If only most countries could transfer power that simply, or in as rustic and devil-egged an ocean setting.
At precisely 6 this evening, Steve Emmett, mayor of Beverly Beach, took his seat where he has for the past 11 years, at the oblong formica table in the town’s main, and, really, only hall. His fellow-commissioners took their seats. Some 20 people in the hall didn’t: it was that crowded, with 30 more people taking up all there was by way of seats.
Safe to say, no Beverly Beach Town Hall meeting has ever drawn so many people, who’d equate to more than 10 percent of the town’s population of 503, though many in the audience were Beverly Beach transients, with titles: ex-Flagler Beach Mayor Alice Baker and current Flagler Beach Chairwoman Jane Mealy, Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts–with whom Emmett served on the local League of Cities–Flagler County Commission Chairwoman Barbara Revels and fellow-commissioners Milissa Holland and Nate McLaughlin, Flagler Beach’s and Flagler County’s managers.
They were here for this moment, which preceded the Pledge of Allegiance: Emmett, after taking his seat, took up the gavel. He then announced formally what he’d told everyone in the room. He was resigning. And Gerry Gersbach would be the next mayor.
“When I give him this gavel,” Emmett said as he passed the ceremonial hammer, “I will tell him that I’m turning the trust of the town to him, and my advide to you Gerry is people first, government second.”
And that was it.
Emmett stood up, as did the entire hall, and to his last ovation and a few hugs, he walked into a row of chairs, fourth from the front row and to Baker’s left, and took his first seat as a private, no-longer elected citizen.
“It’s been both a privilege and an honor to have served this community for the last 11 years, I truly do love this little town, and I truly love everybody in it,” Emmett would say after the meeting ended and the party had begun.
Emmett, 70, said he was tired. He won his sixth election last March. He wasn’t up for re-election until a year from now. But he said he’d had enough. A native of Auburn, N.Y., a 21-year veteran of the military (he was an MP) and, after that, as a supervisor of security in the Washington State National Guard, he worked with his son back in Auburn for a few years–an industrial coating business-before moving to Florida.
He had no political experience before becoming mayor and spending what he termed a traumatic first year.
“In the process, he learned to be a mayor,” Gersbach said, addressing Emmett in his ceremonial closure. “Steve, my friend, you’ve learned well. You led this town through good times and hard times for 11 years, and because of you, we are a better town now than we were 11 years ago.”
Emmett got a plaque–“The commission and residents thank you for your dedicated service, inspirational leadership and unwavering loyalty to the Town of Beverly Beach”–a big bunch of white and peach roses, a 2-inch binder called “Memories” and containing every article written about the town during his tenure, and a bonus check of $500. “Spend it on your boat, and on fishing poles, and your lovely wife, and enjoy,” Gersbach said.
The other commissioners–Jim Ardell, Nancy Walsh, Frank Gromling–said a few words (Commissioner Ed Hess was absent, Larry Matthias made it briefly) before the assembly turned to a spread of finger foods and bubbly, sugary but proof-free drinks. By town charter Gersbach, the deputy mayor, was named mayor. Also by charter, the commission appointed Matthias to fill Gersbach’s commission seat for the next 12 months.
“Steve Emmett is the reason I got on the commission. I love him for that, I hate him for that,” Gromling said. “I will always call him friend, I’ll always call him the best damn mayor this town ever had.”