both seats will then appear on the ballot in the city’s elections in November: for a typical two-year term for the at-large councilor, and the remainder of the ward seat’s term, which will run two years from Jan. 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2021.

Parsells told The Sentinel that his intent in running was to give the sitting councilors the option to elect a “placeholder”: a candidate who did not want to run for the position in November and would serve only through the transition until someone is elected in the fall.

He explained that Mayor Kendall W. Lane approached him and asked him to run for the interim position after Margaret M. “Maggie” Rice resigned in June.

Lane confirmed Wednesday that he asked Parsells to run. He said the idea of a placeholder candidate came up in a casual conversation during an unrelated meeting at City Hall. He said he doesn’t remember who attended the meeting.

Lane told The Sentinel in early July that, if the councilors voted for a candidate who intended to run again in the fall, it could be interpreted by residents as an endorsement and might give that person an unfair advantage in that election.

Parsells said he expected a philosophical debate to develop among the councilors: Should they indeed elect a placeholder in the interest of not influencing voters in November? Or, as some candidates suggested, should a contender be given the chance to get a few extra months of training and experience before they run in the fall?

“But it didn’t turn out to be a philosophical issue,” Parsells said. “It turned out to be more of a political issue, and … some were choosing to use me as a political club to hit the mayor over the head with.”

On social media, on radio talk shows and in private conversations around town, Parsells asserted that he’s seen and heard accusations that Lane was trying to circumvent the city charter to “get one of his people” on the council.

“In my opinion they weren’t looking at the person who perhaps had the most qualifications,” he said, noting his decades of service to the Keene community. That includes stints as a councilor and police officer.

Parsells said he believes there’s been more concern about who knows the mayor and who doesn’t, and he didn’t want to be a part of it.

Lane, who isn’t running for another term, acknowledged the narrative that’s being shared in town and denied it.

“I think the direction this discussion has gone … has been unfortunate, but I don’t have any control over that,” he said. “... I think the councilors will ultimately make the best decision for the city.”

They vote tonight to fill both vacancies during their regular council meeting at City Hall at 7 p.m. Candidates will be allowed five-minute presentations, but councilors cannot ask questions, and there is no public comment allowed. The ward 4 seat will be chosen first, followed by the at-large seat.

Six residents have tossed their hats in the ring for councilor at-large, left vacant after Bartlomiej K. “Bart” Sapeta stepped down in June: Kate Bosley, Bradford Hutchinson, Teresa “Terri” O’Rorke, John W. Therriault, Catherine “Catt” Workman and Rice, the former ward 4 councilor.

Sierra Hubbard can be reached at 355-8546 or at shubbard@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @SierraHubbardKS.