LACEY - The City Council appointed Tom Nelson as the city's 14th mayor Thursday night to preside over an elected body remade by last year's election.
Virgil Clarkson’s return to the seat of deputy mayor suggests a power struggle played out between the returning and new council members leading up to the first council meeting of the new year.
Nelson, a retired Lacey police lieutenant and former member of the North Thurston Public Schools’ board of directors, was quickly and unanimously appointed to preside over council meetings and serve as the ceremonial head at public functions.
But a split emerged when nominations were called for deputy mayor, who serves in the mayor’s absence.
Councilwoman Mary Dean nominated Clarkson, who served in the position in 2002 and 2003.
Councilwoman Cynthia Pratt nominated Councilman Andy Ryder. Pratt, Ryder and Councilman Ron Lawson were elected in November, upsetting three established incumbents.
The returning council members, Nelson, Clarkson, Mary Dean and Jason Hearn, voted for Clarkson. Nelson did not call for a vote for Ryder, although his nomination was still on the floor.
Before Thursday’s meeting, both Ryder and Hearn had expressed interest in becoming deputy mayor. It was apparent they couldn’t secure enough votes before the meeting, opening the door for Clarkson, who served as mayor from 2004 to 2007.
There was no discussion after the nominations and before the votes.
Under Lacey’s system of government, council members appoint two of their own to serve as a mayor and his or her deputy for two-year terms.
The extent of the change on the council was evident in members’ seating arrangement behind the dais. Traditionally, the mayor sits on the right side, next to the city manager, and the remaining council members are seated to the mayor’s right, the deputy mayor followed by the council members in order of seniority.
Thursday’s meeting opened with a staggered arrangement, with the new council members seated between the returning ones.
The meeting began with City Attorney Ken Ahlf swearing in Clarkson and the three new council members.
In other news from an unusually busy and crowded council meeting, the City Council:
• Approved with a unanimous vote a conditional-use permit so Funeral Alternatives of Washington can provide funeral services out of an existing warehouse on the 8900 block of Orion Drive in Hawks Prairie. Services will include embalming, refrigeration, viewing, gatherings and cremation. The hearings examiner recommended the change to the City Council with conditions to reduce adverse effects, including potential odors and traffic congestion resulting from funeral processions.
• Approved a change in the master plan to allow construction of a self-storage center on the Summerwalk property on the north side of Yelm Highway between College Street and Ruddell Road. The hearings examiner recommended the change with conditions to reduce the effect on neighbors and potential for criminal activity. For instance, the hours of access to the storage units will be limited to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the only entrance to the units will be gated.
Lawson cast the lone “no” vote after expressing concerns about the amount of existing vacant retail space in the community. The proposed development includes retail buildings.
Christian Hill: 360-754-5427