SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Council selected Dennis J. Faris as a new councilman for the vacant District 2 seat after hearing presentations from 15 applicants Thursday.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall commended the council's unanimous decision and congratulated Faris following the council's vote.
"Congratulations Dennis, and I think I've been a part of trying to recruit you to be on the City Council in years past, so here you are. I think that the experience that you bring to city conversations is so broad and deeply rooted in community organizing and public service for years and years, it runs in your family. So welcome, and so happy for you. Welcome your entire family to City Hall," Mendenhall said.
Seventeen people applied for the position, with two withdrawing their application. The remaining 15 applicants were offered five minutes by the council to speak on a topic of their choice.
Many applicants spoke of their racial and ethnic background in their allotted time or even referenced it on their application. The Poplar Grove neighborhood has a 35.53% Hispanic population and is one of the more diverse neighborhoods in the state. Being a person of color and ethnic minority, Faris told the council he feels that he can represent one of the most diverse communities within Utah.
"My life journey here has been very unexpected. From being a young Hispanic child on public assistance to following in my father's footsteps by enlisting in the U.S. Air Force during the first Gulf War, and after high school, to being here today. I've been ingrained with a deep appreciation for those willing to serve the public good," Faris began in his allotted time.
He went on to discuss how he became engaged in the community 10 years ago with his neighbor's invitation to a community council meeting. The meeting Faris attended was holding elections, and he was elected to serve as a vice-chairman.
The former vice-chairman served along with former District 2 Councilman Andrew Johnston. Johnston stepped down to become the mayor's director of homelessness policy and outreach. He attended the meeting and spoke to his successor and referenced their time together at the community council.
"We took our lumps together over those first couple years, and I learned a lot from him and I was surprised when you put your name in, but you're ultimately qualified. You know the neighborhood, you know the people, you know the issues," Johnston said.
He continued, "Congratulations to you, congratulations to the council. I know these are hard decisions and also for everybody else who applied. I've reached out to everybody but they really gave me a lot of hope and pride in the west side and District 2 in our neighborhoods for such qualified folks to show up and show out."
According to Faris' application, he has served as the chairman and vice-chairman of the Poplar Grove Community Council for over 10 years, was a founding board member of the Westside Coalition that brought together all six westside community councils to work together on issues, was a board member of the River District Business Alliance, and helped provide leadership to reorganize Salt Lake Community Network.
Meet the new #slcdistrict2 Council Member, Dennis Faris! "I am honored to be appointed to represent the people and places of District 2. I am ready to get to work with all communities across our city to equitably deal with the issues we face."— Salt Lake City Council (@slcCouncil) May 14, 2021
Farris has lived in the Poplar Grove neighborhood of Salt Lake City for almost 20 years. In his application, Faris wrote that his experience living in the city and working in it has provided him insight that would help benefit the role.
Homelessness was another issue raised by many candidates during the meeting. Several of the candidates' applications showed that they had volunteered or worked with nonprofit organizations that addressed unsheltered individuals. Faris was no exception, working for Volunteers for America and formerly for Housing Connect.
"This city also faces many complicated issues that can have a grave impact — issues like homelessness and diversity. In my professional life, I work with sheltered and unsheltered persons alike, helping each to mitigate issues regarding homelessness. I am intimately familiar with the homeless service providers and systems, as well as affordable housing issues, and this knowledge and insight can greatly help the City Council to understand the complexities as you determine the best steps forward on many fronts There are great strides that must be made to maintain and nurture this diversity while uplifting the city as a whole," wrote Faris.
During the virtual meeting, Faris was given the oath of office and will fill the position until January 3, 2022. The remaining two years of Johnston's term, from 2022-2024, will be filled through the general election process of the 2021 Municipal Election.
Those who'd like to declare candidacy and meet the requirements for the remaining two years of Johnston's term can apply at www.slc.gov/attorney/recorder/elections or by contacting the City Recorder's Office at 801-535-7671.