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Political race features two city office holders

It's the only one of the three Sunnyside City Council races that feature two city office holders.

Planning Commissioner Craig Hicks is a candidate for Tom Gehlen's Pos. 7 city council seat due to concerns about the city budget and public safety issues that include gangs and graffiti.

"I see the state of the city; loss of business, gang activity and mass taggings," Hicks says.

Getting the business climate improved, he says, first requires the city to get a better handle on crime then followed by business planning.

Police evaluation, budget

Hicks is opposed to the evaluation the city is undertaking for the police department. "The $50,000 could have been used for other items," says Hicks, a manager trainee for Taco Bell.

While Gehlen, a plant operations manager for Hillcrest, also supports public safety, he backs the police evaluation.

Pointing to new police hires and vehicles approved just a few months ago, Gehlen says of the police review "all we're asking is if this is the best way to go."

As for the city's budget issues, Gehlen says the city "cannot go like we've been going." But tightening the city's belt, Gehlen adds, shouldn't mean laying off workers.

"I do not want to lose any more personnel," he says. "We've hired these people, let's keep them."

Gehlen is for the $20 car tab fee, but only if it is approved by voters.

Hicks opposes the car tab fee, and feels the city needs to do a better job of sticking to a budget.

A 20-year veteran of the Coast Guard, Hicks says each year he had to set a budget and live within that amount, barring emergencies.

He says once each city department has its budget it should stick to it until the next budget cycle.

He's opposed to budget amendments like the one council was presented earlier this year. "The police car leases should have been accounted for at the start of the year," Hicks says.

"We're spending like we have tons and we have none," he adds.

Goals

While tighter budgets and improved public safety are key issues that prompted Hicks to seek office, Gehlen says he is seeking a second term on council to also reach out to the community.

"There's a silent majority that doesn't seem to have a voice," Gehlen says of Sunnyside. "There are social, economic and cultural differences and I don't believe they're all getting the same voice versus louder people."

That outreach, he says, should extend to the police department. "The majority of people don't view the police as a friend," Gehlen notes. "They need to know they can talk to the police as a friend."

With the additional, considerable financial resources the city has given to the police department, Gehlen says there is more it could do to reach out to citizens.

"The police department could go out and do some individual communication with Hispanic groups to earn their trust," Gehlen said.

Downtown

Gehlen and Hicks agree help is needed for the city's downtown core.

"I would like to bring more business into town, which would help improve jobs," says Hicks, who calls for downtown planning after the city gets a "better handle on crime."

Gehlen feels more public outreach is needed on behalf of downtown.

"There isn't enough respect in the community for the community," he says. "We're going to have to put a better face on downtown."

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