The Dunsmuir council chambers were packed Friday evening with a standing-room only audience on hand to witness the installation of the newly composed city council, the election of a new mayor, and the awarding of certificates of service to out-going council members.
What ensued, however, were three and a half hours of political and legal fireworks that left the chamber buzzing and ushered in a period of political change in the mountain town that one council member likened to President-elect Barack Obama’s November 4 electoral ‘revolution’.
In a touching scene that brought many in the chambers to their feet, out-going mayor Linda Guzman presented her husband Will Newman with a certificate and told the audience that he had been her “number one supporter.” Guzman also presented certificates to Lilly and Robert Jones, who have been restoring the Dunsmuir cemetery.
Secretary Kathy Wilson swore in new council members Kathay Edmonson, Peter Arth, and Mario Rubino to replace the out-going Guzman, Cami Declusin, and Kevin Russell.
Change was apparent moments after the new council members took their seats. In response to city administrator Keith Anderson’s call that the council nominate a new mayor, James Phelps nominated Tim Padula, the council’s most senior member. But the nomination received no second. Padula then seconded himself, but did not receive the third vote he needed to become mayor. Edmonson then nominated Rubino, who again received no second.
Padula and Rubino then made brief statements to the council about their qualifications to be mayor, with Rubino talking about the need for unity and economic revitalization, and Padula highlighting the three generations his family has lived in Dunsmuir. Despite their statements, neither could muster the simple majority necessary to become mayor.
Padula pointed out that by tradition, the senior council member is named mayor, then Edmonson and others looked to Anderson for guidance.
Arth mentioned the national election and said, “We’d have to be blind to not see that change,” before nominating Kathay Edmonson for the position. Phelps seconded the motion, Rubino added his vote, and Edmonson became the Mayor of Dunsmuir.
Tim Padula immediately stood, resigned from the city council, put on his coat, and apparently left the chambers.
As murmurs rippled through the  audience at what had transpired, Mayor Edmonson, Phelps, Arth and Rubino quickly composed the new council committees, and heard the first order of business, a heated dispute over relocation benefits between tenant Bryce Maritano and landlord Roger Spitzen.
Spitzen was before the council to appeal the city’s determination that he is responsible for paying relocation benefits to Maritano because of the oak tree that fell on his rental property which Maritano occupied. The damage to the cabin was such that it was ruled unfit for habitation by an inspector, forcing Maritano to relocate. Spitzen argued that the tree fell because of ‘an act of God’, releasing him from liability.
Maritano and Spitzen eloquently exchanged legalese in a exchange that grew increasingly heated. At stake for both parties is roughly $1500, a sum that Spitzen admitted he had already exceeded in attorney fees. It eventually became clear that the council would support the city’s decision, and Maritano and Spitzen, both angry, promised to continue their cases against one another in court.
In a sign that the new council may move forward with unity and decisiveness, it quickly solved a garbage collection overpayment appeal by the elementary school that had stumped the last council.
In unanimously voting to deny the school payment, the council followed Rubino’s lead in holding the school responsible for not discovering the error itself. “While it’s unfortunate that the town has been over-billing, it’s the responsibility of the school to notice this,” Rubino explained. “I consider them a business, as a business they should be responsible...They should have noticed.”
Late in the meeting, Arth and Rubino indicated that this council may take a more aggressive stance toward enforcing Historic District maintenance codes--an issue councils in the past have been reluctant to tackle--as well as invite in outside parties, such as the Center for Economic Development at UC Davis, to help Dunsmuir find a way forward in improving its business environment and economic situation.
In the public discussion, Wendy Crist gave a presentation on the progress of the Dunsmuir Community Compost Project, and Tim Holt commended the council and urged  it to enforce the Historic District ordinances.
Pam Padula again brought up the contentious issue of the Chamber of Commerce and alleged Brown Act violations. She then told the council, “You cannot blame a spouse for the politics of another spouse,” in reference to the council’s unwillingness to name her husband mayor. Merry Padilla complained to the council about the Chamber’s new policy of charging a fee for events insurance, and also accused it of Brown Act violations.
In response to Padilla, the Chamber’s acting president, Barabra Cross, said, “I regret to being compelled to address these issues again. Many of these statements were erroneous. The insurance matter was tabled.”
On Monday following the meeting, Merry Padilla delivered a letter to the city in which she resigned her position as treasurer. In the letter she writes, “I will not be renewing my three chamber memberships... and will encourage others to do so as well... By taking myself out of the equation at least I will have a clear conscience and be able to restore my reputation.”
The next council meeting will be held on Friday December 12 at 5 p.m.