It was a business meeting, a reunion and a retirement party. It was Willis Van Dusen’s last occasion to preside over the Astoria City Council Monday night. The Daily Astorian does not have a precise number of how many meetings he ran as mayor. But a rough calculation is that he wielded the gavel some 575 times from 1991 through 2014. When combined with his six prior years on the council, he has participated in some 720 night meetings.
Instead of his leather jacket, Mayor Van Dusen arrived in a dark suit, white shirt and red tie. As 7 p.m. approached, the audience fell silent.
In two hours, the council transacted a large amount of business. A firefighter, Mark Truax, was given a pin to mark 25 years of service. There was approval of a liquor license, vacation of a city street, zoning for a wireless facility, approval of tree trimming, approval of pedestrian signage and a cost-of-living adjustment for a salaried employee. The council also approved sale of carbon credits from the city forests.
The longest council discussion (20 minutes) was about the sale of a city-owned lot on Coxcomb Hill. The council accepted Councilor Drew Herzig’s request that the property sale be contingent upon a provision prohibiting construction of a structure on the land. The motion passed 4-1, with Herzig voting no.
In all of these discussions, there came a point when Van Dusen offered a familiar question: “What would the council like to do?”
At the end of the evening, Van Dusen said: “Drew and I have become close friends.” But the two staked out opposite poles on two issues late in the meeting. The most substantive was over the appointment of Brad Johnston to be assistant city manager in addition to being police chief. Herzig questioned whether there was time for Johnston to do both jobs. He also questioned the wisdom of having a police chief be acting city manager. Van Dusen said that Johnston’s appointment was the request of City Manager Brett Estes, and he would defer to that.
With the city’s business done for the night, emotion flowed into marking Van Dusen’s finale. Former Mayor Edith Henningsgaard-Miller rose at her seat at the back of the council chambers, asking the audience “to join me in thanking Mayor Van Dusen and join me in giving him a hurrah.” Three cheers ensued.
City Attorney Blair Henningsgaard gave the mayor a gift-wrapped bobblehead doll of Van Dusen on a motorcycle. “Wow. That’s scary. I don’t know what to say,” said Van Dusen.
The evening’s surprise appearance was by Suenn Ho, architect of the Garden of Surging Waves. She thanked Van Dusen for his “unwavering leadership” to make the garden possible.
In Van Dusen’s closing monologue, the mayor reviewed the array of accomplishments during his terms. “We did a lot,” he remarked. Evoking his leadership style, Van Dusen said, “Being part of a team is how you get things done.”
In a final flourish, Van Dujsen said, “I am very humbled,” Then he offered a final deference to his predecessor, Henningsgaard-Miller, with whom he served. “I know forever I’ll be the second best mayor in this room.”