Salt Lake City fills vacant council seat with longtime west-side advocate

Dennis Faris replaces Andrew Johnston, who left to direct the capital’s homelessness outreach effort.

(Screenshot via Facebook) Dennis Faris, far left, is sworn in to fill the Salt Lake City Council District 2 seat in a meeting held virtually due to the pandemic. Faris will serve in the role until January, when voters will select a candidate to fulfill the remaining two years of outgoing council member Andrew Johnston's term.

The Salt Lake City Council selected Dennis Faris to fill its District 2 seat, representing the southern end of the city’s west side and some of its most diverse neighborhoods, including Glendale, Fairpark and Poplar Grove.

Andrew Johnston vacated the seat last month to helm Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s homelessness outreach and policy effort. The remaining council members selected Faris from a pool of 15 applicants in a virtual meeting Thursday, after listening to presentations from each candidate.

“My life journey here has been very unexpected,” Faris said in his presentation. “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 right after high school, to being here today.”

Faris’ appointment means he will serve until Jan. 3, 2022. Voters then will select a candidate to fill out the remainder of Johnston’s term, which expires in 2024, at the municipal election in November.

Faris previously worked in sales, but then transitioned into a career in homelessness services. He currently works for Volunteers of America as a business and community engagement liaison.

The new council member’s resume includes a long list of volunteer work.

Just over a decade ago, he was elected to the Poplar Grove Community Council, where he helped organize Night Out Against Crime events and Groove in the Grove, which celebrates its 10th year this summer.

Faris has also served on the boards of multiple organizations, including Salt Lake Community Network, Bike Utah and University of Utah’s Neighborhood Partners, according to his LinkedIn profile.

The council spent hours listening to applicant presentations and winnowing down the field. After selecting Faris, the council opened a brief formal meeting and officially appointed the new council member. City Recorder Cindy Lou Trishman then swore in Faris virtually due to the pandemic.

Council Chair Amy Fowler acknowledged the nontraditional nature of the appointment.

“It’s awkward enough when we suddenly vote somebody into [office], then put them in the council chair sitting up on the dais,” she said, “but even more awkward as we’re all sitting in our own homes doing this. It is what it is and here we are.”

Council members thanked the remaining 14 applicants for their interest in the District 2 seat and encouraged them to volunteer for community councils and commissions.

Outgoing council member Johnston, who previously served on the Poplar Grove Community Council with Faris, praised his replacement.

“I was surprised when you put your name in,” Johnston said, “but you’re ultimately qualified. You know the neighborhood, you know the people, you know the issues.”