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Passing the torch (updated)

Councilmember Opanyi Nasiali has received a name change. It’s Mayor Nasiali for 2013-2014.

Mr. Nasiali was unanimously selected to serve as Claremont’s mayor by his fellow council members at a special meeting Tuesday night. He takes up his new title after serving the city over the past year as mayor pro tem. He is still getting used to the name change.

“I keep pinching myself,” he joked.

But he has no false notions over what the title of mayor might mean for him. It hasn’t changed his mindset as a council member whatsoever, he assured.

“I am one among equals,” Mr. Nasiali said. “We all have one duty, one responsibility, and that is to do what the people elected us to do, and that’s it. The main thing that is foremost above anything else is that we are here to do the people’s job.”

His first act as mayor was to lead the council in selecting Joe Lyons as the new mayor pro tem, also unanimously affirmed. The duo will now lead the city after joining the council together in March of 2011.

Priorities for the councilmember-turned-mayor have not changed much since that election. As mayor, he brings his campaign slogan “living within our means” along for the ride.

“We are doing a pretty good job right now and I want to continue that,” Mr. Nasiali said. “I want to make sure the city is financially stable because if you don’t have that stability you can’t provide the services that people need and are used to. That is my personal number-one goal.”

Since his election 2 years ago, Mr. Nasiali has put his motto to work by aiding the city in negotiations with its employees, transitioning to having each employee pay their own portion of their Public Employees’ Retirement System contribution (PERS). As mayor, he plans to continue those efforts with eyes focused on areas of local concern that the council has deemed most important to the city: local water issues, overcrowding of the Wilderness Park, economic development and a new police station.

“All of those are things that if we don’t keep our eye on them, we can easily go into the forest and expense staff time on things that are not as critical as the ones we set as our priorities as a council.”

We need to maintain a focus on things relevant to Claremont within the purview of the local council, Mr. Nasiali continued.

“Let’s focus our attention to the things we need to do within that list of priorities we established for ourselves,” Mr. Nasiali said.

Another important area of focus for the new mayor is building upon the city’s relationships with its schools. Among his goals, Mr. Nasiali would like to reintroduce “city government day,” bringing high school students to City Hall for the day to shadow the city manager and other staff members. The day would ideally culminate with the students joining for a city council meeting.

He also plans to invite all local schools to send a student representative or group of student representatives to start off each meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance. He hopes educating young students about their government and increasing their involvement will encourage their interest in community involvement. Recognizing the low voter turnout in recent city elections, he finds the need to engage children in local government even more vital.

“I’m hoping that if we start students at a young age to see how their government functions and understand how it works, maybe there will be some interest in their realizing they too can play a role,” he said.

Mr. Nasiali grew up in Kenya during a time when public education did not exist. Neither of his parents had higher than a grade school education, but instilled in their son the importance of education. Though his parents were not wealthy, they managed to scrape together enough money to send their son to school. They instilled the value of education within their son, a value that remains today.

“I recognize the importance of emphasizing education as the cornerstone of whatever we do in our lives,” Mr. Nasiali said. “I want our students to know their council is interested in their success.”

Not just their athletic success, but for those accomplished in the classroom as well. He wants to set an example for Claremont’s budding academics by recognizing those who excel at city council meetings. “It gives the students something to work hard for, scholastically speaking,” he said.

As Mr. Nasiali assumes his role as mayor—the emails are already rolling in—former Mayor Larry Schroeder settles into his role as city council member, fresh from re-election. Mr. Schroeder and fellow Councilmember Corey Calaycay were reinstated into their positions on Tuesday evening.

 “It’s finally beginning to sink in,” Mr. Nasiali said the morning following his selection. “But I’ll take each day as it comes and always remember the reason why I do this, why we [council members, volunteers for the city] all do this. It’s not a position of power. We do it because we have this unique desire to serve the community in which we live.

“The idea that I can actually contribute something to the betterment of the community, that is always foremost,” he continued. “It is an honor that people see that and give me the privilege of serving on the city council.”

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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