City Councilor Dean Sawyer
Fourth place finisher in a three position race for Newport City Council Dean Sawyer won a seat on the council Monday night by being appointed to fill the unexpired term of new Mayor Mark McConnell. The vote among the six council members was unanimous. But it took a lot of debate among councilors along with moans, catcalls and jeers from the audience to get them there.
Dean Sawyer, a thirty year Newport resident, gave long and quite complete answers to questions on city government priorities, motivations for serving and qualifications to be a councilor. The other candidate, former city airport worker Jimmy Rodriguez, a five year Newport resident, gave answers that were more generic along with long accountings of his extensive military service. When asked what unique perspectives he could bring to the council toward solving the community’s problems, Rodriguez again launched into his long military service without actually making it relevant to the question.
City councilors David Allen, Jeff Bertuleit and Dick Beemer together said Sawyer’s low budget door-to-door campaigning and commitment to public service as a police officer, who has intimate knowledge of the community and its challenges, along with him coming in just eight votes behind successful council candidate Sandra Roumagoux, should qualify him for the council seat. However, councilors Roumagoux, Brusselback and Mayor Mark McConnell appeared convinced that the council should postpone their selection to await more potential candidates to come forward and apply. At that point, the audience became very displeased and some protested quite loudly. When the vote was taken, Allen, Beemer and Bertuleit voted for Sawyer. Suddenly all eyes were on Roumagoux. Roumagoux stopped, appeared lost in the moment, gestured with one hand in the air and finally, almost haltingly uttered the word “Sawyer.” At that point, Brusselback and McConnell folded. They joined with the other four to appoint Sawyer to the council who was immediately sworn in as the seventh member.
For those who might wonder about the political undercurrents that were at work Monday evening, there has been a general understanding that under the immediate past city council, Mayor Bill Bain was more aligned with Councilors Mark McConnell, Lon Brussellback and Richard Kilbride. The ones who agitated for what they called greater accountability and transparency in city government were Councilors Bertuleit, Patrick and Obteshka. As to who had the high ground amidst such charges will be long debated over many a brew down at the Rogue Restaurant. But throughout many meetings, skirmishes and snipings were common between the two groups. And deserved or not, Sawyer was labeled as being more politically aligned with the Bertuleit/Patrick/Obteshka camp. But with the unanimous vote, led by Councilor Roumagoux, it offered the grand possibility that such public behavior, which caused many Newport residents to wonder what was in the water at City Hall, could be over. Sawyer will serve out the remaining two years of former City Councilor McConnell’s unexpired term. If Sawyer wants a full four term as councilor, he would have to file and run in his own right in November of 2012.
After the meeting, the now full city council retired to an informal meeting to begin planning on how to tackle many pressing issues facing the city. The tone and behavior of the councilors was respectful, open and honest, all appearing to enjoy themselves and their new found freedom to let their hair down and to get busy solving the city’s problems.