Increased public involvement focus of new commission

The Sunnyside City Council was unanimous last night in stating that there was no need at this time to split council's seven seats into districts.

Council was just as unanimous, though, in seeing a need to learn how Sunnyside citizens can be more involved in their local government.

The issue of electing city council members from specific districts was raised by Councilman Paul Garcia in response to a college research paper that used a telephone directory in contending that districting is the answer to increasing Hispanic representation on the city council.

During discussion last night, Sunnyside Mayor Ed Prilucik said districting, which requires that candidates be selected from specific areas of the city, would actually result in fewer people getting involved in city government.

"Looking at the suggestion of districts, I don't think if we went with districts it would help the situation," Prilucik said, adding it would actually allow fewer people to get involved since not all seven seats would be open to the whole community.

Rather, he said, the area Sunnyside needs to work on is first upping voter registration.

Prilucik noted, for example, that as of last July Sunnyside has a population of just over 8,600 residents who are of voting age, but less than half, 3,407, actually registered to vote. Of those, little more than half, 1,819 voted in the last general election.

Prilucik said he was "ashamed" of the voting figures, and noted the top priority needs to be "first getting registered voters out there."

A second priority that Prilucik feels the community should work on is addressing Sunnyside's median income of $27,000 per year.

He noted that with the demands of running and holding public office, many families cannot afford to take time away from their work to seek office.

Prilucik added that Sunnyside council members make just $40 per meeting, noting that the small amount of money isn't "enabling" those who perhaps would need a larger council stipend in order to take time away from a family job.

Councilwoman Carol Stone agreed, noting that she earned less than $1,000 as a council member last year.

"I didn't do it for the money," she said.

Stone also agreed with Prilucik's assessment regarding the need for community involvement. "The opportunity is there if anyone has a willingness to volunteer," she said. As to the current council, Stone said, "We right here are a very diverse group."

Other council members agreed, including Garcia, the council's only Hispanic.

At the same time, though, Garcia encouraged his colleagues to appoint a commission, which City Manager Bob Stockwell earlier referenced as one way to research the idea.

Garcia hinted that a suit may be brought against the city, which potentially could see a judge decide the make-up of the council.

"There is the possibility that others may determine our future," he cautioned. "I would rather have council decide things."

The rest of council agreed to appoint a commission of three council members and three community members to "study and provide recommendations to increase public involvement" in the Sunnyside community.

Councilman Bill Gant agreed with the measure, as long as the commission has a specific definition for its duty and does not pander to extremists from either side of the issue.

"You have to be careful, and it could become an emotional issue," he said of researching districts. Gant said he doesn't want to hear from "splinter groups," but rather, "middle America, the silent majority in Sunnyside. We need to hear from those people."


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