Nancy Shepherd, an accountant with a flair for number crunching and diplomacy, will lead the city as mayor in 2014 after earning the unanimous blessing from her colleagues Monday night.
Shepherd, a former PTA volunteer, joined the council in 2009 and will serve as mayor in the final year of her first term, which happens to be an election year in which her seat is up for grabs. She will be joined in the center of the dais by Councilwoman Liz Kniss, a council veteran who was unanimously elected vice mayor by her peers. Pat Burt, Karen Holman and Greg Schmid all had initially supported Holman for vice mayor, but all changed their votes upon Holman's request after Kniss' victory was assured.
The election of Kniss was the only trace of drama in an otherwise tightly scripted and ceremonial meeting. Because Shepherd served as vice mayor in 2013, her rise to the mayor's chair was largely preordained and she was swiftly elected, becoming the 12th female mayor in the city's history and the first since Yoriko Kishimoto in 2007.
Still, as her council colleague and former three-time Mayor Larry Klein observed, the Monday election was a more serious affair than prior election meetings, with no bands or live entertainment. This, he said, is appropriate given the serious challenges that the city is facing in 2014, particularly the community anxiety over development.
It makes Shepherd a particularly good fit to lead the city in 2014, given her penchant for responding to citizen emails and reaching out to stakeholders and partners both within and outside the city borders, he said. He praised Shepherd's ability to "disagree without being disagreeable."
"She knows that really to succeed, any council needs to reach out to people who agree and disagree on different issues," Klein said.
Even without music, the Monday meeting was a feel-good affair, teeming with praise and platitudes. Kniss, who nominated Shepherd to the mayor's spot, lauded Shepherd's "resiliency" and spoke at length about Shepherd's passion for preserving the city's "quality of life." She noted that Shepherd had four children in five years while holding a job and cited the various awards Shepherd had earned for volunteering. These include ones she had received Palo Alto Unified School District (she had served as president of the PTA council) and with Adolescent Counseling Services, which gave her its "Volunteer of the Year" award.
"I think the mayor in the coming year will need that toughness, that resilience, and I think we have just this kind of character in Nancy Shepherd," Kniss said.
Shepherd thanked her colleagues and listed the many things on the council's to-do list, including adoption of a new Housing Element, which lays out the city's strategy for addressing state housing mandates, and implementation of a "transportation demand management" program aimed at reducing traffic congestion and parking demand.
"The rigor that each of us put into the work that we do here is always something that makes me quite proud," Shepherd said.
Greg Schmid was the only council member to go off script. He used the nomination process to ask Shepherd about committee assignments, which the mayor doles out. He noted that in the past year, 30 committee appointments have been made, more than double the number three years ago. Three council members, including himself, have not been chosen to serve on any of the newly formed committees.
"Will all council members be represented across the committee experience?" Schmid asked.
"Of course," Shepherd responded.
Holman, meanwhile, missed out on the vice mayor position for the second straight year. A former planning commissioner who is often skeptical about new development proposals, Holman was praised by her colleagues for her commitment to transparency and good planning practices. Like in 2013, Pat Burt nominated her as vice mayor, only to see the council majority choose someone else.
Gail Price, who nominated Kniss to vice mayor, praised her experience as a former school board member, councilwoman and supervisor and said the city benefits from her political skills every day. Greg Scharff, who later in the meeting received an official resolution of appreciation from his colleagues, shared Price's enthusiasm for bringing Kniss back to a leadership position, which should catapult her to a third mayoral term in 2015.
"Her ability to reach out to the community and her ability to reach out regionally is really a priceless commodity," Scharff said of Kniss.