New Arcata City Councilmembers (from left) Stacey Atkins-Salazar, Emily Grace Goldstein and Sarah Schaefer

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The City of Arcata ushered in a new era at a special city council meeting today, during which newly elected councilmembers Stacey Atkins-Salazar, Emily Grace Goldstein and Sarah Schaefer were sworn into office.

Before welcoming the new faces, the council and city staff said goodbye to outgoing Arcata councilmembers Michael Winkler, who held the position for 12 years, and Paul Pitino, who served on the council for 10 years.

“Both of these councilmembers truly are one of a kind,” Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer said during the meeting, thanking Winkler and Pitino for their service. “They have served with a passion and a love for Arcata that will be felt for generations.”

City Manager Karen Diemer shows the plaque that will be sent to outgoing councilmembers Winkler and Pitino

Pitino and Winkler’s time on council is marked by many high-profile issues, including the unsolved murder of HSU Student David Josiah Lawson and subsequent protests, the removal of the McKinley statue from the Plaza, and drastic budget cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to name a few.

“Things in the city council, especially in the last four years, have been very heated and it might not always have been clear, but I recognize the passion, especially in the areas where I and other members of the council have differed,” Winkler said in his parting statement during today’s meeting. “Those have been very difficult.  I’ve tried to look at my conscience and my ethics of how I’ve treated other people fairly. Maybe I haven’t always done that, but it’s something I’ve always strived for.”

After the farewells, the meeting was moved outside to the lawn in front of Arcata City Hall, where Atkins-Salazar, Goldstein and Schaefer — each wearing masks and standing six feet apart — took their oaths and were sworn into their positions on city council.

Goldstein, Atkins-Salazar and Schaefer take the council oath at City Hall | Screenshot from Zoom meeting

Following a recess, the new council reconvened and elected Sofia Pereira to serve as mayor and Brett Watson to serve as vice mayor for the next year.

There was a little bit of hesitation on Pereira’s part, however, for how this process should be carried out. The Arcata City Council rotates these roles, and councilmember Watson was next in line for the vice mayor position, and will move up to mayor next year.  For new councilmembers, the roles are assigned in order of highest vote count. So with three new council members, this means that one with the lowest vote count from the election — councilmember Shaefer — will not have a chance to serve as mayor during the next four years.

Because of this conundrum, Pareira suggested that the council change the order and nominated Atkins-Salazar — the new councilmember with the highest vote count — to serve as vice mayor.  Pereira then opened up the issue for discussion.

Councilmember Watson said that he felt strongly that the council should stick to its usual protocol, allowing him to serve as vice mayor for this year. Watson’s stance was echoed by Councilmember Shaefer, who said that she was willing to forgo the mayor position during her four-year term in the interest of sticking to a system that has worked for the council.

“If Brett is passionate about serving as vice mayor, I support that,” Shaefer said, adding that theoretically she will have a chance to serve as mayor if she is elected for another term. “It’s not the number one passion in my heart to serve as mayor. I’m happy serving as a member of the council. That is what I’m here for and I’m excited to do that.”