There is an ancient proverb, sometimes said as a curse, "...may you live in interesting times." A person cannot doubt that we are living in interesting times.
Last week's meeting of the City Council of Sunnyside leaves many wondering where we are to go next at city hall. Recent events caused me to lose confidence in the ability of leadership to fix the issues as we move the city forward. This led me to vote to make a change. Large cross sections of the community agreed, and made their opinions known in a standing room-only crowd at our meeting.
Despite the media focus on what is wrong, it is refreshing to hear many of the positive statements from citizens at the meeting, and also in person. The crime reports presented to the public during the past year, and highlighted in at least some media coverage, show the huge drop in both violent and property crime rates in our community. Council members heard over and over from citizens that they are noticing the decrease in crime, and how they feel safer as they enjoy taking walks outside, and letting their children play in our parks and neighborhoods.
As council continues to adopt policies to keep everyone safe, the city will also move forward with projects to revitalize our urban center. These include new construction and renovation of an expanded fire hall (scheduled for completion this year), and downtown revitalization (with a multi-million dollar overhaul of central corridor streets scheduled to be finished in the next two years).
The new construction and streetscaping will create conditions that encourage business investment. In addition, council's strong commitment to public safety will mean that people can comfortably take their families downtown to enjoy all the infrastructure improvements in a positive environment that shows off the best of what Sunnyside has to offer.
For a short time, the fire chief will pull double duty as acting city manager. Council already has received letters of interest from multiple candidates expressing a desire to serve as interim city manager. These are strong candidates, with solid reputations. Whoever is selected, they will be subjected to a rigorous vetting process before an interim contract is offered.
It is my personal desire to bring in an interim city manager almost immediately, so that the fire chief will not be burdened with the additional stress of city hall politics. He is going to be supervising construction at the fire hall, and will be plenty busy with that project.
After bringing in an interim city manager to stabilize city hall, a search for a permanent city manager will commence. It is likely that this search will take several months. Although the city council has not discussed the topic, it is my preference that the search for a permanent city manager include meetings with community members before a hiring decision is made.
Much media attention of late has focused on the vacant police chief position. In my opinion the permanent police chief should be selected by the permanent city manager. The deputy chief has shown he is capable of keeping the department going until that time comes. Although he has expressed interest in the position of police chief, the deputy chief will need to compete among a field of candidates, and is not guaranteed an outcome. An open and honest selection process for police chief will best serve the community.
Another critical position that needs to be filled is that of finance director. The previous interim city manager recruited a talented individual to help the city with its issues in this department. She was a member of the state audit team that issued findings against the city. Despite this, she was willing to help the community by coming to work here to resolve the problems. Unfortunately, she tendered her resignation last week, before the council vote to terminate the interim city manager. High simultaneous turnover in critical department positions supports the decision of council in bringing in new leadership.
The public will hear soon about problems in city finances that have never been brought to council's attention prior to now. For some in the community, issues in the finance department will be more significant than the often reported concerns with the off-again, on-again employment status of Sunnyside's number one police commander.
Clean-up of some of these problems will take some time. The other side of the coin, is that this is a time of unique opportunities for our city to make significant gains.
The new city manager will have an almost unprecedented experience of choosing their own leadership team, and steering the ship into unexplored areas of safety, growth and opportunity for all of our citizens.
It is my honor and privilege to serve you. The thoughts and opinions expressed in this piece are mine alone, and may or may not be shared by other members of the city council.
- Jason Raines is a member of the Sunnyside City Council and chairman of the Sunnyside City Council Subcommittee on Finance and Administrative Services.