Walnut Creek has a new mayor.

Following tradition, the city's mayor pro tem, Kristina Lawson, was unanimously voted in as mayor Tuesday night.

This is the first term as mayor for Lawson, who is still in her first term on the council.

Lawson said part of her focus will be Walnut Creek's centennial, which the city will celebrate next year. She has already been serving on the centennial steering committee.

"This year we have a special opportunity to take a community look forward for the next 100 years, and lets take that look together with both celebration and seriousness of purpose in mind," she said. "So that 100 years from now ... this community finds Walnut Creek as we find it today a proud place that we can all call home."

Lawson also plans to focus on strengthening relationships with city staff by doing their jobs herself. She says that, 12 times over the next year, she will learn and perform a city employee's job. First up, on Dec. 17, Lawson will ride along with a street sweeper and make a sign, and then hang it up. And in January she plans to ride along with a police officer.

"Staff, if you have a job you would like me to experience, feel free to let me know," she said. "I want to show all employees exactly how thankful we are for the work that you do."

Reconnecting with city staffers is important, especially after a rocky year, Lawson said. Wednesday morning, Lawson explained she was referring to the Lesher Center scandal, which centered around a former employee's inappropriate contact with teenage girls and the employees involved in the handling of that employee, Jason Pedroza. She was also referring to the fallout and loss of employees such as the city attorney who left in the wake of the scandal, upset over how it was handled.

On Tuesday, Lawson chose to have the annual mayoral reception in the city hall lobby, since city hall is where most of the work takes place, she said. These receptions are often held at the Lesher Center; last year it was held at the downtown library.

Another focus for Lawson this year will be something she is calling "Council Conversations." There will be five two-hour study sessions each on a topic chosen by a council member. Those topics include demographics and preparing for an aging community, urban agriculture, infrastructure needs, how to make Walnut Creek a more courteous driving community and the city as a regional leader and what that means.

"I have strong confidence that if the five of us work together along with our city staff that our community is going to continue to make great progress," she said. "I hope the public will seize the opportunity to join us for those conversations."

Unity for the council has not come easily this past year. Council members were split on how to deal with the Lesher Center drama. And within the past month, Councilman Justin Wedel began his own campaign to get two initiatives on the ballot that would undo the city's secondhand-smoking ordinance and block a plastic bag ban. These initiatives go directly against his fellow members' views and actions.

During Councilwoman Cindy Silva's closing comments as mayor, she championed both the smoking ordinance and the efforts to ban plastic bags.

"Plastic bags are clearly a problem for the environment and are almost impossible to recycle efficiently and cost effectively," Silva said.

She also sounded the alarm on the city's finances, saying Walnut Creek faces multi-million-dollar deficits over the next eight years.

"A shortfall of this magnitude will affect every service and program we provide," she said, adding that the council will have to come together to pass a balanced two-year budget in June.

As for Lawson, she will start off her first full meeting next week presiding over the potential approval of a huge development project for Walnut Creek. Broadway Plaza's Long Range Master Plan, which calls for a 300,000-square-foot expansion, will be in front of the council at 7 p.m. Tuesday during a special meeting.

Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.

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