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Monday, December 7, 2009

Chapel Hill swears in new council, mayor

Posted by on Mon, Dec 7, 2009 at 10:42 PM

Chapel Hill made it official tonight, swearing in a new mayor and two new council members and adding another term for two more.

Mark Kleinschmidt, Gene Pease, Penny Rich, Laurin Easthom and Ed Harrison took their seats at Town Hall amid a room of community activists, allies, campaigners, funders, family, friends, neighboring politicians, the police chief, the fire chief and Mama Dip (Mildred Council).

The ceremony even had an intermission, with the first part of the meeting run by the 2007-09 council during which those leaving office offered a farewell. Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward presided for that portion as now former Mayor Kevin Foy was ill at home.

"Mayor, I hope you're doing well. We miss you," he said.

Carlo Robustelli, the mayoral aide, read a speech in Foy's stead. 

"I am honored to have been given the chance to serve as Chapel Hill's mayor," the statement read. "Together with the fine elected people and staff and with the ideas of participation of citizen, we have achieved a lot."

Councilman Jim Merritt, who was appointed to fill the vacancy left by the late Bill Thorpe and who did not win re-election, said he'd continue to serve as a advocate for the town. 

After a few kind words were exchanged, the elected played musical chairs, Kleinschmidt moving to the center, Sally Greene and Ed Harrison moving two seats to the left (from the audience). New council members Gene Pease and Penny Rich slotted in on the far right. Merritt's physical seat now is empty, though it soon will be filled by whomever is appointed to fulfill Bill Strom's term.

Those elected put their hands on the Bible, flanked by spouses, children and parents, swore to uphold the laws of the nation and state and offered thanks to all.

They voted unanimously to pass proclamations thanking Foy, Merritt and Strom for their service and put off the Strom seat process until Wednesday.

Speeches including words like "honored" "humbled" came after. Rich used her time to advocate for the Voter Owned Elections process that she used in her victory, saying that it needs to be extended beyond 2011. She also thanked her dog, Yumi.

Pease said Foy told him to "stop complaining and get involved" when UNC tried to place a chiller plant near his Gimghoul neighborhood residence, pointing to that as the catalyst for his service.

Ed Harrison, elected to his third time, called it "the charm." He stressed his commitment to transportation issues and the downtown, adding that he'd be pleased if he ends up being called "Sidewalk Ed." He also looked back on the campaign.

"I had no campaign manager except me," he said. "The internal arguments were very fierce."

Laurin Easthom, who won a second term, was brief. She, like the rest, noted the support of those who helped with the campaign and recognized the sacrifices her family has to make for her to serve.

"I want to thank the citizens of Chapel Hill for thinking I at least did something right," she said.

The other members also spoke, noting Foy and Merritt's service along with welcoming the new members. Councilman Matt Czajkowksi, who lost an extremely hard fought and close race for mayor, gave gracious remarks.

"We were able to keep the debate on a high plane. We both offered the poeple of Chapel Hill a clear choice, and the choice was Mark," he said. "I very much look forward to working with him."

Kleinschmidt, in similar fashion, commended Czajkowski for providing a different view for the council to consider, saying that he was "grateful we continue to have an opportunity to work together."

The new mayor, whose voice quivered during his oath when he said the phrase "mayor of Chapel Hill," used his speech to point out the work ahead and recognize his supporters.

"It was close, very close," he said. "Every phone call, every door you knocked on, every sign that we hand drew, every forum, every meet and greet, it made the difference."

"I couldn't be more proud to be a citizen of Chapel Hill," Kleinschimdt said. "Being a citizen of Chapel Hill is one of the greatest things you can call yourself. Somewhere below that I think is being mayor."

Czajkowski was the first to rise for a standing ovation when Kleinschmidt concluced his remarks.

Now the hard work begins.

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