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Sunnyside mayor faces challenger for council seat

Sunnyside City Council member and Mayor Ed Prilucik decided to get involved in city government nearly 20 years ago because he didn't like the way things were headed with utility construction.

Prilucik's challenger this November is Tom Gehlen. Gehlen is making his first venture into politics because he, too, is unhappy with the direction of city government. In particular Gehlen is concerned about what he sees as a lack of public involvement.

In Prilucik's case, his primary concern was a storm water system the then city council was considering in the 1980s that he says would have cost millions of dollars.

"I felt the size of the project didn't justify the costs," said Prilucik, a Sunnyside native who has served on council since 1990 and as mayor since 1998.

As far as accomplishments in office, Prilucik pointed to the law and justice center built in 1997, the city's additional water rights and wells, as well as the recently passed anti-gang ordinance.

If re-elected, Prilucik said he feels one of council's top priorities should be addressing what he says is a high rate of car thefts in the city, a crime he says Sunnyside "needs to get its hands around."

He also expressed continued support for a city manager form of government, even with the recent sudden resignation of former City Manager Bob Stockwell. Prilucik says that's because he has seen abuses in cities where there is a strong mayor.

"It's too much power in the hands of one person," he said. "Once a person is elected mayor you can't get them out of office for another four years unless they break the law."

Under Sunnyside's current city manager arrangement, the office of mayor is elected by council members at the beginning of each year.

Prilucik is an industrial safety program manager. He and wife Anny have two grown children, a son-in-law and two grandchildren.

Gehlen says he is running for Prilucik's position seven seat because he wants to see more public input in city government. Specifically, he cites landscaping and gang-related ordinances that he says needed more comment before they became law.

"We need public forums before these ordinances are drawn up," Gehlen says, adding he'd like to see citizen participation in drafting the ordinances before they are given to the city council for review.

He says the city's communication to residents via notes on the water bill is not enough.

Gehlen also feels that citizen comment should be sought during the meeting before ordinances are passed rather instead of at the very end of the meeting, as is the case now. He also feels the mayor needs to be flexible in allowing more than five minutes of comment from citizens if an issue warrants it.

That's why Gehlen says he specifically targeted a campaign for Prilucik's council seat.

"Ed is a great guy, really friendly," Gehlen noted. "But he represents what we want to change the most."

If elected, Gehlen would like to see Sunnyside do away with the city manager form of government. "You don't want to give all the power we did to Stockwell," Gehlen notes. "He was very efficient, but he was not open to the rest of the community."

A maintenance manager at Hillcrest Manor and Rehabilitation Services, Gehlen has lived in the Sunnyside area for the past 20 years. He and wife Theo have two grown children.

Ballots for the Nov. 6 general election will be mailed to voters on Wednesday, Oct. 17.

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