First female African-American takes seat on Ashtabula City Council

Retired Clerk of Council, LaVette Hennigan, far right, swears in Octavia Harris, center, to fill the Ward 4 Ashtabula City Council seat before Monday night's regular council meeting. Harris' mother, Kathy Baskerville, far left, and her pastor, the Rev. Tony Boyd, second from left, held the Bible for her. 

ASHTABULA — The city of Ashtabula celebrated a milestone Monday night, swearing in the first female African-American City Council person.

Octavia Harris, 33, was chosen by the Republican Precinct Committee on Dec. 21 to fill the Ward 4 seat vacated by Michael Speelman, who was elected vice president of council in November. 

Harris was sworn in by retired Clerk of Council, LaVette Hennigan, while Harris’ mother, Kathy Baskerville, and her pastor, the Rev. Tony Boyd, held the Bible.

After the ceremony, the standing-room only crowd, consisting of family and friends who showed up to support Harris, applauded the new council member.

Boyd said he was proud of Harris.

Council President John Roskovics welcomed Harris to City Council.

“I’m very excited, very honored to represent the people of Ashtabula,” she said. “I’m super excited to have my crew here [referring to the crowd of well-wishers].”

She believes she will add diversity and a different perspective to the council, she said.

A 2005 graduate of Edgewood High School, Harris has said she’s considered running for office in the past, but it never came to fruition.

Ashtabula County Commissioner J.P. Ducro IV said he believes Harris’ youth will be helpful on council.

After Harris’ swearing in ceremony, City Council held a short meeting, but without Clerk of Council Stacy Senskey and City Solicitor Michael Franklin, who were out sick. Finance Director Traci Welch filled in for Senskey.

Council adopted a resolution requesting a $200,000 advance on the 2019 property tax settlement from the Ashtabula County Auditor. 

“Some of the city’s funds are properly tax dependent and have minimal-to-no cash carryover from year to year,” Welch said. “This [resolution] prevents a temporary cash shortage while the city is awaiting revenues to be received.”

Council also:

• Approved an ordinance authorizing the city manager to enter into a five-year lease agreement for copier equipment for the Finance Department; 

• Approved an ordinance authorizing 27 pay periods in the calendar year 2020, and

• Heard from City Manager Jim Timonere that the city’s Public Works Department has started third shift, allowing for 24/7 coverage during a snowstorm. Timonere also reported the city is picking up Christmas trees placed on the curb. He reminded residents to remove all decorations before placing tree on curb.

City Council’s next meeting will begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 21 because Monday, Jan. 20 is the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

 

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