The Brookings City Council Monday night appointed former Mayor Ron Hedenskog to the seat vacated by Roger Thompson — a move that surprised some in the audience because of how quickly the decision was made.
The opportunity to name someone to a vacant seat doesn’t happen often, Mayor Jake Pieper noted, and can be done by soliciting applications or appointing someone the council knows is interested in taking the seat.
Thompson resigned from the council after he was charged with DUII in early April; those charges were later dismissed. He also resigned from his seat on the Port of Brookings Harbor board.
“It is unfortunate,” Pieper said of Thompson’s departure. “I appreciate the service he gave the city. He lent us an old-timey timber guy’s (perspective) we didn’t have.”
Over the years, Hedenskog served on the city’s planning commissioner, city council and most recently as mayor. Hedenskog, who was waiting in the hallway outside the council chambers, was sworn in immediately.
The rationale behind the quick decision was because the city is in the middle of budget talks, trying to select a replacement for retiring City Manager Gary Milliman and that there are only eight months left in the term for that seat.
“For me, it comes down to there’s no one else I’d rather see as councilor,” Pieper said. “Applications would come in and my mind would already be made up. It’s almost a no-brainer. It would be insulting for someone else to apply for a deal that’s basically sealed.”
Councilor Dennis Triglia disagreed — and voted against the appointment — saying the council should name someone with a “fresh set of eyes” to avoid the perception of perpetuating the good ol’ boy’s club.
“I see it as recycling the same people, the same ideas,” Triglia said. “This is perpetuating the public perception of the status quo. I’d rather have Brookings move forward, not backward.”
Pieper said he’d usually feel the same way.
“There are a lot of moving parts in the city right now,” he said. “It would be nice to have someone hit the ground running, a smooth transition.”
He also noted that, when Hedenskog left the council after his eighth year as mayor, Thompson filled the void by being “old-growth Brookings: born, raised, corn-fed Brookings. And now he’s gone. And we’re looking for someone to fill the void again.”
Councilors Brent Hodges and Bill Hamilton agreed with Pieper.
“I was thinking along like Triglia was,” Hamilton said. “If it was two years (until elections), I’d think (soliciting applications) would be a good choice. But this is an eight-month deal. There’ll be other people running in eight months. I don’t think we can turn away the experience. It’s better for the citizens to have someone experienced at this point in time.”
Pieper said that, even if the council set aside Hedenskog’s qualifications, he has strong ties in the community, is familiar with issues facing the city and will stay in the community and “live with any of the decisions he helped make.”
“I’ve seen people — councilors and mayors — come in, make a big splash and leave,” Pieper said. “And sometimes, they’ve left the city to pick up the pieces. The next few years are going to be a great time in this city. The things we’ve worked on are coming to fruition. The important thing in this community is continuity.”