STOW — About 80 people were on hand Thursday night to witness a changing of the guard as the outgoing mayor said farewell and an interim leader was sworn into office.
Current Mayor Sara Kline is resigning from her post effective Sunday and will then begin work as superintendent of the Cuyahoga Falls Parks and Recreation Department the next day.
City Councilman Jim Costello (Ward 2) was unanimously appointed by his peers last month to serve as interim mayor. He will officially move into the role and assume the reins at 12:01 a.m. on Monday.
With an audience that included family and friends, as well as former Stow Mayor Karen Fritschel, Costello was sworn into office by Boston Heights Mayor and longtime friend William Goncy.
After the meeting, Costello said he felt “very proud” and “very appreciative” to be selected by his colleagues to serve as interim mayor.
He added he was “very proud to be following in Sara’s footsteps. She has been an excellent mayor for the city. Her heart ... is in the right place. I hope to carry on that tradition until the populace selects a ... full-time mayor.”
When he walks into the office on Monday morning, Costello said, he is planning to “find out where everything is at and keep it all afloat.”
In her final mayor’s report, an emotional Kline said, “It has been a privilege and an honor to be on Council and to be the mayor.”
She thanked the residents, wished Costello luck in his new role and offered high praise to the city employees.
“Those are the people who make this organization everything that it is,” said Kline. “They’re the people who get things done for the residents ... all of us owe them a debt of gratitude.”
She also discussed the role of local government in helping people.
“I believe that local government fights injustice,” said Kline. “Local government provides an opportunity to ensure every person is valued, cared for and accepted. I am most proud of what this team has accomplished to fight injustice, to make people feel that they’re part of something bigger.”
Kline said she will “forever consider this organization and this community part of my experience of life that I will never forget. I have been so privileged to work with the people that I have worked with. Your success is success for all of us.”
Kline’s farewell remarks were greeted with applause and cheering from the audience on hand.
Council President Matt Riehl (Ward 1) wished Kline the “best of luck,” and noted, “the city of Cuyahoga Falls is getting a large gain.”
Councilman Mike Rasor (At Large) told Kline the city of Cuyahoga Falls will be “well-served by your passion.”
“I feel very honored to have served with Sara,” said Finance Director John Baranek.
Stow Budget and Management Director John Earle thanked Kline for her “leadership and her friendship.”
“All of the employees considered her to be a friend to them,” noted Earle.
“Sara loves this city and does her best every day,” said Law Director Amber Zibritosky. “She’s open-minded, but decisive. She’s pragmatic, but principled, and she has strength and integrity.”
Costello is serving as interim mayor until a successor is elected in the general election Nov. 6. That election will be for the remaining one year on the mayor’s unexpired term. Whoever is elected will take over as soon as the election results are certified. The deadline to file for the November election is Aug. 8 at 4 p.m.
Costello previously said he would not run for election to the post in November. After serving as interim mayor, Costello said he would return to his council seat and complete that term in office.
Costello’s appointment to serve as interim mayor means Council will have to fill the Ward 2 position for an approximate six-month term. Riehl announced that Council’s Committee-of-the-Whole will meet Thursday, May 17, at 7 p.m. to go into executive session to interview candidates for the temporary Council position.
Council will discuss changing charter to expand field of interim mayor candidates
Riehl said that, with the city poised to have an interim mayor for the next six months, now is a “perfect time” for Council to discuss proposing changes to the charter on who is allowed to serve as an interim mayor. Currently, when a mayoral vacancy occurs, the charter requires Council to select one of its members to serve in an interim role “until a successor is elected at the next general or special election.”
Riehl said having an interim mayor who is not running for the permanent job “allows us to look at possible structural changes to the charter ... without anybody saying ‘you’re doing this because of mayor so-and-so.’”
“We’re looking strictly at the office,” added Riehl.
Noting that the charter says the mayor’s job is a “full-time” position, Riehl asked, “What if you have seven members of Council who are career professionals?”
He said potential solutions could include: making the mayor’s job a part-time position during an interim phase; making the interim post available to all city elected officials; or even extending that availability to all city residents.
“[The city is] full of great leaders and people who can step up,” added Riehl.
He noted it would take five affirmative votes from Council to put a proposed charter amendment on the November ballot.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.