As newly sworn-in Astoria Mayor Bruce Jones handed former Mayor Arline LaMear the bronze nameplate that used to mark her central seat at City Hall, he paused and set it back in front of his own name.
“It’s not too late,” Jones joked.
“Oh yes it is,” LaMear said. “I am now sleeping through the night.”
LaMear administered the oath of office to Jones and two new city councilors on Monday night. Roger Rocka, a former Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce director, replaces Zetty Nemlowill in the south side’s Ward 1, while Joan Herman, a radio programmer and former Planning Commissioner, replaces Cindy Price in downtown’s Ward 3.
Several hours later, the new council unanimously appointed Jessamyn Grace West, the executive director of the nonprofit Astoria Arts and Movement Center in the historic Odd Fellows building downtown, to fill Jones’ vacated east side Ward 4 seat.
City councilors had considered four applicants, including Kevin Leahy, the executive director of Clatsop Economic Development Resources.
West, 42, is part of a demographic that rarely gets represented on the City Council, Councilor Tom Brownson said: People in their 30s and 40s, working in the city.
Councilors noted her involvement in the arts community, her relative youth, her work with nonprofits and her connections with the Hispanic and LGBTQ communities.
And, as Ward 4 resident Chris Farrar noted, “Not to pick on you guys, but I see four guys with gray beards. … I think there needs to be a woman, another woman on the council.”
LaMear, Nemlowill and Price formed the first female majority on the City Council in Astoria’s history. But they opted not to run for re-election last year. Price announced a bid for mayor but withdrew from the race for family reasons.
Jones had favored Leahy for the appointment in Ward 4, saying Leahy was poised to address issues like housing and job growth. But he decided to vote with the majority and welcome West.
Though both Leahy and West received vocal support from people across the city, a handful of Ward 4 residents specifically spoke in favor of West.
“It still seems like a dream right now,” West said. “I’m just excited. I’m ready to get to work. … I think the people that spoke on my behalf, they know if I do something, I give it 100 percent.”
Clifford Hunter-Gammon, a software support manager, and Pamela Mattson McDonald, a writer and researcher, also applied for the seat.
“I think we have a clear winner tonight,” Planning Commissioner Daryl Moore told city councilors before West’s appointment. “And that’s Ward 4 and the city of Astoria.”
Moore and others who attended the standing-room-only meeting were pleased with the turnout and the quality of the applicants for the vacancy.
Once the Ward 4 selection process was over, the new council’s first meeting was taken up primarily with routine business.
West’s appointment involved a lengthy public process, but other appointments happened more swiftly. Jones announced his choices for a variety of other city boards, decisions he had discussed with the other councilors, he said.
There were 17 applications alone for open seats on the Planning Commission — one of them belonged to Price. Jones appointed her to fill one of the seats.
The end of the meeting involved a tense exchange between Jones and Sarah Jane Bardy, a downtown business owner and member of the city’s Design Review Committee, over testimony she gave against a hotel project Jones had voted to approve. But, overall, Jones said it was a successful — if difficult — first meeting.
Jones looks forward to working with the new council, saying his fellow councilors are passionate and knowledgeable about the city with great reputations for working collaboratively.
“Given the national political climate, I feel very strongly that it’s important for us at the local level to really set the example for how political discourse should take place,” he said. “I know that all of us, even though we will disagree and have split votes on things, we’re going to be civil and respectful.
“I couldn’t be more happy about the character of my colleagues because I know that that will be the case and I do want people to be able to look to Astoria City Council and say there’s where local government is happening right, and that’s what it should be at the national level as well.”