Jimenez Ready to ‘Pull Up Sleeves’ as Healdsburg’s First Gay Councilmember

After a stream of overwhelming resident support and a game-changing swing vote from Mayor Evelyn Mitchell, Healdsburg business owner and revered community member, Ozzy Jimenez, is now Healdsburg’s newest city councilmember.

In a 3-1 vote following the public interview process of four council candidates on July 7, the Healdsburg City Council voted to appoint Jimenez to the remainder of former Mayor Leah Gold’s council term, a 2.5-year run.

A local business owner, Jimenez is the co-founder and CEO of Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar and the co-founder of Moustache Baked Goods. He is also the vice chair of nonprofit Healdsburg Forever, and an appointed California Democratic Assembly delegate for Senator Mike McGuire. 

At a turning point for a small city where its residents have strongly voiced the need for representation that better reflects the diversity of the community, Jimenez, a member of the LGBTQ and Latinx communities, was given the oath of office and was sworn in as a councilmember Tuesday night.

While swearing-in ceremonies are often met with large crowds packed in council chambers, this moment took place virtually over Webex after councilmembers said they wanted to complete the task before their next meeting in August.

There was a brief moment of silence while Acting City Clerk Raina Allan gathered the oath of office documents and then Jimenez raised his right hand and took the oath of office.

Jimenez’s first meeting as an official councilmember will be Monday, Aug. 3, following a council recess this month.

“Our city is being faced with challenges like we have never seen before, COVID-19, the impending fire season, a possible economic downturn and racial injustice,” Jimenez said in his opening interview statement. “In 2016, I spent every Monday in the city council chambers for the entire year. I never missed a meeting and I learned that perhaps someday I would be called to serve. I am ready to pull up my sleeves and serve my community.”

Deliberation time

While all four city councilmembers — Mitchell, Councilmember/vice mayor Shaun McCaffery, Councilmember Joe Naujokas and Councilmember David Hagele, voiced support for Jimenez — not all initially agreed that he should be immediately appointed to the 2.5-year term.

At the June 29 city council meeting when councilmembers were trying to decide how to proceed — either with a 2.5-year appointment, an interim appointment until a special election, or simply through an election — McCaffery said he preferred to fill the vacant seat through the process of a special election on Nov. 3. At the time, Mitchell was also leaning toward that option.

During Tuesday evening’s meeting, McCaffery stood firm on his stance to call an election, however, Mitchell said she would offer her support for the appointment of Jimenez to the full term.

“I think this is a point where we can embrace and ensure the diversity of our city council. I find myself in the swing vote position and as mayor now, I see it as my responsibility to bring consensus to the council,” Mitchell said. “With reservations about the process, but not the candidate, I will add my vote to appoint for the full term.”

McCaffery was the only dissenting vote on the motion to appoint Jimenez to the full term, however, he said he thought Jimenez would be a good person for the role.

New perspectives at the dais 

Since Jimenez announced his plan to apply for the council seat in a social media post at the end of June, he received countless words of encouragement and support.

“A sincere thank you. To you all,” Jimenez wrote on his Facebook page on June 28. “I’ve received so many emails of support of the full appointment and hoping council will make the right choice. “

At the June 29 city council meeting, a dozen or so locals spoke highly of Jimenez and urged the council to appoint him.

Many cited Jimenez’s commitment to the community, his experience as a delegate and his volunteer time as reasons he would be a good fit for the position. Speakers also said his experience as a Plaza business owner and as a member of the LGBTQ and Latinx communities would bring a fresh perspective to the table, making him the ideal candidate for the job.

“As a member of the Latinx community, the LGBTQ community and as an entrepreneur, I really cannot think of another individual who would bring so much to representation on the council at this time,” resident Deb Kravitz said during last week’s meeting.

Speakers at the meeting Tuesday night shared similar sentiments and councilmembers were unanimous in the belief that he would be the best choice for council.

“Of the candidates, the one that stands out the most to me is Ozzy Jimenez. I have a background in business, but I don’t own a retail business in downtown, and I think that is a very important lens for us to be able to welcome to our decision making process as we move through COVID and some of the other issues that we have coming up,” Hagele said. “I did see him along with a number of the other local businesses downtown jump into action when the Kincade Fire hit and it wasn’t something where we as a city had to reach out to our local businesses, they called us when we were at the evacuation center when the fire first started. They were right there and I think that speaks to the commitment to the community. He also has the ability to step right in (into the council job).”

Naujokas echoed Hagele’s thoughts, and said Jimenez has a good commitment to the community. 

“He has a clear demonstration to the commitment of building the community with the community foundation and his history supporting youth in the town,” Naujokas said. 

Naujokas also recognized that locals are ready for a change.

“What I see is a tectonic shift of public consciousness toward taking active steps to address racial justice and racial inequity. I think our constituents, our global society is ready for a change, it’s ready to seize this moment of opportunity and really make a significant step towards addressing the scourge of racism that we seem to never shake off,” Naujokas said. 

Candidate pool

Even though Jimenez was ultimately selected for the role, councilmembers emphasized that all of the other applicants, Richard Bottarini, Alex Silverman and Skylaer Palacios, were strong candidates.

Candidates were allowed to provide an opening and closing statement during their interview process. They also had to answer three questions: 

  • What would you do to hit the ground running/prepare for August council meetings? 
  • How would you reach out to folks outside of your own social circle and garner community input on important issues?
  • What important personal qualities would you bring to the council and how would you work to get consensus on the council?

The councilmembers were also permitted to ask follow up questions in response to each person’s answers to the five questions that were included in the application. 

During his Q&A session, Bottarini cited his 40 years of experience working in government and his time serving on the Healdsburg Planning Commission. He said if appointed, he would find ways to reach out electronically to constituents to discuss pertinent issues, and he identified the hiring of a new city manager as a top priority for the city.

Silverman, who’s worked in the tourism and service industry for 10 years, said while he does not have much experience in the political sphere, he could be a voice for the younger population of Healdsburg. He said he could bring empathy, listening skills and the ability to be patient in the face of criticism, to the council chambers. Of the top issues facing Healdsburg, he pointed towards COVID-19 and the local economy.

Palacios said that she could bring a “lived-in” perspective to the council, as well an ability to look at issues through an equality and diversity lens. She also voiced her love for the community and said that she’d advocate for not only affordable housing, but for low-market rate housing in order to help those, such as vineyard workers, who’ve worked to support the wine and tourism “backbone” of the city.

Councilmembers noted that applying for a city councilmember position is a testament to the applicants clear commitment to community. 

“We’re happy we have a chance to hear from four people, we are glad you threw your hat in the ring,” Mitchell said.

Hagele echoed Mitchell’s thoughts and thanked Bottarini, Silverman, Palacios and Jimenez for applying.

“I appreciate everybody who applied and stepped up,” he said.