One father is at every meeting and almost always has something to say about how the city of West Covina is being run.
At the first council meeting of the new year, this father gets to hear the man he calls “the pretender” offer to ceremonially swear in his daughter to the city council seat on Jan. 15.
“You don’t have to be sworn in, in public,” Mayor Lloyd Johnson said at the unofficial conclusion of the meeting.
Yet the people in attendance wanted to see the ceremony, and “the pretender,” also known as city manager Chris Freeland, arranged for it to happen on the spot with present city staff.
Freeland originally said she was going to have a ceremonial swearing in at the next meeting on Feb. 5, but they still continued with this one for her family.
Johnson, upon hearing her family wanted this, agreed to it.
“Okay, let’s swear her in,” Johnson said. He then withheld his motion to adjourn until after the procedure, which had the now council member’s mother read the oath.
Jessica Shewmaker was now an official city council member of West Covina.
Her father, John Shewmaker, was seen smiling and shaking hands with several people that wanted to congratulate him on his daughter’s appointment. After several years of fellow residents asking John Shewmaker to run for council because of his complaints, a Shewmaker would take to the dais.
This was not an easy victory for supporters of Karim Zaklama, colloquially referred to as “Zach,” who founded the West Covina Dental Group and Orthodontics. This victory was also not easy for Shewmaker either.
Zaklama’s supporters were plentiful in the council room audience as signs of his face and loud cheering whenever his name was mentioned filled the chambers.
Among his supporters was Rose Lopez, who unseated Shewmaker on the West Covina Unified School District. Lopez received 7,474 votes or 33 percent of the electorate, while Shewmaker received 5,405 votes and 24 percent of the electorate.
Shewmaker’s fellow incumbent, Eileen Miranda Jimenez, who had a recall campaign in 2011 organized against them by Shewmaker’s father, retained their seat with 6,234 votes and 27.75 percent of the electorate.
Since only two seats were available, Shewmaker had lost the school board election.
This was a big factor in why she applied for council, but it was also a point her critics would bring back in their rhetoric against Shewmaker.
Immediately following her appointment, supporters of “Zach” instantly attacked her.
“The people of West Covina didn’t want you,” one of them yelled.
“This is cronyism,” another said.
She addressed losing the election in her candidate statement to the council.
“Yes, it was mentioned that I lost an election,” Shewmaker said. “What I say to that is, ‘hey, I served 13 years I put my name on that ballot.’”
“It’s not easy to come up here and say, ‘hey, I was voted out now consider me.’ My defeat did not turn me away from this city. I chose to see this as an opportunity to give back in a different way,” she added.
By the audience members that came to speak during oral communication the appointment candidate of choice was “Zach” with nine speakers, followed by Shewmaker with three.
His supporters interrupted Bill Elliott’s public comment with a “Go for Zach” even though Elliott’s comment was in support of concealed carry propositions. He further spoke against the candidates, police chief, and city manager.
There were five other comments, but those comments were not related to the appointment of the seat,
Zaklama’s galvanized support had council member Letty Lopez-Viado make a comment before her nomination.
“Well if I had to choose the nicest person, I mean hands down we know who it is,” Lopez-Viado said before explaining that she wanted a diverse well-rounded council.
This offhand comment was against candidate Steve Bennett’s personal statement where he said that this appointment was not a popularity contest while also remarking that doctor “Zach” was likely a great guy.
In the end it all came down to the council to appoint a new colleague.
The vote for Shewmaker’s appointment was 3-1 after two other nominations went unsupported, with Johnson as the single vote against.
Mayor Pro Tem Tony Wu was the deciding vote to further Lopez-Viado’s choice after council member Dario Castellano’s seconded the nomination.
Wu originally nominated Marsha Solorio, a professional financial auditor and audit committee member, but his motion failed to receive a second.
Johnson said he had a few picks, but stood behind Steve Bennett, who has served on the community services commission, and lost the election for elected city clerk by 619 votes. He received 11,803.
Johnson did not swing his vote and voted no on Shewmaker after failing to receive a second to his nomination of Bennett.
Shewmaker will serve in Wu’s former at-large council seat until 2020, when that seat will be open for District 3.
The vacancy was created by Wu being reelected in District 5 after the move to district elections.
Bennett lives in District 3 and has said he plans on running again for a seat on the city council.