Mayor, councilman take office

The city’s inauguration of newly elected officials Monday went smoothly for two incumbent councilmen and the incumbent controller.

Not so for the two newcomers – Mayor Matt Pacifico and Councilman Matt Cacciotti – both of whom were overcome with emotion during the ceremony.

Cacciotti – who had debated after the election whether to accept his seat because of potential conflicts with work – didn’t come to the front of Council Chambers when it was time for his swearing in.

Instead, he adjourned to the foyer, where a priest who was part of the ceremony and family members went to see what was wrong.

After a bit of a stir, solicitor Larry Clapper walked from the front to the foyer and administered the oath to Cacciotti privately.

A little while later, the new councilman came to the podium and spoke with surprising confidence.

“Something about getting up in front of a crowd can get the best of me sometimes,” Cacciotti said – before thanking the voters who elected him with the highest total among the candidates in November.

“My job is going to be to learn,” he told the crowd of relatives and city officials. “I’m ready.”

After the ceremony, he introduced his parents – who attended with his girlfriend and her mother.

“He was nervous as anything,” said his father, Carl, who told his son in the foyer to “think of something positive.”

His emotions got to him, and he felt he needed to get some air, Cacciotti confessed.

He plans to focus on fighting blight and improving the condition of ballfields and basketball courts operated by the Central Blair Recreation and Parks Commission, working with its executive director Mike Hofer.

“To see [those facilities] deteriorated breaks my heart,” he said.

Pacifico’s bout with excess emotion during a short acceptance speech was an extended reprise of his inability to talk immediately after learning he’d won the election in November.

“I want to thank everyone,” he said Monday. “I want to thank my wife…”

From then on, the phrases were hit-and-miss, as he talked about the voters, about making a difference, about the tough task facing council, his expectation of ultimate success and working as a member of a team.

Afterward, he said the breakdown took him by surprise.

“I honestly didn’t think I’d get emotional,” he said. “I walked around the house and read [my speech] about 30 times last night.”

He lost his composure upon thanking his wife, who sent their son up to the podium to give his dad a hug – a task that Angelo, 2, didn’t quite complete, although his presence nearby seemed to steady the new mayor.

Incumbent Councilman Dave Butterbaugh said he plans to encourage council to consider repealing the land value tax, which he called “a noble idea” that “just didn’t quite do what it was supposed to.”

The land value tax – by which property tax is based entirely on land value and not on the value of buildings – was designed to encourage development by penalizing the speculative holding of land and removing the disincentive of adding tax for construction.

He praised city staff, particularly those in Public Works, a department he compared to the offensive line on a football team, “the least appreciated … but without them, you don’t get anywhere.”

Incumbent Councilman Mike Haire stressed development as the only way to fix what ails the city.

“We have little to offer in the way of corporate welfare,” Haire said. “Be we can [at least] get out of the way.”

Controller AC Stickel was optimistic.

“We are not in distress,” he said. “We’re in recovery.”

Outgoing Mayor Bill Schirf, master of ceremonies, offered consulting help “if you would ever need me.”

He wouldn’t charge for it, he said.

At a reorganization meeting after the inauguration, council elected Bill Neugebauer vice mayor unanimously, after a nomination by Butterbaugh and a second by outgoing Vice Mayor Bruce Kelley.

City Manager Omar Strohm will be working to put the year-old distress recovery plan into practice, after prioritizing its many unfinished initiatives, he said following the meeting.

“This is a grand and glorious day,” Schirf said, before closing the inauguration ceremony.