Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
CITY HALL – In an extended mid-day session Tuesday afternoon, the Arcata City Council made a generational paradigm shift, then enjoyed cake.
Before a City Council Chamber packed with friends, colleagues and numerous former councilmembers, Councilmember Alex Stillman was honored for her contributions to Arcata after her latest eight-year stint on the council, after which newly minted Councilmembers Sofia Pereira and Paul Pitino were sworn in.
As Arcata’s first female councilmember, Alexandra Stillman served on the Arcata City Council from 1972 to 1980, then from 2006 to the present, for 16 years of official service to the City of Arcata. Apart from that, even in a town full of activists, her record of advocacy over the years may be unparalleled. A sampling of Stillman’s civic activities were documented in a Certificate of Appreciation awarded her by the city at the meeting.
After a reading of the award and a standing ovation, Stillman thanked the crowd and suggested that she might be back for a fifth term in 15 years, when she will be 90 years of age.
She read a reflective piece noting highlights of her career, ad libbing a humorous jab at a reporter for lack of enthusiasm for twerking. Stillman went on the thank her family and citizens. “It takes a team to make things happen, and we’ve had a great run,” she said.
Noting the recent accomplishments of the McDaniel Slough Restoration Project and Arcata Ridge Trail, Stillman awarded new City Manager Karen Diemer a framed aerial photo of McDaniel Slough taken by photographer Ellen Land-Weber.
A succession of citizens then stepped up to the podium to acknowledge Stillman and thank her for her contributions to the community. One was John Woolley, representing former City Councilmember Wes Chesbro, who served on the council with Stillman from 1974 to 1980 and who, coincidentally, also leaves his office as a member of the State Assembly this week. Woolley offered a certificate honoring Stillman and read a letter from Chesbro, thanking her for her “huge impact on the city, the county and the entire region.”
Another former City Councilmember and the second woman ever elected to it, Julie Fulkerson, thanked Stillman for wielding her influence to benefit the county, and for her record of accomplishment in Arcata. “When you look at the economic development aspects, the Main Street, the preservation of historic homes and buildings, the marsh, the trails, the potential of a trail almost to Eureka, the list is vast and you’ve been a part of all those things,” Fulkerson said.
Appearing hand-in-hand, Arcata Chamber Director Sandy Scott and Arcata Main Street Director Vicky Joyce each thanked Stillman. “Any success I’ve had at the Chamber has been on the shoulders of Alex Stillman,” Scott said. “You are my model,” Joyce said, “I think, ‘What would Alex do?’”
Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace called Stillman’s record “remarkable,” noted her inexhaustible energy and said that “working with you makes everyone else want to do more.”
“You’re a gem,” Lovelace said. “You’re just so invaluable to our community.”
Former City Councilmember Dick Wild also served with Stillman back in the day, during what he called “an interesting and tumultuous time.”
“You are an icon,” Wild told Stillman. “I don’t know of anyone that is more dedicated than you are in preserving the life blood of Arcata.”
Stillman tried to end the stream of sometimes tearful encomiums, saying she wanted to see the “new electeds” take their seats and invoking the promise of cake for all afterward. But it was not to be.
Another in the teeming swarm of former councilmembers stepped up to speak. “My name’s Bob and I’m a plumber,” said former Councilmember Bob Ornelas. “I just want to thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said.
Former Councilmember Connie Stewart, describing herself as a “lowly citizen of Arcata,” reminisced about Stillman’s early and constructive influence. “”Thank you Alex, for being my mentor; thank you for everything you’ve done for the city; thank you for being you.” Stewart volunteered to manage Stillman’s 2029 re-election campaign.
With that, Stillman was awarded her certificate, and City Clerk Bridget Dory swore in new Councilmembers Pereira and Pitino.
After Stillman stepped down from the dais, Pereira took her seat and Pitino took the vacant seat.
Councilmember Susan Ornelas then moved to appoint Councilmember Michael Winkler as mayor. Pitino offered his support, noting that he is serving just two years and stating that all councilmembers should have the chance to be Arcata’s mayor. “I’d like to make sure we don’t shut anybody out,” he said.
Winkler was then unanimously anointed mayor.
After Winkler took former Mayor Wheetley’s middle seat, it was time to name a vice mayor. After an awkward pause during which no one spoke, Pitino said, “I could go ahead and nominate myself.”
Pereira then nominated Pitino for vice mayor, and, seconded by Wheetley, Pitino was unanimously elected vice mayor by the council.
Appointments to committees and commissions were then decided. Among other appointments, Pereira will represent Arcata on the Humboldt Waste Management Authority, and Pitino on the Arcata-Camoapa Sister City Committee.
Winkler said the city shouldn’t appoint a representative to the Indian Gaming Commission, but the council chose not to withdraw from that body pending a possible agendized discussion at a future date.
After adjourning, present, former and future councilmembers plus citizens, lowly and otherwise, gathered in City Hall’s lobby and enjoyed cake together.