Publisher’s Note: This is the final of two articles on the December 8, 2016 Antioch City Council meeting.
By Allen Payton
During the December 8th council meeting, prior to the oaths of office for Mayor Sean Wright, Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe and re-elected Councilwoman Monica Wilson, out-going Mayor Wade Harper and Councilwoman Mary Rocha said their good-byes. In addition, City Clerk Arn Simonsen and City Treasurer Donna Conley were sworn in for another term, as they were each re-elected without opposition.
Steven Evans gave the invocation to open the evening’s ceremonies.
Harper jokingly said, “when I saw the large crowd I thought feral cats were on the agenda.”
Rocha was first to speak.
“You can feel the excitement in the air and also the sadness,” she said. “For my life it’s been 44 years. So you’re going to see me around.”
She thanked the former mayors she served with.
“I started on the school side where I served 16 years there,” Rocha continued. Thank you, again. I love all of you. This has been the best council that I’ve worked with. We haven’t all been on the same street. We’re very respectful. We’re rolling together and that’s for one thing. That’s the City of Antioch.”
Councilman Tony Tiscareno then offered his thoughts.
“I’ve known Mary since I was little. Rumor had it that I was her third son,” he said with a smile. “You know what. You are my mama. My second mother. To share this dais with you has been an honor. I’m proud to be a part of your life. I was proud to be part of the council with you.”
Next then-Mayor Pro Tem Lori Ogorchock shared about Rocha.
“I grew up down the street from Mary,” she said, choking up. “My husband’s the one who told her she had the 44 years. She’s done a lot for this city. She’s part of Antioch’s history. I’m very glad to have you as my friend. I’m glad you were here.”
Wilson then stated, “you care so passionately about this town. You’ve been a big, big major inspiration to me. Thank you for all you’ve done for Antioch.”
Harper spoke last.
“In the Social Justice room on the wall of Antioch High School, there’s a mural of the first Hispanic woman who served as Mayor of Antioch,” he said referring to Rocha. “Mary has a pure heart. When I first ran I called Mary and she returned my call. She told me she couldn’t support me but she gave me advice.”
Erica Rodriguez representing Assemblyman Jim Frazier then presented a framed certificate of recognition from him and one from Congressman Jerry McNerney.
State Senator Steve Glazer’s representative George Escutia presented a plaque, mentioning the fact that Rocha was the “first Latina Mayor in the county, as well.”
“I feel like I’ve died and gone to Heaven,” Rocha said.
She thanked her husband Louie for his support.
“I was told I was going to lose him. Latina ladies are not supposed to be in politics,” she added.
Diane Gibson-Gray, then the president of the Antioch School Board said, “You set the temperature and high water mark for what women in politics are supposed to be.”
She was joined by Trustees Debra Vinson, Walter Ruehlig, Alonzo Terry, trustee-elect Cystal Sawyer-White, and Superintendent Stephanie Anello to present Rocha with a plaque, as well.
“You’re my husband’s best friend,” Gibson-Gray continued.
“I’m his girlfriend, really,” Rocha said with a laugh.
“He’s run her campaigns,” Gibson-Gray added. “I expect you to pop up in other places.”
“Be ware,” Rocha responded with a smile.
Arne presented her with a photo of the ladies of First 5 and her original Council badge.
“The secret is I used that badge in Mexico,” Rocha shared. “Someone was giving me trouble. I showed it to an official.”
Simonsen then presented her with the photo of Rocha from the wall inside City Hall.
“A very young Mary Helen Rocha,” he said.
“And it doesn’t change,” she said with a laugh.
Rocha spent a total of 32 years in office in Antioch, including the 16 on the school board and 16 on the city council, including four years as Mayor.
Harper Says Farewell, But Not Forever
He said he was wearing “my favorite suit and my pocket watch my father left me.”
“This election could have gone either way,” Harper continued. “I made a phone call to Sean. He said hold off its still kind of close. I pledged to work with him and meet with him.”
“After I was elected Mayor a publisher of a newspaper asked ‘do you know how historic this is for you to be elected, without mentioning race?’ My comment was, ‘yes. I am the first Antioch Mayor who owns an iPad,’” Harper said with a grin.
“He published those comments and I knew that would be the beginning of a beautiful relationship,” he said wrily.
“I have endeavored to preach the gospel at all times and as it says if you must use words,” Harper continued. “I have been truly blessed to be the mayor of the great City of Antioch. I have been proud to have sworn in over 40 police officers. That was a highlight.”
“I want to thank those this council appointed to city commissions,” he added.
Harper then thanked City Manager Steve Duran and staff, Police Chief Allan Cantando and “the community partners.
“We have not always agreed,” he said to his fellow council members. “But I believe we were very effective.”
“I’m going to pass the torch but I’m going to keep my torch lit,” Harper concluded. “I’m going to pass the torch on to Sean Wright. He never needed a title to lead. And I know he’s going to do a great job.”
Presentations from Frazier and McNerney – Erica Rodriguez rep.
George Escutia, rep Sen. Steve Glazer, mentioning Harper’s “six years on the city council, two as council member as Mayor Pro Tem, for years as Mayor, before that two years as an appointed Trustee on the Antioch School Board.”
Gibson-Gray then led a presentation by the Antioch School Board, along with her fellow council members and Anello.
“I was always happy to sit by the best looking man on the school board,” she said, adding “Sorry, Walter.
“Once you moved on to the dark side,” Gibson-Gray continued, referring to the city council. “I’m kidding. The other side. Because it is a partnership between the district and the city. I’m sure our paths will soon cross again.”
“Absolutely,” Harper replied, and then hugged each of the school board members.
Antioch High School student Clarissa Wilson then offered a special gift to Harper saying, “you’ve done an outstanding and inspirational job for this community. Thank you for being a role model for the youth of this community.”
She said she wanted to give him “something sweet for a bittersweet moment.”
“Clarissa’s one of my students,” Harper said who teaches in the Leadership Academy.
“Get off the phone, Clarissa,” he said to laughter from the crowd.
Simonsen then presented Harper with a photo of him with First 5, in which Harper was “wearing Willie Brown’s hat,” he shared.
A plaque with a gavel on it, as well as his photo from the wall inside City Hall were also presented to Harper.
“Another good looking, young man,” Simonsen said. “Thank you on behalf of the city council, residents and the staff.”
Tiscareno was the first of the council members to speak.
“Mayor Harper, I want to thank you for your service and for your friendship,” he stated. “I’ve admired you from day one. Your leadership. Your quality skills. You know how to run a meeting. I’ve never seen a council that’s worked so well together. My hat’s off to you. I think this council has accomplished a lot under you. We don’t wine and dine all the time but I think about you all the time. You’re young. You’re bright. Keep your head up high because you’re going places. I know you’re going to be involved.”
Wilson then shared her thoughts.
“Thank you so much for your service,” she said echoing Tiscareno. “I really admire your work with our young people. We didn’t always see eye to eye but I did respect your opinion.”
Finally, Ogorchock had her chance to speak.
“We have not always agreed but we always came to an agreement,” she stated. “I know God has a plan for you and I know you’re going to be around. Thank you so much for your service.”
Arne Simonsen Sworn In
Next, the evening’s festivities included the oath of office for City Clerk Simonsen, administered by County Clerk Joe Canciamilla, followed by City Treasurer Conley’s.
“I have the most important person, my grandson Gavin Simonsen,” Simonsen said, and then introduced the rest of his family.
“It was a rough election,” he said with a laugh, as he ran unopposed. “Antioch had a 72.4% turnout in the election. Thank you for giving me the opportunity.
“I support the city council and the city manager but I represent you,” Simonsen added. “And if you like transparency believe me I’m going to give it.”
Donna Conley’s Oath of Office
Simonsen administered the oath for Conley, with her husband and former Councilman and current planning commissioner Jim and her family standing nearby.
She introduced her family.
“I couldn’t do anything without these people,” Conley stated. “I want to thank the citizens of Antioch. This is my fourth term. I do appreciate their confidence in me.”
“I pray you’re given the strength and wisdom to make the decisions for the city of Antioch,” she said to the new council members.
A few members of the public offered their comments following all of the oath of office ceremonies.
Marcel Caldwell of Glazer’s office offered congratulations “to Sean and Lamar.”
Robin Agopian said “thank you to both Wade and Mary for the work you’ve done.”
“Congratulations, Monica. I’m so proud of you,” she continued. “Lamar, congratulations. You’re grinning from ear to ear.”
“Sean, I remember when (her late husband and Councilman) Gary and I would have coffee together,” Agopian shared. “We would talk about people who could lead our community. Your name always came up. I can’t say thank you enough.
Then speaking to the audience about the council members, she said, “they’re still people. So if you have a concern, kindly send a note to them. So be very kind in your requests. It’s not easy to serve. Just pray for them.”
“I’m just so excited for all of you,” Agopian added.
Willie Mims representing the East County Branch of the NAACP said “congratulations to all of you. I come when there’s usually trouble. I’m looking forward to 2017. I’m hoping it’s more successful than 2016.”
“Tonight, I come in peace,” he added, to laughter, as Mims usually offers something with which to challenge either the council or school board.
Economic Development Commissioner Josh Young spoke next.
“Honorable Mayor and Council, I want to express my joy,” he stated. “It’s going to be a great 2017 a great season for Antioch. We are in the harvest time of Antioch. We’re going to see jobs come to Antioch because of this council you see here. My family has been here for generations. I look forward to working with you. I have plans myself.”
Erica Rodriguez offered congratulations on behalf of Assemblyman Frazier.
A resident named Malik, offered his congratulations to “Lamar with that great victory and the new mayor.”
“I’m definitely going to try to be more involved,” he added.
Antioch School Board Trustee Vinson said, “I just want to congratulate the new representatives on the council and Monica for your reelection. Hopefully you all can work with the school board.”
An enthusiastic resident, Kip Stephens was the last to speak
“Smiles. That’s what I like to see,” he said. “Congratulations Sean, Lamar, Monica. Tony, Lori. Let’s do it this time. Let’s rock. I’m tired of people moving away. I came pretty close. Let’s make it positive. Don’t just sit up there and listen.”