Councilwoman Tara Baraniak was unanimously elected mayor pro tem by her fellow councilmembers at Richmond Hill’s council meeting Jan. 14. After being sworn in by Mayor Russ Carpenter, the emotional Baraniak said she would much rather have Johnny Murphy sitting next to her.
Murphy was the previous mayor pro tem for the council. He passed away in December and Baraniak was elected to fill the position.
Baraniak said she was humbled by the nomination and would do her best to fulfill her duties, although no one could ever fill Murphy’s shoes. “I will do my best,” she told everyone.
Councilwoman Jan Bass made the motion to nominate her and Councilman John Fesperman seconded the motion. The motion carried unanimously.
The events of the past week regarding the city’s call for Fesperman’s resignation also were discussed, although there was no resolution.
Holding back tears, Fesperman’s wife, Rhonda, addressed the council and told them her husband had been treated unfairly and his character impugned, all for no good reason.
She said that her husband had done nothing wrong and that he has fulfilled his elected obligations with a sense of duty and compassion. She said he is a longstanding city resident, active in the church and always available when his constituents need to talk to him.
She said it was unnecessary to handle the issue in the local newspapers and on social media. Fesperman said the call for her husband’s resignation had deeply affected their family and the untrue allegations could affect the current councilman’s long term business pursuits, as well as any desire for future political involvement..
Fesperman told the council it was their responsibility to unite city, not divide it over baseless accusations.
Mayor Pro Tem Baraniak also spoke to the issue, saying it was never anyone’s intent to embarrass or hurt anyone, but that the people of Richmond Hill needed a councilman who was “fully engaged” in representing the city’s residents. Baraniak said there had been a previous discussion between Fesperman, Councilwoman Jan Bass and the mayor regarding his possible resignation. Baraniak said there had been an agreement that Fesperman would resign from his council seat but that he later changed his mind about the resignation.
Baraniak also said there had been a growing number of questions from staff and other council members regarding Fesperman’s availability for certain city events and that had, in part, prompted the call for his resignation. She acknowledged that while, technically, Fesperman was not in violation of the city charter, he was not fulfilling his city obligations while living four hours away and the right thing to do was resign. Baraniak cited the growing number of city functions that councilman normally attend, with Fesperman missing many.
Councilman Fesperman did not comment on either his wife’s or the mayor pro tem’s comments. The issue of the councilman’s resignation was not finalized at the city council meeting.
Fesperman’s wife told the council that her husband was a good man who had been deeply affected by the public calls for his resignation.
In other matters, River Oaks resident Linda Norris told the council that the widening of Highway 144 had taken its toll on residents in the River Oaks condominium complex and cited growing concerns about noise, access and safety during and when the widening is completed.
She said with buffer trees being cut down, the noise level had grown to the point that many of the residents in her community could no longer use their back porches.
She also said that it made little sense that River Oak residents traveling eastbound on Highway 144 would ultimately have to go past the entrance and make a U-turn into oncoming traffic to gain access to the development, once the widening was complete.
She asked Mayor Carpenter if it made any sense to have a direct left turn into the nearby Cove Subdivision, which has considerably less residents than River Oaks, and not allowing a direct left turn into River Oaks for eastbound travelers.
The mayor told her he was sympathetic to her development’s plight, but the property involved outside the River Oaks boundaries was state property and the city had no jurisdiction over it.
He did say, however, that he thought a meeting with state department of transportation officials, River Oaks residents and city staff was one way to get the ball rolling and to give an opportunity to voice any concerns the residents might have.
He directed planning and zoning director Scott Allison to arrange such a meeting and told Norris the city would do its best to help resolve their concerns.
The city council also:
• Approved a 10-foot side setback variance request from Melisa and Todd Cotsman to allow them to build a covered patio addition on Young Way.
• City Manager Chris Lovell told the council that the search for a new fire chief was ongoing and making progress. He said they had received 66 applications and were beginning to cull the applications down to 10 or so for final approval by city council.