Chapel Hill swears in new mayor, council members

Jessica Anderson took her oath of office as Chapel Hill's new mayor. Her oath was administered by District Court Judge Joal Broun. Photo provided by Town of Chapel Hill.

GOVERNMENT

By Adam Powell
Correspondent

It was a change of guard for the Chapel Hill Town Council at Monday night’s final business meeting of the calendar year. New mayor Jessica Anderson and three new council members were sworn in and officially took their place on the municipal board.

Prior to the installation of the new council members, the board honored outgoing members Michael Parker and Tai Hunyh.

Parker chose not to run for re-election after serving two terms, while Hunyh chose to step aside after serving one term.

Hunyh, who joined the Town Council in December 2019, also served two terms on Chapel Hill’s Housing Advisory Board, while also serving as a volunteer in the historic Rogers Road community for three years.

Colleague Paris Miller-Foushee read a proclamation in honor of Hunyh, celebrating that Hunyh is the first Vietnamese-American elected to a public office in North Carolina’s history.

“Now, therefore, be it resolved by the mayor and council of the town of Chapel Hill that we honor and thank Tai Hunyh for his outstanding service to the people of Chapel Hill, and his willingness to serve the community as an elected leader. And we further resolve that Chapel Hill is a better place because of Tai,” read Miller-Foushee from the proclamation.

New council members (left to right top row) Melissa McCullough, Theodore Nollert and Elizabeth Sharp.
Bottom row (left to right) Council Members Adam Searing, Camille Berry, Mayor Jessica Anderson, Mayor Pro tem Amy Ryan and Council Member Paris Miller-Foushee. Photo courtesy of the Town of Chapel Hill.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve this town in this capacity,” Hunyh said in his closing remarks. “Thanks to my amazing colleagues, the dedicated staff, and the community. I think we’ve been able to accomplish a lot together over these past four years. They have flown by.”

“I could not have imagined four years ago all of the things that we would be put through together. An unprecedented global pandemic, among many other things,” Hunyh continued. “And through it all, I think our community has grown stronger. We have moved forward as a town and congratulations to the incoming council. You will have a monumental task ahead of you. Best of luck. Thank you to the voters for giving me this opportunity. I hope I lived up to my promises and served you well.”

Parker, who joined the council in December 2015, served on Chapel Hill’s Planning Commission, while also serving as a board member of Friends of Downtown, Chapel Hill Chamber of Commerce, and the Art Center in Carrboro, among other distinctions. Longtime colleague Karen Stegman read his proclamation.

“Now therefore, be it resolved by the mayor and council of the town of Chapel Hill that we honor and thank Michael Parker for his outstanding service to the people of Chapel Hill and his willingness to serve the community as an elected leader. And we further resolved that Chapel Hill is a better place because of Michael,” Stegman read from the proclamation.

“I want to thank the over 750 town employees who come to work every day to make Chapel Hill the special place that it is,” Parker said in his closing remarks. “Without the town employees who work as hard as they do, the council is just a bunch of folks talking.”

“My wish for the new mayor and the new council members is I hope each and every one of you has as much fun as I’ve had being on council, and enjoys it as much as I’ve had. So once again, thank you Chapel Hill. I’ve had a blast,” Parker said in conclusion.

Following Hunyh and Parker’s proclamations, Chapel Hill’s new mayor read a proclamation in honor of the outgoing mayor, Pam Hemminger. 

Hemminger has served in numerous local municipal and countywide roles over the years, including service as an Orange County Commissioner, Chair and Vice Chair of the Chapel Hill Carrboro City School Board, Chair of the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission and Greenways Commission, and chair of the Upper Neuse River Basin Authority.

“Under her (Hemminger’s) leadership, the council approved numerous projects, initiatives and policy decisions that will leave their mark on Chapel Hill,” read Anderson from the proclamation.“

“The real power of the mayor’s office lies in convening the groups – bringing stakeholders with unique perspectives together to find the solutions to those big issues,” Hemminger said in her closing remarks. “Whether it’s coping with a world health pandemic, acknowledging the fullness of the town’s history, good and bad, or bringing new energy to support our growing business community, one person does not have all the answers. The mayor can bring them together to the table so we can find them together. So I’m saying a big thank you to everyone who was willing to come together to join me on this journey for the last eight years.”

The new elected officials were then sworn into office, starting with Chapel Hill’s new mayor, Jessica Anderson.

Prior to officially adjourning her final meeting as head of Chapel Hill’s municipal government, outgoing mayor Hemminger gave Anderson a toolkit and hard hat as a symbolic passing of the torch, along with some kind words of encouragement.

“I wish you all the best of everything,” Hemminger told Anderson. “It’s going to be wonderful and you are amazing.”

“It’s with great honor and humility that I stand before you as your new mayor,” Anderson said. “I want to begin by thanking my family and friends for their unwavering support. Whether you are here or afar, I appreciate all you do to make my public service possible. I’d also like to thank my colleagues who are moving on to other things today, especially mayor Pam Heminger. Her dedication, hard work and steadfast leadership over the past eight years, including through a global pandemic, cannot be understated. And finally, I’d like to congratulate our newly elected council members and thank the public for the trust that you’ve placed in me and them.”

Newly sworn in Mayor Jessica Anderson embraces outgoing Mayor Pam Hemminger. Photo courtesy of Town of Chapel Hill.

Following a brief intermission after Anderson’s swearing-in as Chapel Hill’s new mayor, each of the new council members were formally sworn in.

Four council members were sworn in, as Amy Ryan was re-elected to a new four-year term, and new members Melissa McCullough, Theodore Nollert, and Elizabeth Sharp replaced Hunyh, Parker, and Anderson.

As each new council member was sworn in, their nameplates were switched out, taking the outgoing members’ place, and they formally took their new seats.

“We are at a pivotal moment in our town’s evolution,” Anderson said once all the new officials were sworn in. “Municipalities across the country are facing very real challenges, including a climate crisis, a housing crisis and an affordability crisis. Despite all the special things about Chapel Hill, we’re not immune. Luckily, we have an exciting new opportunity ahead of us, implementing our complete community vision. If we do this right, I’m confident we’ll not only address these challenges, but build on what we all love about Chapel Hill, (and) becoming a model for municipalities in the south and beyond.”

“More importantly, we’ll grow in ways that will make our town even better now and for future generations,” Chapel Hill’s new mayor continued. “Meeting this moment will require us to collectively embrace change. Not simply for change’s sake, but because change is inevitable. If we truly want to continue to live our values while the world changes around us, that includes changing how our government works.”

Anderson promised transparency, collaboration, and a spirit of community teamwork as she addressed the community for the first time in her new role.

“One of my primary goals as mayor is to foster a more informed, collaborative and inclusive policymaking process,” she explained. “As I promised during the campaign, I’m committed to being a mayor for all. It’s only by giving everyone a voice and working together effectively from the same set of facts that we can make the best decisions for our town. To get there, we’ll be making some changes to how we engage the public with information as well as our work. These changes will make sure that more people can participate. Public input is provided when it can be most impactful and that you can easily track progress towards achieving our goals.”

“Today is an exciting new day,” Anderson added. “With your support and participation. I’m confident we can overcome our challenges, embrace opportunities, and write a new inspiring chapter in the story of Chapel Hill. So let’s get started moving Chapel Hill forward together, I present to you your new Chapel Hill Town Council.”

The agenda was light for the new council’s inaugural session, as the board elected a new Mayor Pro Tem – the newly sworn-in Amy Ryan – while also selecting appointments for a series of council liaison representatives.

The council also unanimously approved a resolution that will change the starting time of meetings and work sessions to 6:00 p.m. starting in January.

The change intends to allow council members and public speakers who stick around for marathon sessions to get home a little sooner on those particular evenings.

“We’re making this change in the interest of not keeping people up so late on meeting nights,” mayor Anderson explained. “And we’ll be sharing this information out broadly with the public as well.”

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