NEW CUMBERLAND-City government in this county seat is about to have a changing of the guard.
Newly-elected Mayor Linda McNeil will take the oath of office at a special ceremony at 11 a.m. today. One of her first official duties will be to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of longtime City Councilman Arthur "Jack" Watson.
McNeil, 71, said she is recommending that Miriam Hess, a member of the city Water-Sewerage Board, be appointed to fill the vacancy. "I observed her at water board meetings, where she was focused and asked pertinent questions," McNeil said. "She certainly seems committed to doing the right thing for the town."
Watson, 76, a city councilman since 2002, said he decided not to run for re-election in May because of his age and health issues. "It's time for a young group to get in there and experience the duties of running a city," he said.
All newly-elected and appointed city officials will be sworn in today during a ceremony in New Cumberland City Council chambers. In addition to McNeil, they include Ward 1, Seat C Councilman Brian Webster, who won re-election in May; Ward 2 Councilmen Shawn Marks and Judith Bartley, who both ran unopposed; Municipal Judge John Ashcraft; police Chief Lester Skinner and new Patrolman Brian Cave; City Clerk Tammy Jenkins; and city Solicitors Michael Simon and Kevin Pearl.
If Hess' appointment is approved by City Council, she will take the oath of office at the next regular council meeting at 5 p.m. Monday. Although council terms are normally four years, Hess will serve for two years and then have to run for re-election.
"I wish Ms. Hess a lot of success," Watson said. "I think she's an outstanding individual and will perform well for the citizens."
Watson served with Hess on the Water-Sewerage Board, but he also is leaving that position. Ward 1, Seat A Councilman Will White has succeeded him as chairman of the board.
The Water-Sewerage Board is composed of two City Council members and four city residents. It is unclear whether Hess will remain on the board if she is approved for the City Council spot.
Prior to his time on City Council, Watson served as New Cumberland mayor from 1999 to 2002. "I enjoyed every minute of it, I really did," he said. "I felt that we had a very good run."
Watson said during his time on council, the city streets and alleys got paved, the old New Cumberland Junior High School building was purchased and developed into the Municipal Building, and lights were installed downtown. Improvements to the Municipal Building include the installation of an elevator and the redesign of the entrance for greater handicapped accessibility.
Then there were the things that didn't get done, such as new sidewalks for Ridge Avenue, Station Hill and other parts of town, he said.
"You always have things you would have liked to have accomplished, but you just ran out of time," Watson said. "I always thought that we may be able to develop the downtown area. There really is no downtown in New Cumberland. No one wants to put a business there anymore."
Watson credited outgoing Mayor Richard Blackwell for his accomplishments on behalf of the city. Blackwell, mayor since 2011, lost to McNeil in a three-way race for mayor in the May 14 city elections.