Your votes on election night were reflected the next morning at Wednesday’s regular City Council Meeting in Punta Gorda.
Barely 12 hours after Debby Carey beat former mayor Rachel Keesling for the District 2 seat, the city’s newest representative took her place on the dais at City Hall.
Carey, along with Lynne Matthews and Jaha Cummings, who both ran unopposed in this year’s general election, were sworn in just after 9 a.m. by City Clerk Karen Smith.
The City Council members were also tasked to vote for a new mayor and vice mayor. Nancy Prafke, a council member of five years, was chosen to take over the gavel as mayor with Lynne Matthews, now in her second term, named as vice mayor.
“I would just like to say that I feel very honored to join the City Council for the great city of Punta Gorda,” said Carey. “After what has been probably the longest four months of my life, I’m looking forward to the next two years.”
Carey defeated Keesling by just over 300 votes. Carey received 52 percent of the votes, or 5,565 votes, to Keesling’s 48.3 percent, or 5,203 votes, according to the Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections.
“I feel totally ready,” said Carey. “The way that the city works it, as soon as you file, they include you in briefings. I’ve been in the loop the whole time. There was nothing like walking into the council chambers and seeing so many people there who were on my team. It was just overwhelming. I just felt nothing but good vibes.”
Prafke looks at the City Council as a team.
“As in any team environment,” said Prafke, “when someone leaves and a new person comes in, it gives us an opportunity to reevaluate what we are doing. We need to take the time to bring that team member in so we can get back to being a high-performing team.”
With so many changes happening so quickly, Prafke said it’s important for the council members to make sure they are all in sync.
“(That way) we can make sure that our new council member feels that they have the opportunity to succeed,” said Prafke. “I think it’s going to be good for the community.”
When considering the many projects in the works for Punta Gorda, Prafke said she believes the new council is going to be active in continuing that vision.
“I think this council is going to be very supportive of that direction and in helping to bring our community together around some controversial issues,” said Prafke.
Matthews echoed Prafke’s outlook, saying that she believes Debby (Carey) will be a breath of fresh air.
“Every time there has been a change on this council, it comes with new enthusiasm,” said Matthews. “I look forward to serving with the new mayor and the new council.”
As far as becoming mayor, Prafke said she never expected to take on the role when she first took the District 5 seat in 2013. Because Punta Gorda operates as a council-manager form of government, the mayor and vice mayor positions are elected by the other council members, as opposed to a strong- mayor form where they are elected by voters.
“I (initially) ran because I wanted to continue helping our community,” said Prafke. “I’m not in it for my ego. It strictly comes from within. I want to help my community. If this was the role that the other council members wanted me to play in doing that, then I’m there and I will do it to the best of my ability.”