Abel selected to fill vacancy on Langley council

Fran Abel, a civic activist with a deep interest in land use and local fiscal policy, is the newest member of the Langley City Council.

She was chosen unanimously by the other four city council members to fill the unexpired Position 3 term of Jim Recupero, who resigned this past month.

“OK, you’re in,” Mayor Paul Samuelson said after guiding Abel through the oath of office and to her seat at the council table in front of a large crowd at Monday night’s city council meeting at city hall.

Abel, 69, a landscape designer, was chosen over the other applicant for the job, 26-year-old Thomas Gill, a computer technician with Whidbey Telecom.

Gill, a Langley native, was making a second attempt to join the city council. He ran unsuccessfully this past November against incumbent Councilman Russell Sparkman.

Gill said Tuesday he was disappointed in Monday’s outcome, but would press ahead with his active role in city affairs.

“I’m going to continue to be a thorn in the side of the council, and ask the questions that are relevant and need to be asked,” he said.

Abel will serve on the council until the term expires in November 2011, at which point she would be required to stand election for a full term.

Langley City Council members in the city of 1,100 hold staggered four-year terms. The positions are unpaid, but members receive $50 per month for expenses.

Earlier, the candidates submitted applications detailing their qualifications and local issues they considered important. Monday night, each answered one question posed by the mayor and each of the other council members: Rene Neff, Robert Gilman, Sparkman and Bob Waterman.

“Here’s my question: Are you nuts?” Sparkman joked, before asking the candidates to tell something about themselves, and why they wanted the job.

Throughout the brief council questioning, Abel stressed her experience on several city and civic boards, and in running her own local businesses.

“I love land use,” she added. “That’s the big issue facing us.”

Gill emphasized his interest in government at all levels, his near-total attendance at city council meetings and his desire to participate in the affairs of his community.

“This is where change really happens,” he said. “At the local level.”

Perhaps the most vital question was posed by Samuelson: Would they be willing to spend the huge amount of time required to deal with the issues currently facing the city, from subdivision-code revisions and a stagnant economy and demographics, to dwindling revenues?

Both without pause said they would.

“We need to look forward, not in the rear-view mirror,” Abel said.

“We have huge challenges ahead,” she added. “We need to be creative, and not driven by fear.”

After the interviews, the mayor and council went upstairs for a 20-minute private executive session before returning to vote on filling the council vacancy.

“It’s a big job,” Samuelson told both candidates. “We’re grateful to you for putting yourselves forward.”

Abel has lived in the Langley area for 26 years. She started with a small garden center downtown, and currently operates her own landscape-design business.

She has a business administration degree from the University of California-Sacramento. She and her husband Ed Anderson have a grown son, Brad.

She has been a member of several civic boards, and 12 years ago, running as a Democrat, she lost a close race for Island County commissioner against Mike Shelton.

A current member of Langley’s Historic Preservation Commission, she also has served on the city’s Design Review Board.

Abel was also a founding member of the effort to save Saratoga Woods from development, and of the Whidbey Island Garden Tour, and has been a board member of Goosefoot.

Later in the meeting, the council approved a resolution thanking Recupero for his service to the community for the past eight years.

Recupero, 80, had said he resigned to have more time to spend on personal matters. The increasing amount of time required by council issues influenced his decision, he said.

A retired retail executive with the Lucky Stores chain in California, he has lived in Langley for 17 years. He still works part-time at Sebo’s Do-It Center in Bayview.

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