PORT ANGELES — A new majority of the Port Angeles City Council was sworn in Tuesday.
Kate Dexter, Mike French, Jim Moran and Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin each took an oath to support the U.S. Constitution, state laws and city ordinances and vowed to perform their new duties to the best of their abilities in a ceremony officiated by City Clerk Jennifer Veneklasen.
The four new council members, all of whom appeared on the November ballot, signed documents and greeted supporters before joining incumbents Sissi Bruch, Cherie Kidd and Michael Merideth on the dais.
The freshman council members replaced former Mayor Patrick Downie, Dan Gase, Brad Collins and Lee Whetham.
In the first two votes of the year, the council elected Bruch as mayor and Dexter as deputy mayor for 2018.
As a non-charter code city with a council-manager system, Port Angeles has a “weak” mayor with limited powers but added time commitments.
The mayor runs and controls City Council meetings, signs documents, performs ceremonial duties and is perceived as a leader of the council, City Manager Dan McKeen said.
“Every single council member is equal as far as participation in getting the policies developed, approved and then filtered down through the city,” McKeen said in a Tuesday staff report on the roles and responsibilities of the council.
Merideth nominated Bruch for mayor. Kidd, a former mayor and outgoing deputy mayor, nominated Moran.
The council voted 5-2 — with Kidd and Moran opposed — to elect Bruch.
French nominated Dexter for deputy mayor. Bruch nominated Merideth.
The council voted 5-2 — with Bruch and Merideth opposed — to tab Dexter as the deputy mayor for 2018.
“It’s an honor and a pleasure to serve as your mayor,” Bruch said. “If I screw up, let me know.”
Bruch is a senior planner for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and second-term council member. She was first elected to the council in 2011.
Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles was among four speakers who welcomed the new council members during public comment Tuesday.
“We at Lower Elwha definitely look forward to working with you,” Charles said.
“We raise our hands to all of you, because it is time-consuming. Being a council member within our own community for over 20 years, it’s a lot of hours, and it is frustrating at times listening to the divisions and listening to all sides of what’s there.”
Charles praised the city staff, which has worked closely with the tribe on several projects in recent years.
“We’re looking for further partner-shipping, collaborations and working with you all,” Charles said.
Bill Atkinson of Port Angeles thanked the new council members for “jumping in the fray.”
“Tonight swearing in, and tomorrow maybe swearing at,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson stressed the need for civility in local government.
“People won’t listen to each other if they’re yelling at each other,” he said. “The louder you yell, the less I listen.”
After the swearing-in ceremony, Dexter thanked her supporters for encouraging her to run and for helping in the campaign.
“I wouldn’t have done it if it was on my own,” Dexter said. “Thank you to everyone who has participated in the election and got us to where we are today.”
Dexter defeated Travis Berglund with 53.1 percent of the vote in the Nov. 7 election.
Schromen-Wawrin, who defeated Artur Wojnowski with 71 percent of the vote, encouraged the audience to engage with the council and city staff on priority setting.
“We’re civil servants accountable to the people of Port Angles as a body politic,” Schromen-Wawrin said. “So please make that accountability real.”
French and Moran were unopposed in the general election after early challengers bowed out.
“I know that the last City Council in the last two to four years or so had a really tough job and you had a lot of contentious issues that came before you,” French said.
“I’m really hoping to have really great working relationships with everyone on this council and all the members of city staff.”
“I would also like to echo those thoughts,” Moran said.
He added: “It’s really kind of strange sitting on this side.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].