WP “Changing of the Guard” Ceremony Not Lacking in Drama and Theatrical Touches

Council Bucks Tradition; Refuses to Select Top Runner-up for Vacant Seat

Trevor Phipps

In most cities when an official “changing of the guard ensues, the meeting is a brief, “In with the old, out with the new” occurrence.

That wasn’t the case recently Woodland Park, in a ceremony capped by a unique touch of Broadway and live theater.


In fact, tears were displayed, and songs echoed in the chambers during the closing remarks of the old city council, as the former leaders collectively took more than an hour to say farewell to their previous constituents. The grand farewell, emotional occasion included “crying, dad jokes, and a Broadway song accompanied by piano,” even prior to the new council taking their oaths.


Most of the council members that were parting ways during the April 4 meeting did so with brief speeches.  But that trend wasn’t followed by former Councilman Robert Zuluaga, who took center stage with a 30-minute-long speech and a performance that was capped by the singing of a Broadway tune.

Past farewell council ceremonies have often gotten emotional, but this one shattered previous marks for theatrics.


A keyboard player appeared from the audience and played along, while Zuluaga serenaded the crowd, with an excerpt from the 1965 Broadway musical “Man of La Mancha.” While he was singing his best rendition of the song, “The Impossible Dream” from the 20th Century musical, some in the crowd looked pleased and appeared to enjoy the musical touches. Others, meanwhile, displayed emotions of shock and confusion.


But after his six-minute-plus musical performance, Zuluaga did receive an applause from the crowd. Other departing council members said they wanted a “do over” after Zuluaga’s speech/performance.


The closing remarks concluded with City Clerk Suzanne Leclercq getting emotional when she said “goodbye” to each former council member individually. During her speech, she brought up the multiple council members she had worked with in recent years. She also cited the fact that the council weathered an unprecedented global pandemic and suffered the death of the late Mayor Val Carr, who became the first elected leader in the region to die from the coronavirus epidemic.


Police Chief Chris Deisler then gave the former council members special commemorative coins before the city gifted them pictures of Woodland Park.


New Council Members Get Sworn In


After the lengthy closing ceremonies, the main event that seemed to bring the packed crowd to the council chambers commenced. This dealt with the swearing-in of Woodland Park’s newly elected mayor, Kellie Case.  Case became the second female mayor elected in Woodland Park in the last several years. The council then had to determine how it planned to fill Case’s council seat that is now officially vacant.

The discussion started with Leclercq providing the council with its available options. According to the charter, the council can appoint someone they feel is qualified for the position, open up an application process or automatically appoint the city council candidate who received the next-most votes during the election (which in this case would have been former Councilman Frank Connors). That last option is what has normally occurred in past years.


Councilwoman Catherine Nakai questioned if the panel could operate with just six council members. But the city charter does not directly list that as an option. Nakai said that she would be most comfortable with appointing former Councilwoman Carrol Harvey to the position due to her vast experience.

But then Case told the council that planning commission member Don Hoying sent an email expressing his interest in the open council seat. She mentioned that since Hoying was present, the council could give him a chance to address the panel.


Other council members expressed their desire to appoint Harvey, but in the end they decided to let Harvey and Hoying give speeches to the council. But at the end of their speeches, city council candidate and planning commission member Don Dezellem stated that he also wanted a chance to address council and throw his name into the hat for the open seat.


Once Dezellem spoke, the council then quickly reversed their decision to appoint a new member. Instead, they felt it would be fair if they opened up the application process so that anyone from the community who was interested could apply, and have a chance to speak to the council.


Appointing former Councilman Connors due to the fact that he got the next-most votes was never brought up. This is a practice that has occurred during most post-election occasions in Woodland Park. Community members now have 30 days (from the time the position was officially posted on April 8) to apply.  They will then have the chance to speak in front of council during a work session, scheduled for May 16.


The next order of business for the new council was the appointment of a mayor pro tem, often regarded as the second-in-command for leading council meetings. Councilman George Jones promptly made a motion to appoint Nakai to this spot. She said that Nakai had the most experience of all the members now serving on the elected panel.

Councilman Steve “Smitty” Smith seconded the motion, sending the issue to a vote. The motion passed 4-2, with Councilman Jeffrey Geer and the mayor casting “no” tallies.


This Thursday, the new council will hold its first full meeting.