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Council returns to city hall for appointment of mayor (updated)

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Like everything that has come back since the big COVID shutdown, the return to in-person meetings for the Claremont City Council on Tuesday seemed both normal and weird at the same time.

The mood in the room was like a 20-year high school reunion with warm greetings and plenty of hugs. At the same time, all attendees wore masks and every other seat in the chamber was off limits.

As the councilmembers settled into their seats they were separated by thin sheets of Plexiglas, as was the lectern where residents address the council. Those in attendance were asked to remain in their seats and not form a line while waiting to give public comment.

For more COVID quirkiness the meeting was the first in the council chambers for Adam Pirrie as city manager and Jennifer Stark as mayor although both have served in those positions for a year.

Following the Pledge of Allegiance Stark said, “It’s nice to do this together,” which was met with general agreement.

The social distancing measures and masking were not the only changes brought on by the year-and-nine-months of shutdown, as the format on Tuesday had been expanded into a hybrid model, allowing residents to continue to participate via the Zoom app.

Pirrie said the city clerk’s office had collaborated with the technology team to work out the logistics of holding the meeting virtually and in-person and said it was a good opportunity to test the technology because the meeting would likely be short.

“Hopefully it will go well so we can continue to do it in person,” he said.

Indeed, once the meeting was underway, people were able to connect through Zoom and there were few problems hearing the comments of those participating from home. However, the COURIER reporter did have trouble logging in to watch the second half of the meeting from home.

As Stark prepared to formally end her tenure as mayor and pass the gavel to Jed Leano, she addressed the crowd with reflections on the challenging year and thanking city staff and her colleagues on council meeting those challenges.

“Working with all of you is a joy and a privilege. I learned so much from you and appreciate everything you do for council,” she said. “I am grateful to my colleagues for entrusting me to serve as mayor.”

She praised the annual tradition of rotating the mayor role as a way to prevent burnout at the top and ensure the mayor is always “excited and inspired by this honor and not at all getting a little bit tired and crabby.

“That line in the oath of office is a promise to be sincere — not a promise to agree but to debate, communicate, listen, argue and compromise with respect to our sincerity

“I am proud to serve with each of you and it has been a significant honor to serve as your mayor and I look forward to supporting each of you in this seat,” Stark said.

After a standing ovation, Stark had to apologize because she still had more to say, including thanking the people close to her for trying to understand that “friends and family totally don’t come first when you are serving as mayor.”

She said it has been a tremendous honor to be part of the legacy of female leadership in Claremont, including 18 women who have been on council since 1946, and to have been the 12th woman appointed mayor. “I was born in 1969 and Marjory Spear was the mayor of Claremont, the first female mayor.”

She described herself as White, married, straight and a mother — all culturally acceptable and normative characteristics — but she also opened the door to any non-traditionally gendered person who might one day be mayor of Claremont.

“And I want to emphatically state they [normative characteristics] are not prescriptive and are by no means the standard by which we should judge others who identify as women [and] who are willing to step into a leadership role. It feels important to mention this because I have undervalued my unconventional skill sets and I am keenly aware of the devaluation of typically female encoded roles and the narrow expectations of how a powerful woman is permitted to show up in leadership roles and in politics.”

After the council unanimously approved dual motions making Leano mayor and Ed Reese mayor pro tem, Leano offered some brief comments thanking Stark and Larry Schroeder before their leadership through the pandemic.

“It is such an awesome responsibility to have to handle that type of catastrophe and that type of crisis here at a local level and Mayor Stark handled it with grace and dignity,” Leano said.

Leano gave himself a challenge for the first 50 days in office, which he said one should always do when serving the city: to go out into the town and constantly listen and learn. “I am going to try my best to use my feet and use my ears and keep my mouth shut try to find new opinions in new places,” he said.

He also reflected on the immense legacy and tradition of service and selflessness given by all of the people who have been mayor in the past, including some who were in attendance that evening.

“So, to everybody who came before me to everyone who is serving with me now, I appreciate the support and the confidence that you have placed in me and I promise you that I will work every day to serve in this job with the class dignity and respect that you expect from the mayor of Claremont,” Leano said

Lastly, he had a message for the Claremont community at large.

“This has been a really hard year-and-nine months what a tremendous challenge getting through COVID this has been but I know that we are going to come back just by seeing the energy in this room tonight,” Leano said.

 

 

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