Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – Arcata City Councilmember Mark Wheetley is stepping down from the Cit Council to become city manager for the City of Fortuna, effective April 1. Wheetley has served on the Arcata City Council since 2005, was most recently re-elected to a fourth term in 2014. He has less than two years left on his current term.
"I just felt like I've got to commit to this job 110 percent," Wheetley said of leaving the council for his new position. He said he had been looking for other local career options. His contract with the City of Fortuna specifies a three-year commitment, and relocation to Fortuna within one year.
Wheetley's departure will force the council to either appoint a new member, or hold a special election. Wheetley said he is urging an appointment based on the general lack of experienced non-incumbent candidates who have run for council during recent elections.
He said he has been reaching out to members of city committees and commissions to nominate themselves as a potential replacement council member for the council to appoint, which would save the city the considerable expense of a special election. "I've told them, 'Here's an opportunity.' And I've strongly urged the council to go that route."
Said City Manager Karen Diemer, "We will bring an outline of the council’s options to replace Councilmember Wheetley for a community discussion at their next meeting on Feb. 15."
Among the council's options, according to Diemer:
• The council must, within 60 daysfrom the date of the vacancy, either fill the vacancy by appointment or call a special election to fill the vacancy.
• A person appointed or elected to fill a vacancy holds office for the unexpired term of the former incumbent.
• If the City Council chooses to fill the vacancy through a special election –the special election must be held on the next regularly established election date not less than 114 days from the call of the election.
Noted Diemer, "Mark was first elected to Arcata City Council in 2005 and served as mayor in 2008, 2009 and 2014. His long tenure is marked with both a neighborhood and school based focus as well as a dedication to regional and state-wide advocacy for Arcata and the North Coast. He ensured Arcata continued to stay on the cutting edge of environmental policy and practices pushing for alternative fuel cars, solar energy, marsh and tideland restoration and carbon sequestration projects. His recent work with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move and Healthy Cities Campaign earned him a trip to the White House. His history and thorough understanding of the challenges facing rural communities and coastal cities will be sorely missed in Arcata. Fortuna is lucky to have him coming on board."
Fortuna Mayor Sue Long said Wheetley is well suited to the position. "We cast our net locally rather than look for someone from the big city, because it takes them so long to catch on," she said. "He knows Humboldt, he knows the issues."
She cited Wheetley's long experience in city government, and said "that plus his management style and personality are a perfect fit for the City of Fortuna."
While the April 1 start date has yet to be approved by the Fortuna City Council, Long said the contract for Wheetley's services has been signed. He will relieve former Arcata City Manager Randy Mendosa, who has served as interim Fortuna city manager since October.
Wheetley will retain his position as a senior environmental scientist specialist for the California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife for the time being. He said city management is "an area I've been building my skill set in with the League of California Cities." He served as regional representative to the league's Board of Directors for six years, up until December.