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Cotati to honor Robert Coleman-Senghor

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011 | Posted by | one response

By JEREMY HAY

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Cotati officials plan to honor Robert Coleman-Senghor, the City Councilman and former mayor, before determining plans to appoint a successor.

“We’re focused on that right now,” said City Manager Dianne Thompson. “In the next couple of days we’ll be talking about next steps,” she said.

Coleman-Senghor, a Sonoma State University professor and a councilman since 2008, died suddenly Saturday from a tear in his aorta.

The council has 60 days to decide whether to appoint someone to fill the remainder of Coleman-Senghor’s term — which ends in November 2012 —or to hold a special election.

It would be up to the council whether to accept applications for the seat.

The last councilmember to be appointed was Mark Landman, in 2009.

Thompson said Cotati’s Wednesday council meeting will include a recognition of Coleman-Senghor’s service to the city, which included 2½ terms on the planning commission.

She said it’s not expected that the council will immediately take up the question of his open seat.

“Bob was a wonderful man of great integrity and leadership,” said Mayor Janet Orchard, who credited Coleman-Senghor with “steering the city through very difficult times.”

Coleman-Senghor’s time on the council was often punctuated by conflict. While he often appeared weary of it, he also engaged it vigorously, unwilling to let go unanswered statements with which he disagreed.

A black man who as a youth worked with his father in Central Valley fields, supervising picking crews, he was accused of racism in a 2009 recall election campaign against another councilman for reasons he freely acknowledged, using racial slurs from the dais and in a private council discussion.

He said he was making points about the power of language and symbols.

A frank, opinionated politician, he took part in sharp exchanges with critics in the audience, sometimes testing the boundaries of public meeting protocols.

While he and others on the council are regularly harangued about city policies, he was in particular the target of charges about his personal actions.

A frequent accusation was that he had, for various reasons, violated the city ethics code he had helped create.

In January 2010, he called for an investigation by his colleagues into whether that was true, momentarily dumbfounding them and his critics both.

Since his death, those critics have been among the first to express their sorrow.

“I’m really bummed, I’m all choked up. We didn’t agree but this trumps all that, doesn’t it,” said Greg Karraker, who had criticized Coleman-Senghor for, among other things, not saying the Pledge of Allegiance at meetings.

“In the fire of debate, we create the steel of truth,” Karraker said in a posting on The Press Democrat website.

“Robert Coleman-Senghor was a tireless advocate for his beliefs,” Karraker added. “We debated each other often, and I hope some good resulted from these exchanges.”

Wednesday’s Cotati City Council meeting is 7 p.m. at Cotati City Hall. Family members said services are pending for Coleman-Senghor.

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Nick Walden is our Cotati and Penngrove correspondent.
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