Clifton Council Takes Office

Clifton Council Takes Office

Call for participation, promises of communication abound at swearing-in ceremony.

Surrounded by family and friends, and under the watchful but rested eyes of their predecessors, members of the Clifton Town Council stopped simply being residents and started being elected officials when they were sworn into office by the Fairfax County Clerk of the Courts Monday night.

"This is a special time for Clifton," said new mayor Tom Peterson, who compared the tiny town with the famed bar in the TV show "Cheers," as a "place where everyone knows your name."

Over the six weeks since the election, Peterson said he and his new council, including Lane Johnston, Mike Anton, Pat Layden, Wayne Nickum and Chuck Rusnak, have been meeting twice a week to discuss ways to make the town a better place to live and how to carry over some of the good work accomplished by the previous council.

Peterson, after taking the oath of office with his wife and their three children by his side, asked the residents of Clifton to help out the new council by getting involved in committees to make the town a better place.

"Six people can't accomplish everything we want to get done here," he said. "We're going to need you're help. We've got big plans and we're dedicated."

AFTER ISSUING the oath to the new council, Clerk of the Court John Frey said this was the first time he'd ever sworn in a childhood friend and thanked Peterson's parents, Phil and Delores Peterson, for all the times they didn't get angry at their young son and his friends for breaking windows in their house when playing baseball.

"I hope he does a good job," said Delores Peterson, wishing her son luck.

"It's seems that this is what he wants," said Phil Peterson. "He really enjoys Clifton. I used to wonder why he bought that old house here but it really makes him happy."

The new council members, each of whom has been assigned to lead a certain aspect of town life, said they were more excited about their new responsibilities than nervous about their positions.

"I'm really hoping to enhance the communication between the council and the town," said council member Chuck Rusnak, who has been put in charge of doing just that.

"I want to work with the fellow who made our Web site and use the technology we have more than we currently do. I'm interested in it, we have it, and now we're going to use it."

Mike Anton, a relative newcomer to Clifton, said he was hoping to "improve the beautification of the town" now that he's officially in office.

"Certain committees in the town have already started working on beautification projects, like the sidewalk, parks and garden committees, but I'd like to put everything to go to one purpose," he said.

Before she was sworn in, Lane Johnston said she was ready to get to work.

"There's a $2,000 grant for the beginning of the Main Street renovation project that will go toward preliminary engineering," said Johnston, who is in charge of roads and sidewalks in Clifton. "I'd like to see us improve the look of Main Street. Anything we can do to preserve our village-centered life, which means improving sidewalks for mothers with strollers so they can walk from the post office to the store to the park easier, I'm ready to go to work."

At the end of her two-year term, Johnston said she hopes "everyone will feel their quality of life is better than it is now."

Council member Pat Layden said his top priority for the next two years will be to make the town's historic preservation codes tighter to prevent the loss of important structures.

"I want to see what our objectives are, as a historic district, and make sure we don't miss an opportunity to tighten up the code," Layden said. He referred to the Hetzel House, an old home that deteriorated over the years and was recently torn down, and said he'd "hate to see that happen again."

In addition, Layden said he plans to look into securing restoration and preservation grants for old buildings and hopes to revive the town's museum committee which "hasn't done much" in the past few years.

Layden and Wayne Nickum have both served on the Town Council in the past for several terms and Peterson said he's counting on them to provide insight and expertise to their council members.

DESPITE HAVING served in the past, Nickum said the swearing in process still affected him.

"After 30 years, the chills still go up the spine when saying the oath," he said, trademark denim conductor's hat on his head.

Peterson will "really be our leader," said Nickum. "He's the spokesman of this town."

However, because everyone has their own specific responsibilities, Nickum said the council will have a "greater sense of ownership" over their work.

"You have a new group that has never been on the council and it's just bubbly," he said of the council's enthusiasm and willingness to get to work. "This is the most enthusiastic swearing-in I've ever been at and the support of the populace of Clifton will go a long way to help us out. I think that's a good sign."

After more than a decade as mayor, Jim Chesley attended the ceremony as an observer.

"I was walking down the street the other day and noticed the sewers were all clogged," Chesley said. "I said to myself, why are you looking? You don't have to deal with that anymore."

His advice to the new council is to remember their sense of humor and to keep the residents of the town involved.

"Keep abreast of each other and don't try to do it alone," Chesley said. "People will respond if you ask them the right way and if they know it's important. After that, everything will work out from there."