Councilman Gilberto Perez Jr. will soon part with that title and the responsibility to serve as the representative for District 5, which includes nearly all of the campus of Goshen College.Perez, a Democrat who is also the vice president for Student Life, dean of students, and director of Hispanic Serving Initiatives at Goshen College, announced earlier this year that he would not seek another four-year term in the Nov. 7 election.
That decision was prompted in part by the college’s designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, the fourth college in the state to secure that federal distinction. To qualify, Goshen College needed to meet the criteria of having at least 25 percent of its full-time undergraduate students identify as Hispanic/Latinx across several consecutive years. Fifteen years ago, only 2% of undergraduates were Hispanic/Latinx, compared to 30% in the spring of 2023.
In October, the U.S. Department of Education awarded the college a highly competitive $3 million grant, under Title V Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions.
“So there are a lot of great things happening in Goshen College,” said Perez, who serves on the cabinet with President Rebecca Stoltzfus and the leadership team.
“As I thought more about it, and as I worked with President Stoltzfus about the things that are unfolding here at Goshen College,” Perez said, he felt compelled to provide leadership for Hispanic Serving initiatives and a new HSI committee.
Given the factors at stake, Goshen College took precedence over staying on City Council. “I want to be in community,” he said. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed meeting with residents, with folks that live in the district . . . but in the end, it really made sense for me to say I’m going to focus on Goshen College.”
Perez reflected on his four years on the council and shared what he learned about City Council and what it means to be the member representing District 5.
Perez took out an Expo marker and a stack of sticky notes and began to demonstrate what he learned on the council through drawing. He stated that the three main things he learned on council related to approving a budget, making laws and listening to the needs of the residents in his district.
“ So I learned that, you know, one of my main responsibilities is to approve the budget,” said Perez, while flipping through the sticky notes pad representing items on the “budget.” “So we [council members] actually get an opportunity to open up the mayor’s budget, and ask all kinds of questions. And the mayor has to respond to those questions, because that’s our role. So in the end, if the mayor does not have a good plan for the budget, then we say to the mayor, go back and work on that.”
Perez shared that he had to learn how to make the budget go further and go towards things that will benefit the community and the city.
He shared that the third thing he learned on the council was to listen to residents, whether it be hearing a complaint or an idea. “It’s very important for the counselor to be available to listen to concerns that residents may have all across . . . the district,” he said.
Perez shared many stories about responding to citizens on matters that they personally addressed him for and he shared that he had a document saved on his phone that has almost all his encounters with residents that he was able to address.
“I had one situation where there was a resident, in another part of the district, who was having trouble with their street,” he said. “And it just wasn’t paved well, because I had several folks actually talk to me about the situation. And they came forward, and we got them on the paving list. The streets were paved.”
When asked whether he would consider running again for public office, whether for mayor or council, Perez said he has an affinity for the council.
“I didn’t think about running for mayor . . . in part because they are two very different jobs,” he said. “So the mayor’s job is a lot about managing the functionality of a city. And I don’t particularly have that experience. And I would want someone to run who has had experience of working a lot with business owners, or downtown businesses and so forth.”
Perez did mention that there could be a possibility that he could run for City Council again. He said he enjoyed the relationships and the kind of work they pursued as a legislative body.
“Maybe I could run for office again,” he said. “But at this time, I’m very focused on the work that’s happening here at the college and that feels good.”