Voters Choose New Council in Clifton

Voters Choose New Council in Clifton

Five new council members, mayor selected for two-year terms.

Clifton's small population came out to elect a new Town Council Tuesday, selecting five new Town Council members and a new mayor.

Thomas C. Peterson ran unopposed for mayor, receiving 112 votes. He will replace incumbent Jim Chesley when his term expires at the end of June.

Newcomers Michael Anton, Wayne Nickum, Lane Johnston, C. M. "Chuck" Rusnak and Patrick Layden will make up the new Town Council starting with the meeting on Wednesday, July 5.

"The town wanted a new voice on the Town Council," Anton said of the complete change in council members. "Some people were telling me that I reminded them of when they first came to Clifton, which was unexpected but rewarding. I'm ready to take the next step and get to work."

Among his top priorities for his upcoming two-year term on the council is to help clarify some of the processes inside the town, like securing permits to make changes to a home or start a new business.

"There are so many guidelines here," he said. "Most people don't know they exist or if they do know, they don't adhere to them."

Pat Layden said he was "pleased" to have been selected to serve the residents of Clifton.

"This was the first time there was a field of nine candidates running in the time I've lived in town," he said.

For his first action on the council, Layden said he hopes to look at the financial and administrative condition of the town and finish up any "carryover work the current council may have" with his fellow council members.

Peterson was not immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.

For current Mayor Jim Chesley, Tuesday was bittersweet.

"I stayed away from Town Hall all day," he said. "It was tough. It was really hard to step down, but I'd rather do it my way than go down in defeat."

Of the new council members, Chesley said he's looking forward to watching them work together from the sidelines.

"There's a whole new group of people and a whole new group of ideas," Chesley said. "They're going into office fresh and I'm sure they'll do good things."

Early Tuesday morning, the candidates gathered in front of Town Hall, welcoming voters and discussing what they agreed was a positive, friendly campaign.

"What matters here is that we have great retail democracy," said incumbent J. Brant Baber Tuesday morning.

The 10 candidates running for office represented a full 5 percent of the town's population, Baber said, a reflection of the resident's commitment to the tiny town.

"This is democracy in action," said challenger Jeff E. Stein. "We're here, meeting and greeting the voters at the one polling place in town. We're all here."

Challenger C. M. "Chuck" Rusnak, Jr. said he was prepared to stand outside in a red and white umbrella if it had rained.

"There's a great lineup of candidates," he said, looking at his fellow candidates. "Whoever becomes part of the council will be very energetic."

BETWEEN CONVERSATIONS with voters, the candidates shared thoughts about the current council's legacy and how they would work to make Clifton a better place.

"Failure to take action when action is required is the most destructive thing you can do," said Baber, to fellow candidate Rusnak. "Too much contemplation [of an issue] can be deadly."

The learning experience of campaigning for office proved to be a pleasant one for Rusnak.

"I never went to a house where I didn't stay for at least half an hour," he said. "I learned that we have to be creative. We need to be out here, talking to people and I appreciate that."

A former council member and mayor, Nickum said he was the first to cast his vote Tuesday morning, along with mayor-elect Peterson.

"Tom asked me to run for council," Nickum said. He wore a red Washington Nationals hat with a white "W" on the front that, on Tuesday, stood for Wayne, he added.

Nickum said he hoped he'd be able to get together with the other new members of the Town Council to discuss their goals between the election and their swearing in ceremony in July.

"I think we should start meeting to openly discuss things outside a council meeting," Nickum said. "It would be a planning and team work session so we could get to know each other better so when we're in office, we're already ready to work."

Challenger Marilyn Stoney was handing voters the results of a survey she'd conducted earlier this spring, in which she outlined the top concerns of residents and pledged to make them her top priorities if elected.

"It's hard to differentiate yourself from people who are just like you," she said of her campaign and the survey.

At the top of her list was the preservation of historic structures within Clifton, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

"Everyone knows we're a historic district, but we've left it up to individual homeowners to maintain," Stoney said. "We need to figure out a way to reward or offer incentives to continue the preservation so everyone in town gets behind it."

Looking down the street to where the Hetzel House, one of the earliest homes in Clifton which was torn down a few months ago due to its poor condition, used to stand and watching workers build a new home, Stoney shook her head. "The Hetzel House represents the failure of the last Town Council. I hope to never see that again."

Johnston said she'd like to work with the Audubon Society to put together brochure detailing the trails and wildlife found around Clifton.

Her top priority, however, is improving communication between the Town Council and Clifton residents.

"There must be a way to tell people the agenda and what happens at meetings if they can't be there," she said. "You can never have too much communication."

Despite running unopposed, Peterson didn't want to consider himself elected until the final results were tallied.

"If I felt I was an absolute shoe-in, I wouldn't be here all day," he said with a laugh. "As a former coach, I knew never to stop until the final score is in."

Of the 206 registered voters in Clifton, 162 (77 percent) came out to vote on Tuesday.