Jesse Hernandez Jr. was appointed last night to the Sunnyside City Council to replace former councilman Bruce Epps, who resigned earlier this year.
Hernandez's selection came following two hours of candidate interviews Monday night administered by the Sunnyside City Council. A total of six residents applied for the post.
Hernandez was selected because of his prior community involvement, which includes seats on the planning commission, parks and rec commission and president of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce.
Hernandez, a Mabton native who has lived in Sunnyside for the past 25 years, said his first priorities as a new councilman will be to meet with city department heads, as well as the mayor and council members in "getting up to speed" with city government.
Hernandez said he is excited at the appointment and the opportunity to "work with council and helping turn the community into a more positive position."
Hernandez, a financial advisor with Waddell and Reed, told council he put his name in the hat because he wanted to serve, to give back to the community. He also said serving on city council is a next step for him after spending the past year on the planning commission.
As for the most pressing issues facing Sunnyside, Hernandez said they are gang violence and economic development. A key to building Sunnyside's economy, he said, is attracting businesses here and having an educated, trained workforce to meet the demand for high tech jobs.
Hernandez says it's not only a matter of selling Sunnyside to prospective businesses, but also "selling Sunnyside to Sunnyside." That means instilling pride in the community and keeping neighborhoods clean, he said.
Though given the opportunity during the interview, Hernandez declined to play "Monday morning quarterback" in critiquing council's actions in budget cuts last year and in approving a now much-maligned stormwater plan that has farmers paying thousands of dollars in stormwater fees on pasture lands.
"Given the info you had you made the decision you needed to make," Hernandez said.
As a downtown businessman and chamber of commerce president, Hernandez also shared with council some of the things he's hearing from residents.
"The good thing is people are fed up with gang violence, they want to get involved and do something," he said. "That's what needs to happen."
Hernandez will be sworn into office at the next regular Sunnyside City Council meeting on Monday, March 23. He'll need to resign from his post on the planning and parks and recreation commissions.
He may also need to step down as president of the chamber, since it operates with an annual contract with the city. Hernandez said he'd like to retain the seat, if possible, by perhaps recusing himself when council talks about chamber matters. He confirmed, though, that he'll give up the chamber leadership role if council asks him to.
Mayor Paul Garcia praised the other five candidates, noting that any of them would have done a good job on council. He also encouraged them to seek seats on city boards and commissions, like the two that Hernandez will be vacating.
The other five candidates considered were Sunnyside auto repair shop owner Mike Farmer, Coast Guard veteran Craig Hicks, Pride Recovery Services CEO Jose Salas, Sunnyside Inn Bed and Breakfast manager Kristiann Vlieger and stay-at-home dad Jason Raines.