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New Day dawns in Sunnyside

The first candidate interviewed turned out to be the first choice, as last Saturday the Sunnyside City Council selected Donald Day of New Mexico as the next city manager. The move to hire Day, 59, a retired New Mexico State Police officer and currently county manager for Colfax County, New Mexico, is pending agreement on an employment contract. Day and his wife Brenda, who also visited Sunnyside last weekend, have three children and three grandchildren. Work began on hammering out a deal Saturday night during an impromptu meeting at Snipes Restaurant in Sunnyside. Mayor Jim Restucci, Councilman Jason Raines and Councilman Francisco Guerrero head up the negotiating committee on behalf of the city. Restucci indicated the possibility of using Skype as a tool for continuing negotiations as Day returned home yesterday to New Mexico. It's possible Day could start as early as July 15, but Restucci said it will likely be closer to Aug. 1. "What we saw and heard was a man who was not discouraged by what he saw in Sunnyside," Restucci said moments after council voted 7-0 to hire Day. "With his life experience he could handle anything." "A good day" Indeed, that life experience includes a New Mexico State Police Purple Heart award Day earned in 2003 when he was shot three times by a felon, once each in both knees and in his bulletproof vest. At the urging of Raines during a break in Saturday's interview schedule, Day reluctantly shared how when the ambulance arrived he made sure the felon - who later died from his wounds in the gunfight - was loaded into the ambulance first. "I look back on it as a good day," smiled Day. "Any day you're alive is a good day." Saturday was a good day for Day, as not only the city council, but community and city employee interview panels also overwhelmingly saw him as the best candidate. The four finalists on Saturday rotated between intensive interviews with council and the two panels at the Sunnyside Community Center. Prior to that four-hour round of interviews Saturday afternoon and evening each of the four met one-on-one with individual council members Saturday morning. Experience seen as good fit for city manager's post After serving 20 years with the New Mexico State Police and retiring in 2005, Day completed graduate studies in public administration. Day has served as county manager for Colfax County nearly six years following completion of his graduate coursework. Sunnyside will be his first post as a city manager, which has more direct say over each department than in county government. It's a non-issue as far as he and the city council are concerned. Day actually sees it as an advantage. "I think it would be easier actually," he said during a Friday social meet and greet at Bon Vino's Bistro & Bakery. "With the county I have to work with eight elected officials and with the city there are seven elected on council, but no elected department heads." Interim City Manager John Darrington had a similar observation, noting that as a county manager Day would have to be more persuasive to move policy forward in working with elected officials responsible for their own budgets and departments. By contrast, Day will have full sway over all day-to-day matters and city employees in Sunnyside. Darrington also said county and city managers often make the jump from one to the other position and share the same professional association. Integrity, leadership praised Restucci said the most important thing is that Day has experience as a successful government administrator. Raines said it helped, too, that Day has experience with jail and court operations, both of which Sunnyside has. "He has transparent leadership and a law enforcement background," Restucci added. "And one of his first responsibilities is to select the next chief of police." Day, a Rotary Club International member, was also the unanimous choice because of the integrity he displayed during the interview process. Council, city staff and community panel members expressed admiration for Day's character. That was highlighted during his interview with council, when Restucci asked Day if he could stay in Sunnyside a while longer if hired before returning back to New Mexico. Day declined, saying he had to get back Sunday because he still has a commitment to Colfax County to be at work today, Monday. But with integrity comes a straight-forward, no punches pulled approach. When council asked about his salary requirements, for example, Day with a gleam in his eye quickly countered he would expect to make more than his subordinates. It was a reflection on the fact recent Sunnyside city managers have actually earned less than some police department employees when overtime is factored in. Later on Saturday, Darrington confirmed the salary range for the new city manager will be in the range of $110,000 to $125,000. Ready to roll Council was tickled when in response to another question Day said he could start July 1 since his last day at Colfax County is June 30. "That's not the smartest way to do it since I'm working until June 30," Day smiled, noting July 15 would be a more likely start date to target. The other three candidates interviewed all said they wouldn't be available until late July or even sometime in August. For more on council's Q&A session with Day, see part 2 in tomorrow's edition. A timely start date is important for Sunnyside as Darrington's interim contract with the city expires July 31. During his interview, Day said if hired he would load up his camper for Sunnyside and live in that until he and Brenda find a home here. "He's eager, he wants to be part of this community," Restucci said later Saturday following the vote for Day. Sunnyside's new city manager, pending contract approval, said as much Friday night during the meet and greet. "I don't see anything that scares me," Day said. "I see a lot of opportunities."

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