GENEVA — A City Council with seven fresh faces and a new mayor kicked off 2020 with its first meeting Wednesday night.
The agenda was light, and for that, new Mayor Steve Valentino thanked City Manager Sage Gerling.
The night was easy, said Valentino, who admitted to having jitters as he sat in the mayor’s seat for the first time in his 17 years on Council.
“It’s going to get difficult (sometimes),” he told Council.
Some changes under Valentino already were on display, such as public comment.
Gone are the two public comment sessions: one for the beginning of the meeting for agenda items and one near the end for anything else.
Two residents used the public comment period to provide some advice to the new council.
Among them was resident and blogger Jim Meaney, who believes the current Council has work to do to regain what he said is the lost trust of the past Council, citing issues such as the city manager search and the city land sale near Seneca Lake that many thought was done without full transparency. He also said Council needs to be fair in its treatment of speakers, noting that in the past some residents were allowed to go on longer than the designated 3-minute time period, while others who may have brought criticism to Council were shut down quickly if they exceeded three minutes.
Meaney himself was granted extra time by Valentino.
Resident Charles King said he’d like to see councilors provide reasons for important votes.
“I encourage you to share your thinking,” he said. “Brief is OK. Silence can be a problem.”
While the agenda was light, one item was certainly of note, that being a 2020 budget modification that allows Ward 6 Councilor John Pruett to decline his $4,000 council salary.
“I think it’s very laudable,” said Ward 3 Councilor Jan Regan.
Ward 4 Councilor Ken Camera agreed, but wasn’t ready to join Pruett.
“It’s a nice gesture, but I want my $4,000,” he said to laughs on Council and the audience.
Some council members reflected on the jobs ahead of them.
“I’m really excited for the next four years,” At-Large Councilor Frank Gaglianese said. “It was awesome sitting up here.”
Ward 5 Councilor Laura Salamendra, a local activist, used the time to promote an anti-war protest later in the month, but also look time to ask residents to reach out to her about childcare issues that she said were part of the Democratic and Republican party platforms.
Camera, the only returning councilor with Valentino moving over to the mayor’s seat, said he was “honored to be back on City Council. I really am. … We can do great things.”
However, Camera said it was important to note the many challenges facing the city — from its high tax rate, high poverty and stagnant population, to a lake whose water quality is being stressed.
Regan promised to look at issues facing Council “with honesty and hard work,” while Ward 2 Councilor Bill Pealer said he’s already immersing himself in the job, including his interest in city recreation, which he said is one of the reasons he moved back to Geneva.
And, Ward 1 Councilor Tom Burrall said Council gives him another opportunity to do what he seems to always be doing: working.
Now, he said, “I work for all of you.”
At-Large Councilor Anthony Noone, who was named as Valentino’s deputy mayor, hoped residents will “find optimism for the new … faces up here.”