By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rohnert Park’s City Council, riding a recovering budget and the goodwill of an uncontested November election, rearranged itself Tuesday in a mayoral transition notably absent the political tensions of past years.
By a unanimous vote, Vice Mayor Pam Stafford became the new mayor, an office she last held in 2010. Councilman Joe Callinan, a construction company owner first elected in 2008, was elevated to vice mayor, his first stint in a council leadership position.
“Something that’s different about this year is how seamless this will be. There’s no contentiousness,” said Stafford, who joined the council in 2006.
“We have to keep our economy strong and make it stronger,” said Stafford, who owns a fitness firm. “We are all interested in budget issues and making sure we have enough to pay the bills.”
Callinan, who two years ago endorsed candidates running against Stafford in a bitter election, also said the council is now unified. He, too, said economic development is key to the city’s future.
“We are going to continue to work as a team and toward fiscal responsibility to our citizens,” said Callinan, who was unopposed for reelection last month, as were Councilwoman Gina Belforte and Mayor Jake Mackenzie.
The city’s budget has been pared nearly 40 percent since 2008, to $22 million. The current council approved employee contracts including $3.3 million in concessions and also cut 34 city positions in its efforts to slash a deficit that hit $10 million in 2009.
City officials last June said they expect to able to balance the budget heading into the next fiscal year, which starts in July.
Mackenzie, at the end of his fourth mayoral term, nominated Stafford to replace him, as he has twice before, once successfully. He also nominated Callinan, with whom he has at times had a prickly relationship on the dais.
That, for now, at least, sets the stage for a prescribed order of succession to the city’s top political spots. That’s something Mackenzie has long sought, but that did not take hold in more fractious political eras.
“I had hoped we were in a time in Rohnert Park city government where we would nominate people by seniority and they would have a chance to serve as vice mayor and then have a turn as mayor,” he said.
“This is a departure from past political votes, and I’m very definitely trying to set a different tone and direction,” said Mackenzie. “In the fullness of time, I would anticipate that Joe Callinan would be nominated as mayor.”
“I greatly appreciate it,” Callinan said of the nod.
The son of the city’s first mayor and longest-running city manager, Callinan, early in his term especially, often staked out an opposition viewpoint and cast votes in the minority.
But he said that as the city took on challenges from its huge budget deficit, to the loss of redevelopment funds, to how promote its stalled economy, the council has more often found common ground.
“For them to appoint me I think was a great gesture,” he said. “A lot of times it’s a 4-to-1 vote, a 3-to-2 vote, but we’ve been having more of the 5-0 votes, and a lot of times it may not be 5-0 to start, but we work through things.”
The mayor and vice mayor hold little specific authority. But they generally have the final arguments and votes in council discussion, and the mayor has the ability to set agendas and steer the meetings.
Stafford, Callinan and Mackenzie were interviewed for this article before Tuesday’s high-spirited installation ceremony.
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jeremyhay