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Durossette joins City Council
Ceres High School P.E. teacher and head varsity baseball coach Bret Durossette was named to succeed Rob Phipps on the Ceres City Council Thursday evening.

Phipps, 44, died Dec. 2 before he could be seated to another four-year term. The council decided to fill the vacancy by appointment rather than hold a special election.

Durossette, 40, was recommended by Mayor Anthony Cannella and Vice Mayor Chris Vierra after the two spent several hours on Wednesday interviewing seven applicants. Both felt Durossette best embodied the drive that Phipps had for recreational opportunities for the youth.

"The individual that I think most embodies Rob's views is Bret Durossette," said Cannella. "Bret has lived in the city of Ceres for 35 years, he attended school in Ceres and when he graduated from college chose to return to Ceres to pursue his career in teaching. As a teacher, Bret is dedicated his life to working with our youth."

Durossette has coached sports at Ceres High since 1991 and is currently varsity baseball coach. He formerly coached the Bulldogs in football.

"I think that anyone who knows Bret will agree that he is committed to not only the city of Ceres but he also has a passion for the youth of the city and I think we need someone with that passion on this council."

Vice Mayor Chris Vierra said Durossette stood out from the others and exhibited energy and displayed passion and supplied letters of recommendation from community leaders.

"At one point in his interview (Bret) stated that he's lived in Ceres all his life and he's planning to live in Ceres for the rest of his life," said Vierra. "He wants Ceres to be a place where his kids want to live."

There was disagreement, however, on who should receive the appointment. Councilman Ken Lane lobbied for the appointment of Richard Felix, who served on the Ceres Planning Commission for 13 years and who helped form the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children. Lane said he considered Felix more qualified than Durossette but acknowledged that Durossette "embodies what Rob stood for." Councilman Guillermo Ochoa felt that Planning Commissioner Brandy Meyer would be an "excellent choice" and noted her ties to youth service, including her service as a Ceres scouting leader. Neither men appeared eager to abandon their choices but deferred to Cannella's call that the decision be united. In switching his vote, Ochoa said he is a "team player." Lane, too, said he would stand by the recommendation of Durossette. The council vote was a unanimous 4-0.

"Over the past few years I've been able to watch many of the changes that have occurred in this city and I've been most pleased with the progression that have been taking place," said Durossette in his pitch to the council. "This has helped me in my decision to apply for the City Council position as I believe the things I have to offer are just what our city needs to help to continue to reach great heights."

Durossette said he shared Phipps' passion for the youth of Ceres: "His commitment and direction go very closely hand in hand what I have stood for in the past 20 years."

He also stated his belief that the City Council is "on the right track."

Cannella said the choice was one of the most difficult decisions he's ever had to make. "I wish you could all be appointed," Cannella told the applicants. "Any one of the seven applicants would make a fine council member."

The other applicants included:

• Retired Ceres Police Sergeant Hollie Hall, who spent 30 years working for the city of Ceres;

• Mike Kline, a salesman with Tony's Fine Foods and who came in third place in the Nov. 6 City Council election behind Phipps;

• Don Donaldson Jr., 37, a teacher at Hanshaw Middle School and father of four;

• Laurie Smith, a 12-year city of Modesto employee (now an administrative services officer) and a recent appointee to the Ceres Planning Commission;

Cannella explained how he arrived at his choice.

"We tried to understand why each applicant wanted to be a part of the council and what they hoped to accomplish when they are appointed," said Cannella. "We also tried to consider what Rob Phipps stood for and tried to make a connection between each applicant and Rob. Rob had many things that he pushed for as a councilmember and as a citizen. He cared deeply for public safety, economic development and land use issues. But I think everyone who knew Rob would agree that his passion was for the youth of the city. That was evident by his creation and involvement in the Junior Golf program at River Oaks. It was also evident by his interest in building new parks, improving facilities at Costa Field and his interest in providing our kids with recreational opportunities through Parks and Recreation Department."

Cannella said all seven applicants agreed that the council was "on the right track" and stressed the need to improve public safety, promote economic development and keep up with infrastructure needs.

After Phipps' death, the council decided against automatically choosing Kline, the next highest vote-getter. Cannella said the council set a precedent in 2005 in dealing with the council vacancy created when he was elevated to office of mayor. The council ended up choosing Ochoa who was the next highest vote getter after going through applications from other interested citizens.