Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Antioch City Council names Parsons to vacant seat

A three-hour interview process with "Survivor"-style elimination rounds was what it took Thursday for the Antioch City Council to whittle a field of 13 applicants down to one new council member.

At one point candidate Gary Agopian joked that he felt as if he were standing before a tribal council with the authority to vote him off the island.

At the end of the night, political consultant Martha Parsons was sworn in as the council's fifth member, filling the seat vacated by Jim Davis when he was elected mayor in November. Parsons will serve for the two years remaining in Davis' term.

She was one of 12 applicants who went through the interview process Thursday night. David Pfeiffer was unable to attend because of a flight delay — though his 12-year-old daughter gave an impassioned speech on his behalf. Antioch resident Diana Bello withdrew her application earlier in the week.

The City Council eliminated a few well-known names in a first round of votes, including Chamber of Commerce CEO Devi Lanphere, former Councilman Arne Simonsen, former Councilman and mayoral candidate Allen Payton and former Antioch school board member and county supervisor candidate Agopian.

After the field was narrowed to four candidates — former Councilman Manuel Soliz, Supervisor Federal Glover's former chief of staff Vincent Manuel, high school administrator Jason Miller and Parsons — Councilman Reggie Moore moved to nominate Parsons, Advertisementand Councilwoman Mary Rocha seconded the motion. The vote passed 3-1, with Davis dissenting.

Parsons, 60, was born and raised in Antioch, and is married to former Mayor Barney Parsons. Her three sons, two stepdaughters and nine grandchildren all live in Antioch.

She said Antioch can regain the small-town feeling it once had — a community where, despite the recent population boom, people still care about what's going on in their neighborhoods.

"You can still have the same caring," Parsons said. "The human race didn't change because of the size of the town."

As a marketing and political consultant and a fundraising aid, she has worked on campaigns for California state Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier and Antioch Councilman Brian Kalinowski. She helped Kalinowski raise money in his recent re-election campaign.

Kalinowski said he did not see a conflict of interest between Parsons' work for his campaign and her appointment.

"I don't see any connection between the two," he said. "I have working relationships between several of the people who applied. Martha happens to be one of them."

Antioch City Attorney Lynn Tracy Nerland also said she did not see a conflict of interest as it is defined by the Political Reform Act.

"The question is whether the subject of the decision is of economic interest or a source of income to the public official," Nerland said, adding that is not the case in this situation.

Parsons joins the council at a difficult economic time as officials prepare to cut upward of $5 million from the city's budget in January. She said Friday she already has meetings planned to get up to speed on the budget and issues facing the city.

"We're going to have to fight for everything we get," she said.

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