Pediatrician picked for Westminster Council seat

Colleagues narrow list of 45 to select Sheela Mahnke

Posted 12/18/18

With 45 names to pick from, Westminster City Councilors were pretty confident they'd be able to find a good replacement City Councilor for former Mayor Pro Tem Maria De Cambra. They selected 16-year …

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Pediatrician picked for Westminster Council seat

Colleagues narrow list of 45 to select Sheela Mahnke

Posted

With 45 names to pick from, Westminster City Councilors were pretty confident they'd be able to find a good replacement City Councilor for former Mayor Pro Tem Maria De Cambra.

They selected 16-year Westminster resident and Thornton pediatrician Sheela Mahnke to fill the empty chair at their Dec. 17 meeting, the culmination of a busy week that saw councilors interview 45 candidates over 16 hours on Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

“I've started to reflect on just how lucky we are that such an abundance of blessings, that all of you applied and brought all of your talents to all of us,” Councilor Emma Pinter said. “It really was special. It felt like the most intensive focus group I've ever participated in on the state of Westminster.”

In all, 60 residents submitted applications in the wake of De Cambra's resignation to take the communication's director job for Colorado Governor-elect Jared Polis.

Councilors interviewed the candidates over three days beginning Dec. 13 — Thursday and Friday nights and a day-long session on Sunday, Dec. 16.

City Clerk Michelle Parker said the 11 of the original 60 applicants were eliminated before the interviews and a handful more declined to be interviewed. Still, councilors met with more than 45 resident for up to 20 minutes at a time before settling on Mahnke.

“The last couple of days have been challenging and insightful and an opportunity to really connect with people,” Councilor Kathryn Sculley said. “You brought incredible passion, incredible thoughtfulness to our city and to our council and I will say you gave me pause and made me think about our votes in the last year and where we go next.”

They'll have to go through the process again in a few weeks as outgoing Councilors Pinter and Shannon Bird step down. Both were elected to new positions in November's general election — Pinter as an Adams County Commissioner and Bird as State Representative.

Mayor Atchison said that based on the response to De Cambra's seat, he's confident they'll find good matches for those seats.

“I will tell you that the changes coming over the next couple of months should not be a concern,” Atchison said. “We will find people as passionate about Westminster as the current council. And that's been demonstrated by the people in this room and those who applied who could not be here and those will apply next time. You don't apply if you are not interested in our city.”

Criteria

Councilors said they were looking for longer-term residents to fill the open spot, one that has shown interest and involvement in city business. Mahnke, a member of the city's Environmental Advisory Board, fit that bill.

“I looked for professionalism,” Sculley said. “I looked for completed applications that had a lot of thoughtful input, where it was clear they showed direction and vision. I looked for people who presented great answers in front of us.”

It didn't take councilors long to narrow the list of 45 candidates down to five, once they got started. In a roll call vote, councilors each named one of the 45 candidates they wanted for the job, eliminating the rest. The voting was meant to continue in rounds until one candidate emerged with a majority of the council vote.

Mahnke picked up two votes in the first round, from Councilors Anita Seitz and Scully. Mayor Atchison selected Davinder Singh Sandhu, Pinter voted for Ariel T. Smith, David DeMott for Richard Seymour and Bird for Chris Stimpson.

Councilors settled the matter in the second round. Again, Atchison cast his second round vote for Sandhu and DeMott for Seymour but the remaining four votes all went to Mahnke.

Process

It's a unique process but one with a track record, Seitz said. She noted that was first appointed to the council after a similar process in 2013 and elected in 2015.

“There have been comments that perhaps this was not the right process, but it is the process we have employed in the past to great success,” Seitz said. “The reason City Council tends to agree with the electorate on who should serve is because we have the fingerprints of the electorate on us. You chose us.”

The process and some of the applicants got points from resident Gary Shea, of W. 76th Ave.

“I think there were a number, less than a handful, that demonstrated the ability to hit the ground running,” Shea said. “The way they've demonstrated that is by attending council meetings on a fairly regular basis. Being a council member is very time consuming — once a week meetings plus all the other things. But a few demonstrated that ability, to invest the time and the talent it would take to be a councilor.”

But resident Grady Nouis told councilors it was unfair. He applied for the seat but was unable to make it to one of the 20-minute interviews and was not included among the council's final choices.

He argued councilors should consider him for the seat based on his application and history alone — Nouis ran for election in November for Colorado House District 29, losing to Democrat Tracy Kraft-Tharp.

Nouis, a conservative, said he was treated unfairly.

“Why is my name not up there? Because I couldn't make an interview?” Nouis said. “I turned in an application with honest answers and everybody knows who I am. I should have had an opportunity regardless of if I made an interview or not. Instead, you just disqualify the guy who openly stands for Judeo-Christian values.”

Following the vote, Mahnke was sworn into office by Municipal Judge Tiffany Sorice and seated as a member of City Council. Her term ends in November 2019.

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