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Atascadero loses Clay in council seat shuffle 

The vacant council seat created by Tom O’Malley’s landslide (unopposed) victory as Atascadero’s first elected mayor was given to former planning commissioner Heather Moreno on Dec. 11, despite the fact that the highly praised, outgoing Councilman Jerry Clay wanted the spot for two more years.

The shift from allowing council members to serve rotating stints as mayor to having the public elect a person for a full term in Atascadero’s highest office led to an odd shuffling of seats among a council that several speakers described as “the best council ever” during public comment.

Prior to the November election, former Mayor Bob Kelley publicly declared he wouldn’t use his incumbency to seek the more permanent mayoral position and instead ran for a regular council seat when his previous term expired. Councilmember Roberta Fonzi also sought re-election against challenger Ann Ketcherside, and both incumbents won handily. After 16 years on the council, Clay found his term expiring as well, but a run for re-election would have put him at odds with Fonzi and Kelley, as O’Malley’s seat was yet to be vacant. Clay opted not to compete.

So the Dec. 11 meeting was chock full of heartfelt speeches, prayers, and a slide show wishing Clay a fond farewell. After stepping down, Clay spoke as a commoner, thanking his family, friends, and coworkers while praising Atascadero and holding back tears.

When it came time to discuss whether the city should hold a special election to fill O’Malley’s seat or let the council appoint someone to finish the last two years of his term, Clay was again the first to comment.

“If you’re looking for a good ol’ boy with 16 years of experience, I’m available,” he said.

He said he wanted to be around for the completion of the Wal-Mart project and the city’s centennial.

While several community members supported that idea, Moreno, a business owner and former planning commissioner, threw her hat into the ring, noting that her bachelor’s degree in accounting and experience in the community would benefit the council.

“I’m well aware of what goes into it,” she said. “I’m willing and ready to make that commitment.”

While the remaining council members all voiced respect and appreciation for Clay, they voted 3-1 to appoint Moreno, who they said had similar views to Clay but also a fresher perspective and an ability to reach out to younger families. Kelley dissented, saying the community owed Clay two more years.

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