Four Covington City Councilmen said their public farewells on Tuesday night during their final meeting as members of the city’s legislative body.
Councilman at-Large Sam O’Keefe, as well as district councilmen John Callahan, Jerry Coner and Rick Smith, are term-limited in their current positions and will leave office on June 30. All four took office on July 1, 2011, when Covington Mayor Mike Cooper also was sworn in, and all were reelected in 2015.
Cooper also is term-limited and is running for St. Tammany Parish president.
O’Keefe, who served three terms as the council’s District C representative (1987-1999) before returning as an at-large councilman in 2011, did not seek election to another office in March. Neither did Callahan, the two-term District A rep.
District E’s Smith ran unsuccessfully for mayor earlier this year, and Coner lost a bid for an at-large seat on the council. Coner previously was the District B member for 16 years (1987-2003), and he will end his 24th year in that seat on June 30
Of the quartet of departing councilmen, only Coner, who is 78, hinted that he might run for public office again.
“There’s a town in Germany that’s about the population of Covington that elected one young lady at the age of 100,” Coner said with a wide smile. “So councilmen, be aware.”
Coner’s line drew laughs from the crowded city council chambers, but there also were tears.
Callahan said in his closing remarks that “This may be the best team city government has ever seen, but if I say any more, I’d get emotional.”
O’Keefe and Smith, however, didn't mind showing their emotion, and both gave tearful speeches as they reminisced about their time on the council.
“The people of our city, I love them,” Smith said.
“This council chose to work together,’ O’Keefe said. “Not that we didn’t have disagreements, but we chose not to air them in a meeting. … We worked for the betterment of the city of Covington.”
Former Councilman at-Large Lee Alexius, who was part of the council elected in 2011 but lost his battle with cancer in October 2016, was mentioned often on Tuesday.
O’Keefe, a lifelong friend of the longtime councilman, said Alexius mentored him and that sitting next to him on the council dais was an honor.
“His term was cut too short,” O’Keefe said.
Still, losing Alexius opened a door for new faces on the board. O’Keefe acknowledged Patrick McMath, the current council president who was elected to complete Alexius’ term, for letting him preside over Tuesday’s meeting.
District D councilman Larry Rolling won the council's other at-large post in the March elections. District C’s Joey Roberts is the other returning member to the seven-person board.
Incoming council members include Peter Lewis in District A; John Botsford in District B; Cody Ludwig in District D; and Mark Verret in District E. Mayor-elect Mark Johnson has said he likes the makeup of the board and expects to work well with its members when they all are sworn in on July 1.
Cooper said he could tell there was something special about the group that took over in 2011, noting all current council members as well as Alexius and Mark Wright, who represented District C until being elected state representative in 2017. The mayor mentioned numerous capital projects the council and administration have teamed to undertake in the past eight years, and singled out the cooperation necessary to stage the city's bicentennial celebration in 2013.
“We all just communicated and worked together to make things happen,” Cooper said.