Lester elected council's mayor by 5-2 vote

Council Member Debbi Lester is the new mayor of the city council after being elected by a 5-2 vote Wednesday night.

Lester, who is beginning her third year on the council, was nominated by new councilor Sarah Blossom. Council members Bob Scales and Kirsten Hytopoulos voted against her selection.

Scales said that a mayor should posses certain qualities to take on the position, including having a good working relationship with the city manager, a thorough knowledge of the governance manual and a good relationship with fellow council members.

“Unfortunately after working two years with Council Member Lester I do not believe that she possesses those traits in sufficient quantity to be a successful mayor, so I will not support her nomination,” he said.

After officially taking on the role of mayor, Lester nominated Anne Blair as deputy mayor. Blair was approved by a unanimous vote.

Council selected its nomination for the next mayor last Sunday at its annual retreat, as well as addressed a number of other issues, and tackled tensions they face while looking toward the coming year.

Blossom nominated Lester at the retreat when discussing who will be the next mayor. Hytopoulos then nominated Blair for the position, but Blair took herself out of consideration.

Blair said that while she appreciated the confidence, she was a new member and would like to spend some time learning before taking on such a role.

As the only nominee, Lester became the council’s choice as the next mayor, though she would not officially take on the role as mayor until Wednesday’s vote, and after Hytopoulos resigned from the position.

Council members tackled a number of topics at the retreat, including how to better communicate with island residents, and the city’s goals. Council also spent considerable time discussing tensions that have risen from rumors and recent anonymous communications regarding secret meetings and members voting in blocks.

“There is no secret kitchen cabinet,” Hytopoulos said. “There are no planned meetings. Brenda (Bauer) and Bob (Scales) and I have never met (in secret). I don’t want you to come in believing that’s the way business is done at city hall. …I can tell you right here and now, I’m not involved in that sort of thing and I don’t condone it.”

In keeping with his previous public comments, Scales addressed the issue of an anonymous memo found at City Hall last month in addition to another anonymous communication in the form of an email sent to Bauer and others over the weekend.

The email was sent by “Mrs. Johnson” and spoke under the assumption that soon Bauer would no longer be working for the city. This was not the first email that city officials have received from Mrs. Johnson.

“It is as close to threatening or harassing as you can get without probably crossing the line of actual legal violation,” said Scales, who is an attorney. “The assumption from Mrs. Johnson is that she has the power. And where is she going to get the power? The only power comes from council members.”

Scales felt that the email and the memo are reflective of a group of people who could be working behind the scenes, away from the public process to effect change in the city.

He noted that three of the incoming members were endorsed by former council member Bill Knobloch, who has been suspected of copying the memo at city hall.

“Three of the four new council members during the campaign had at least half a dozen joint campaign things,” said new Councilor Steve Bonkowski at the retreat. “…We were constant in terms of our views and we were elected. Those views are still there.

“The implication by the Mrs. Johnson (email) is that there are people out there that are pulling the strings on new council members, and nobody’s pulling my string,” Bonkowski added. “Does that mean I have a different opinion than at least two other people on a couple of issues, absolutely not.”

Council also entertained a number of ideas, including modifying the website and making it easier to have all public documents online. Other ideas such as using platforms like Twitter were also discussed.

Bonkowski expressed a desire to continue blogging because it facilitates communication with residents. The possibility of maintaining blogs on the city’s website is being considered to avoid complications since council communication regarding city business is subject to public records laws.

Another retreat has been scheduled for Jan. 28 to finish planning and addressing goals for the coming year.


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