COLUMBIA — Chris Janku ate his last supper Monday evening while his successor, Jason Thornhill, ate the first of what will be many pre-meeting meals as he begins his role as the Second Ward representative to the City Council.
"You work for food," Janku joked to Thornhill.
The two sat side-by-side in the fourth floor conference room of the Daniel Boone City Building, both coincidentally wearing khakis and nearly identical blue collared shirts. They both ate plates of Mexican food and chewed on ribs. Janku drank Diet Coke. Thornhill drank Diet Pepsi.
Barbara Hoppe sat across from them, discussing Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser's latest trip to the shooting range and eating a similar meal. It was a familiar setting for her.
Once the pre-meeting dinner was finished, the group stepped into the City Council chambers, and City Clerk Sheela Amin swore in Thornhill and Hoppe, beginning their next three years of service.
Thornhill beat opponent Allan Sharrock by a margin of 29 votes in the April 7 election to obtain the Second Ward seat. Hoppe beat challenger Rod Robison to win her second term as the Sixth Ward representative.
Although it was the purpose of the special meeting of the council, the swearing in of the recently elected councilpersons was overshadowed by the retirement of Janku. A councilman of 18 years, Janku was the subject of praise and appreciation. He was awarded with a number of gifts, including an aerial photograph of the Second Ward, a plaque and the traditional name plate that has stood in front of him on the council dais his past six terms.
"I've been mayor for 14 years, and when I look over to the right — and have looked over to the right for those 14 years — there sat Chris Janku," Mayor Darwin Hindman said, referring to the seating arrangement at the council table. "It is going to take some getting used to the idea that it isn't Chris there anymore ... He's been a terrific contributor to the council business."
Janku gave his thanks to family, friends, city staff, fellow councilpersons and his constituents. He joked about donating the large number of council T-shirts he has collected over the years before saying how happy he is that he dedicated his time.
"People ask if it's worth it," Janku said. "As I would say, and I think everyone here realizes who has worked on the council, the answer is definitely yes. I think people know there's long hours, there's hard work, tough decisions. In the end you feel you've been able to make a difference."
Some speculate that those tough decisions have been even tougher during the rough economic period that the nation is facing. Hoppe has the luxury of returning to the council with experience, while Thornhill begins his rookie term.
"It's a tough time to be a City Council member," City Manager Bill Watkins said, though he added that he is sure the city will be all right. "The best thing about having a council is you replace one or two members, but you don't have to replace the whole hog. There's always a core group that knows the history and issues."
Thornhill said he feels he is ready to jump in and plans on using his computer to stay organized because "it's easier to get the information (he) needs" that way.