When Kevin Sherman was unanimously elected City Council president in January 2012, he acknowledged he had "big shoes to fill" in replacing Councilor Gerald M. Lee, who held the post for the previous eight years.
At the time, Mr. Sherman had been elected to his third two-year term, quite a few terms fewer than Mr. Lee, who served 12 years in total on the council.
However, the current president has lived up to his promise two years ago to run productive meetings in a respectful manner, something he said he learned from watching his predecessor. Presiding over a council that has often seemed fationalized, Mr. Sherman -- who decided to take some time off from political endeavors and did not seek re-election in November -- has rarely, if ever, been criticized for playing favorites or treating councilors with disrespect.
Those balancing skills are what the position of council president requires most of all -- and it is sometimes the case that the unofficial requirements seem to steer even previously partisan councilors toward an impartial tone.
As if to demonstrate the need for strict impartiality and fairness in the president's chair, the council engaged in a familiar type of lengthy debate Tuesday -- this time over details of a city ordinance review committee, which must be established under the new Pittsfield government charter, passed on Nov. 5.
Many watching the debate likely believed the decisions required could have been reached earlier with a greater spirit of cooperation, and greater trust concerning the motivations of other councilors. And that possibly some councilors are too reluctant to give ground even when the point is a minor one.
The dynamics on the 11-member council are likely to change in January with the addition of three newly elected members. Kathleen Amuso, a longtime School Committee member won an at large seat in the city election and will replace Mr. Sherman. Ward 1 Councilor-elect Lisa Tully defeated incumbent Christine Yon, and Ward 3 Councilor-elect Nicholas Caccamo defeated Richard Latura in the contest to replace Paul Capitanio, who did not run for re-election.
But new members do not guarentee a smooth-running council. Much could depend on the next council leader.
The council will choose a new president on Jan. 6. For that person, the example of Mr. Sherman and other council presidents who've moved the city's business along without giving offense or showing favoritism would be a sound one to emulate.