The mayor's comments capped an evening of recognizing outgoing council members and welcoming the two new representatives on Dec. 4, one of whom, Ray Mueller, was elected by the council to serve as vice mayor.
Community members, local officials and colleagues thanked Kelly Fergusson and Andy Cohen, who left the dais after eight years on the council. "You all serve our community so well," Patti Fry said.
Ms. Fergusson, who lost her bid for a third term by 235 votes, received kudos for her work on everything from the downtown plan to the city's block parties and advocating for the use of native tree species. She thanked her family and supporters. "It certainly has been a privilege to serve the people of Menlo Park during these past eight years."
Mr. Cohen, acknowledged for his outspoken support of "the underdog" on issues such as housing, likewise thanked his colleagues and the public. "I have often been a challenge to work with," he noted.
Mr. Mueller and Catherine Carlton, who collected 5,841 and 5,530 votes, respectively, in the November election, were sworn in. City Clerk Margaret Roberts noted that Menlo Park saw 83 percent voter turnout.
That left choosing the new mayor and vice mayor as the final business of the evening. The city's non-binding policy states that council members who have served at least one year and have yet to hold the lead office take priority, leaving Mr. Ohtaki as the top choice to replace Kirsten Keith as mayor.
Making her first official motion as a council member, Ms. Carlton nominated Mr. Mueller as vice mayor, with the rest of the council in agreement.
The new council has its work cut out. "My heart's been heavy these past few weeks," Mr. Mueller said, referring to the spate of gang-fueled violence within the city. He declared chasing crime from the city to be his top priority.
The "economic renaissance" anticipated by the mayor will also bring its own share of political struggles as the council attempts to weigh development versus quality of life, with state-mandated updates to its housing capacity and a proposed eight-acre mixed-use complex off El Camino Real among the topics worrying residents.