One week since the sudden departure of Mayor Elaine Cook to New Zealand, the remaining Woodinville City Council members elected a new leader: Gary Harris.
Harris, who had been deputy mayor, began his new mayoral role immediately after council appointed him in a 5-1 vote on Tuesday, Jan. 5. The one outstanding vote belonged to Councilmember Susan Boundy-Sanders, who voted for herself.
“I'm very pleased to have been elected mayor,” Harris said. “Hopefully, at some point again in the not-too-distant future, we get to meet again in person, and then things will be a little more normal.”
This is not the first time Harris has had a gavel in his hand, he noted. He has been president of the English Hill Homeowners Association, chair of the Washington State Pharmacy Commission, president of a Parent Teacher Association and chair of the University of Washington Pharmacy Alumni Association.
Harris, now retired, said he was a pharmacist for almost 50 years, which instilled in him a data-driven mindset. This outlook allows him to take into account all costs, benefits and burdens for those impacted, he said.
Once COVID-19 gets under control, Harris said, he hopes to see a return of people to restaurants and businesses so the city’s sales tax revenue will come back up. Then, next year, he wants the city to have a more aggressive Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) project list.
In another 5-1 vote, Councilmember Les Rubstello was elected as deputy mayor. Again, the lone “no” vote was cast by Boundy-Sanders, who had nominated herself. Harris said he is looking forward to working alongside Rubstello and City Manager Brandon Buchanan, just as he had with Cook.
“I thought Elaine was a great mayor. I learned a lot from her about just talking to people in town,” he said. “In my run as mayor, I hope to get to know more people. If you see me shopping at Haggen's or you see me sitting in a restaurant or something, you shouldn't feel that you can't come over and say, ‘Hi.’ I want to be approachable and I want to listen to what you have to say.”
Harris, who still has an active pharmacist license, is currently trying to become a volunteer for the Public Health Reserve Corps. With experience giving hundreds of flu shots and other injections, he wants to help give COVID-19 vaccines to members of the public.
“I feel like I've had a fairly decent life. I haven't had too many nasty things happen to me,” he said. “And so, I should be giving back. If I'm able to do it, I should be out there doing it, whether it's being on city council or being on a professional board or giving vaccines.”
According to Buchanan, council has 90 days from the date of vacancy to appoint a new councilmember. In this case, the deadline to fill the open seat is March 29.
Councilmembers chose an option that would take 29 days to interview and appoint a resident of Woodinville to the open seat.
“I think we need to be aware that we still have work to do,” Councilmember Rachel Best-Campbell said.
Council unanimously agreed on the second option, creating an application deadline of Feb. 8 at 3 p.m. The interview and selection date will be Tuesday, Feb. 16.