Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony for Debbie Goettel as Hennepin County commissioner felt like graduation day for the former Richfield mayor, with several city staffers and residents there to cheer her on.
"I'm the new kid on the block here," said Goettel, who was first elected mayor of Richfield in 2005.
"I will be the voice of the cities — Bloomington, Richfield and Eden Prairie."
Her new role is the latest to reflect a series of transitions at Richfield City Hall. A new council member was elected in November. Another is seeking the mayor's job and, depending on the outcome of that election, someone else may fill that council seat.
"It feels like Richfield is in a state of change," said Council Member Mike Howard, who will serve as the city's mayor until a special election is held to fill the vacancy left by Goettel. "The new council ... creates a space for us to move forward."
Richfield was one of the few inner suburbs in the west metro to hold elections last year. Officials hope Goettel's ascension to the County Board and the other electoral changes will elevate the profile of the city, which has major redevelopment hopes this year.
That includes a plan to build an underpass on 77th Street beneath Hwy. 77 to directly link the city with the Mall of America and the airport, something Richfield officials have wanted for more than 20 years. Developers also are looking to start construction on new houses and apartments on the city's east side.
Council Member Pat Elliott, the only announced candidate for mayor so far, said the council needs a sense of continuity in order for those projects to move forward.
"It seemed to me that what we really wanted to do for the next couple of years is keep the proverbial hand on the tiller," Elliott said.
The city has had two residential projects on the drawing board since 2015. One complex — just south of E. 66th Street and west of Cedar Avenue — would have about 300 units.
The other project, once approved, will add units and townhouses on the north side of the street. Twenty percent of the housing in each project would be affordable.
Elliott said he is optimistic the city will receive the last piece of federal funding needed to move the $22.5 million underpass project forward. He also expects Richfield will join Bloomington and other suburbs in adopting organized trash hauling by the end of the year.
In November, 31-year-old Maria Regan Gonzalez was elected to represent the east ward after the incumbent retired. She said she was excited to see how the city, which is surrounded by much larger communities, fares with Goettel as commissioner.
"I think Richfield can get overshadowed in comparison to those communities," Regan Gonzalez said. To her, having Goettel on the County Board "is a huge asset for us as a city but also regionally."
A special election for mayor likely will be scheduled for early March. If Elliott wins, another special election would be scheduled to fill his seat.
Regan Gonzalez said she hopes the changes coming to the east side keep residents' interests at the forefront. A resolution that passed last month, declaring Richfield as an inclusive and equitable community, should be used to guide the way, she said.