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High Drama as New F.C. Council Sworn In: Baroukh Gets Mayor, Webb Pulls Out

swearingin4 Pro-Baroukh Members Begin With ‘Manifesto’

It was a foreboding start to a new Falls Church City Council. On the eve of the swearing in of four new Council members last week, moments after the lights were turned out in the News-Press office marking the completion of last week’s edition, an ominous missive lit up the News-Press’ e-mail inbox.

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Being sworn in as members of the Falls Church City Council tonight by City Clerk Katherine Clarken Buschow, left, were, l. to r., Johnnah Barry, Ira Kaylin, Ron Peppe and David Snyder. (Photo: News-Press
4 Pro-Baroukh Members Begin With ‘Manifesto’

It was a foreboding start to a new Falls Church City Council. On the eve of the swearing in of four new Council members last week, moments after the lights were turned out in the News-Press office marking the completion of last week’s edition, an ominous missive lit up the News-Press’ e-mail inbox.

It was a declaration, a bold announcement that a clique of four, which would constitute a majority on the new Council, were laying down a new rule of law before things even got started.

Saying they were “rolling out a discussion draft for a blueprint for action,” the authors produced a document that was intimidating not for what it said, but for what it symbolized, including the means and timing of its presentation. The opposite of a consensus-building approach for a small town City Council struggling in economic hard times to serve the core needs of its citizens, this was a sledgehammer pronouncement that a new majority was intending to do it “its way.”

The signers of the document, Councilmen Nader Baroukh and Lawrence Webb, and Council persons-elect Johannah Barry and Ira Kaylin, indeed constituted the majority that, after the new Council was sworn in at last Thursday’s July 1 special meeting, elected Baroukh the City’s new mayor.

Knowing the die was cast for a Baroukh majority, veteran Councilman David Snyder cast a unity vote for him, as well.

But Snyder did not lend his support to the clique’s election-eve dramatics in the period leading up to that vote. Given the offer to join the four who’d already signed the statement, when Snyder asked and learned that neither outgoing Mayor Robin Gardner nor Councilman-elect Ron Peppe had been invited to sign, he declined the offer.

After Baroukh’s straight-forward election as mayor last Thursday, winning out over Peppe, nominated by Gardner, by a 5-2 vote, more dramatics unfolded. Webb, who’d nominated Baroukh and read a prepared statement saying he supported him because he believed there should be “power sharing” on the Council, suddenly withdrew his name from consideration for vice mayor.

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New F.C. Mayor Nader Baroukh (left) and former Mayor Robin Gardner. (Photo: News-Press)

It was clear from Webb’s written remarks about “power sharing” moments before that they were drafted with himself in mind, as the vice mayor “sharing” power with Baroukh. That, he offered, was the rationale for why he was supporting Baroukh even though he’d disagreed with him on so much in their previous two years on the Council. Webb wanted the City’s elections moved from May to November. Baroukh said that proposal was “un-American.” Webb favored the Wilden Senior Housing project, Baroukh spearheaded opposition to it.

But then Webb, who’d publicized his interest in the vice mayor job weeks before, suddenly declared himself out of consideration. It was because of the heat he’d taken, what he called his “personal integrity being attacked,” by published allegations that he may have been offered votes for vice mayor in exchange for his vote for mayor.

Being vice mayor under the cloud of such accusations would “be a living hell for me,” he said, insisting his only motive in seeking the position was “to make where I live a better place.”

Another signer of the election-eve manifesto, Kaylin was visibly upset by this sudden change in plans. Having officially joined the Council only moments before, he fumbled for a way to call things to a sudden halt to sort out what to do.

City Attorney John Foster reminded the Council that serious “freedom of information act” (FOIA) rules applied if there was a recess, that there could be no “huddling” of Council members outside public scrutiny that involved any more than two Council members.

With that, Kaylin’s initial proposal to recess the meeting for 48 hours was reduced to 15 minutes, at Gardner’s suggestion. Nothing changed in the meantime.

Gardner nominated Snyder, who’d been vice mayor from 1996-1998 and mayor from 1998-2000, and no one else was nominated. The vote was 5-0 for Snyder, with Kaylin and Barry voting “present.”

Upon taking the gavel and the chairmanship of the meeting, Baroukh said, “I intend to be moving the Council in a centrist way for what is best for the City.”

Snyder, who’s been on the Council since 1994, said, “This Council has the capacity for greatness,” and had words of praise for all members of the Council and the citizens of the City.

Webb, in his statement of support for the independent Baroukh over Peppe, backed by the Citizens for a Better City (CBC), had harsh words for the CBC, even though he said, “I stand strong and firm with the CBC.”

But the CBC, he said, “Has to do some soul searching,” because “if you fall out of line, you are attacked and your name is dragged through the mud.”

Mayor Baroukh, a two-year member of the Council, is a senior attorney with management duties at the Department of Homeland Security, responsible for immigration and national security issues.

Vice Mayor Snyder is vice president and assistant general counsel for the American Insurance Association, specializing in automobile insurance and other transportation issues, international trade, insurance regulatory issues and legal reform.

Of the Council’s new members, Peppe, former F.C. School Board chairman, manages legal affairs and human resources for the U.S. operations of Canam Steel Corporation, the U.S. subsidiary of a publicly-traded Canadian company. Kaylin is the former chief financial risk officer of the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, D.C., also serving as the bank’s auditor. Barry is president of the Galapagos Conservancy, the only U.S.-based institution exclusively focused on supporting biodiversity conservation in the Galapagos Islands.