ROCKVILLE — Members of the community and local elected officials gathered on Sunday for the 66th inauguration ceremony of Rockville’s mayor and council.
Incumbent Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton was sworn in for her third term alongside council incumbents Beryl L. Feinberg and Mike Pierzchala. New to the council are Monique Ashton and David Myles.
This year’s election in Rockville was the city’s first vote by mail election, which generated nearly doubled the number of votes in years past.
In fact, when compared with the city’s election in 2015, this year’s voter turnout rate increased by 88.8%, according to the city.
The field of candidates was also quite large; there were 13 candidates certified by the Rockville Board of Supervisors of Elections and two candidates for mayor.
Newton received 7,561 or about 63.7% of the total votes, according to the City of Rockville. The ballots were officially certified on Nov. 12.
The short inauguration ceremony was held at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theater in Rockville.
Mayor Newton was first sworn in by Barbara Meiklejohn, who serves as the clerk of the circuit court. Newton then swore in the newly elected city councilmembers.
Each member brought their family on stage and introduced them to the audience, which consisted of residents and local officials like members of the Montgomery County Council and the Gaithersburg City Council, among others.
Newton was also the only one of the newly elected leaders to speak during the ceremony.
She began by explaining that no matter how many terms she serves as mayor, speaking in front of a crowd still makes her nervous.
Newton went on to note that also in attendance were some local students who she encouraged to continue their activism and keep the city council on their toes.
“Let’s thank those who ran with us,” Newton said, acknowledging how large the field of candidates was this year. “It was a hardworking and mostly collegial group of candidates that represented a cross-section of points and neighborhoods.
“(Although) there wasn’t a lot of time to deal with the true details about the issues there was some thoughtful and well-spoken proposals for supporting and protecting the environment, our neighborhoods, increasing housing for all and smartly channeling our growth just to name a few.”
She encouraged those who did not win their elections to continue their work in improving the city of Rockville.
“I hope you will stay engaged and help us as we pledge to work together to represent all of Rockville,” she said.
Newton explained to the audience that she did not initially plan on running for office again but, “the overwhelming engagement of our citizens throughout the city suggested another path lay ahead.”
She noted that she expects the new council will be able to work together and serve the city.
“Sometimes, it’s difficult to understand the outcome of elections, why the voters choose as they do. It is my belief that once determined, and it becomes the inherent responsibility of those conferred to come together and serve the people working together in the best interest of the greater good. In this case, the 70,000 plus residents of our city are counting on us to do the right thing,” Newton said.
Newton explained that this new council would have a full plate of issues to work on together. She noted that she was pleased to find that all the new members met with her in the past two weeks and agreed to get things done together.
“We will not come from the same frame of reference as we have various backgrounds and experiences, but we can and must come together to reach the best decision for our community,” she said.
Newton described her experience with the Maryland Public Policy Conflict Resolution Fellows program, which was a two-day intensive course designed to build a network of Maryland leaders and help teach conflict resolution and consensus-building.
“I will use the tools that were taught to help our council reframe our discussions so that we better serve the public,” she said, “with two new and may I say younger, councilmembers we have an opportunity to tap into their perspective and experiences.
While three of us are well, more seasoned, shall we say, I see a wonderful opening for this mayor and council to craft a new and exciting ending to the many opportunities on future agendas.”
Newton highlighted issues like affordable housing, making Rockville more walkable and bikeable, friendly to local businesses and supporting a mixed-income workforce as central to the new council.
The mayor and council held their first meeting on Nov. 18.