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New Los Altos City Council addresses old divisions at swearing-in ceremony

Lynette Lee Eng
Melissa Hartman/Town Crier
Supporters cheer and wave signs at the swearing-in ceremony of Los Altos’ new mayor, Lynette Lee Eng, pictured at right with Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman.

The two new members of the Los Altos City Council took their seats on the dais Dec. 4, and the council promptly elected Lynette Eng mayor and Jan Pepper vice mayor.

With Santa Cara County supervisors Joe Simitian and Mike Wasserman looking on, the swearing-in ceremony marked a new era in the city’s history.

Simitian congratulated the newly elected Neysa Fligor and Anita Enander, noting that he attended the tightly packed ceremony to commend outgoing Mayor Jean Mordo, who failed in his bid for re-election, and Councilwoman Mary Prochnow, who opted not to run for a second term.

“My colleagues on the Board of Supervisors sometimes tease me because they don’t know Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, and they occasionally refer to them as ‘the hotbed of social rest,’” Simitian joked. “I suggest to them they take a week or two in your seats and they would know better.”

Simitian said he knows how “sharp-elbowed” local politics can be, and that it can be “push and shove.” Despite the often rock-and-hard-place circumstances, Mordo and Prochnow prevailed.

“It can be rough and tumble – you are subject to the slings and arrows of a lively community,” Simitian said. “Whatever difference we may have from time to time in views and values, these are two people who care deeply about the community in which they live and whose services made that abundantly clear with every day they have sat in these chairs.”

While Prochnow laced her farewell speech with gratitude, Mordo spoke of the “slings and arrows” local residents aimed his way and went as far as saying his time on the council “was certainly not a pleasure.”

“I loved doing this; I’ve done it for 12 years,” Mordo said, referencing his previous eight years of service on the Los Altos Hills City Council. “But it’s really tough. People don’t realize how tough it is, because from one minute to the next, you go from being the hero of some people because you voted a certain way to being an absolute wretch because you voted on another issue a different way.”

Mordo added, however, that he was satisfied with what the council had accomplished, specifically noting progress on the Hillview Community Center overhaul.

Changing of the guard

The new council voted unanimously to appoint Lee Eng mayor and Pepper vice mayor. The pair will helm the first all-female council in the city’s history.

Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins shared her expectations for the new leaders and their leadership styles. Included in her remarks were “concerns” that Lee Eng’s approach may not constitute mayor material.

Bruins referred to the last couple of years on the council as “troubled waters” and requested that the council reflect on the past to ensure a more positive future.

According to Bruins, the three most important qualities in a council member are regard for all, including city staff – the council cannot “treat staff presentations like inquisitions” any longer, she said; an open mind to differing perspectives – the council should learn to listen, not come in “with an inclination on how they will vote” before hearing from others; and the composure to settle a matter, move on and accept the collective vote of peers – the mayor, especially, must sometimes let go of his or her opinion “for the good of the whole.”

“I do believe that each of us should be able to have our own opinions, but holding the gavel is not an entitlement,” Bruins said. “I’m going to be honest and up-front. … I do have concerns, (Lee Eng), whether you have the ability to navigate us away from the division that has grown in our community and move us toward unification.”

Bruins concluded by noting that she is choosing to be optimistic and had made peace with voting Lee Eng in as mayor for a one-year term. She then vowed to continue to support Lee Eng and help her become a stronger, more successful leader.

Following Bruins’ speech, Lee Eng did not comment and simply called for the vote.

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