By Katta Hules
Mayor Gary Kovacic termed out last week, stepping off the city council dais to hand his position to the newly appointed Mayor Tom Beck. “I’m confident that Arcadia is in good hands as it enters a new era,” Kovacic said in his farewell speech.
Kovacic joined the city council for the first time in 1996. He was serving as the chair of the Arcadia Planning Commission when Dennis Lojeski died in office. Kovacic was tapped to fill Lojeski’s seat and subsequently ran in 1998, 2002, 2008, and 2012. This was his sixth term as mayor. “There is a largely ceremonial component to being mayor … It also involves more time and effort to prepare for and attend hundreds of events, draft and deliver speeches, communicate with constituents and other elected officials, and (in my tradition) compose an Ode for our Eagle Scouts at their Courts of Honor. I liked it all.”
Kovacic has achieved many things during his 18 years in the council but he has some definite favorites. He is proud of “[l]eading the effort for several significant projects in Arcadia including the Gold Line Extension Bridge over Santa Anita Avenue, city-wide residential design review, and the recently enacted residential zoning code update with a floor area ratio (FAR).”
He regrets, however, the FAR and a citywide design review were not adopted sooner and the demolition of Anoakia was not prevented. “Both required three votes that I did not have at the time.”
But, he takes pride in having helped “create a renewed sense of community that included promoting volunteerism, building a strong city council/school board alliance, and embracing our diversity.”
Kovacic leads by example with his own volunteerism. He is president and CEO of the Arcadia Performing Arts Foundation, a non-profit supporting arts education and Arcadia Performing Arts Center. He also works with the Foothill Unity Center, a regional food bank, currently serving as vice-president of the board of directors. He is in his 20th year of coaching the high school’s Constitution Team, which placed in the top ten at nationals last month. Additionally, he helped establish Law Day, where residents can get free legal advice from volunteer lawyers.
He is proud to have edited and published two books of essays and photography about Arcadia during his time in office. “Visions of Arcadia: A Centennial Anthology” was released for the city’s 100th birthday in 2003. The follow up, “More Visions of Arcadia: A Community Anthology” was released 10 years later.
The former mayor has learned a great deal during his tenure. He shared five lessons for future mayors and councilmembers during his farewell remarks at last week’s council meeting.
First he says, “Get involved and stay involved. Attend as many events as possible. It is amazing how your circle of friends and colleagues will grow over time in size and diversity.” Secondly, “[t]he position gives you a unique opportunity to make a difference. Lead wisely and focus on the common good.”
But, he cautions, the job is not always easy. “Issues can be complicated and contentious, and you cannot please everyone all the time. You need to do the homework necessary to understand the issues; listen to your constituents; keep an open mind; strive for consensus when possible; communicate clearly and accurately; and render meaningful, positive, and well-thought-out decisions.”
To this end, do not forget why the people elected you. “Your primary commitment is to serve our community. The issues are too important, and our city is too great, for you not to give our residents the very best you have to offer.” And do not differentiate between constituents. “As a community, we are not as different as we may look or sound. Treat everyone with respect.”
So what is next for Kovacic? “I have a ‘day job’ as an attorney representing property and business owners in eminent domain matters … Our son and daughter each live 1,000 miles away – daughter Kelly in Denver, Colo., and son Casey in Portland, Ore. I am an avid UCLA basketball and football fan, and I try to keep up with my wife Barb on weekly bicycle treks. So, I have plenty of opportunities to keep me busy and plenty of destinations for travel.”
Although he has enjoyed his time on the council and as mayor, he is undecided on whether he will return after his two-year term break. “I have no idea what I will be doing, or where the city council will be, in 2018. I’ll leave the option of returning open.”