No sooner was Cary Wiest sworn in as Atherton's newest council member and Elizabeth Lewis unanimously selected as mayor than they joined forces to form a council majority to prevent cuts to employees' compensation.

A different council majority voted last month to require town officials and other non-union staffers to take a non-paid work furlough between Christmas Day and New Year's Day, cover some of the costs of their health benefits and pay more toward their retirement expenses.

In a phone interview Thursday, Lewis said the new council isn't backing away from the cost-cutting measures, but rather wants to see if there are other ways to accomplish similar objectives in a manner "less painful for the staff."

"I think there's more than one way to skin a cat," Lewis said. "This wasn't something that was an emergency that we had to slam through."

The council Wednesday night directed City Manager George Rodericks to speak with the affected employees -- 10 in all -- and return to the council in January with a revised proposal.

One of the council majority's main concerns was a requirement that employees pay the equivalent of 7 percent of their salary toward retirement within an 18-month timeline; the town has been picking up their tab. The transition was to start in January with employees kicking in 2 percent, followed by an additional 2 percent in July. By July 2014, they would have to contribute the remaining 3 percent.

"It was boom, boom boom," Lewis said Thursday. "I think that there's a better way."

Some council members also said they didn't want to impose a holiday week furlough, even though it would save the town $14,213.

Lewis said the cost savings wouldn't be big enough to justify the inconvenience to residents who might need to conduct town business during that week.

Lewis and Council Member Jerry Carlson -- who was unanimously selected vice mayor -- had announced last month that they didn't agree with the compensation cuts imposed by their three colleagues then.

But with Kathy McKeithen gone after choosing not to run again, the power balance clearly shifted Wednesday when Wiest replaced her. Council Member Jim Dobbie cast the lone dissenting vote and Council Member Bill Widmer, who had voted for the cuts, didn't attend Wednesday's meeting.

Nonetheless, Lewis said her objective as mayor is to have the "council work together collaboratively.

"We're not going to be in lock-step and agree on everything, that would not be good," she said. "But we should focus on what's the best way to create policy that is best for our town and our town employees."

Email Bonnie Eslinger at beslinger@dailynewsgroup.com; follow her at twitter.com/ bonnieeslinger.