CERES -- Ceres High School teacher and baseball coach Bret Durossette was appointed to the City Council on Thursday night after an hour of pitches from seven candidates and disagreement among council members.
Mayor Anthony Cannella and Vice Mayor Chris Vierra recommended Durossette, but Councilman Ken Lane supported former Planning Commissioner Richard Felix, and Councilman Guillermo Ochoa favored Planning Commission Chairwoman Brandy Meyer.
But after all the discussion, the final vote was unanimous and Durossette was sworn in.
Durossette described the appointment as unexpected. His first priority will be meeting with city staff to observe day-to-day operations, he said.
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The vacancy was created when Rob Phipps died Dec. 2, shortly after winning re-election to a third term on the council. Cannella and Vierra said they chose Durossette because he most closely mirrors Phipps' priorities, most notably a passion for encouraging youth sports.
"This is a hard decision. I wish you all could be appointed," Cannella told the applicants in front of a crowd of about 30. "Each one of the seven candidates would make a fine council member. ... I'm in my third year as mayor and this is the hardest decision that I've had to make."
Council members receive a $500 monthly stipend and access to city medical insurance coverage, Cannella said. Durossette's term ends in 2011.
Durossette, 40, teaches physical education at Ceres High and coaches its varsity baseball team. He's lived in Ceres for 35 years and played quarterback for the Modesto Junior College football team.
The other applicants were Donnie Donaldson Jr., Hollie Hall, Mike Kline and Laurie Smith. Cannella and Vierra interviewed all seven at length Wednesday and each addressed the council Thursday night.
"We've spent more time with the candidates and were able to ask some pretty direct questions," Vierra said.
Making the decision more difficult were the personal connections the four council members have with the applicants.
Lane said he wanted someone with more experience in infrastructure, such as water and sewer, to help the city meet future challenges. Ochoa said he thought Meyer was more qualified.
"Bret fits with what we're lacking (after Phipps' death)," Cannella said. "Youth sports was the passion of Rob and I think we've lost that."
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2339.