ST. GEORGE – If one thing was clear at Tuesday night’s St. George mayoral debate in the Gardner Center ballroom at Dixie State University, it was that the two men standing on the stage genuinely like and respect one another. After nearly six years of working side-by-side at City Hall, Mayor Dan McArthur and Councilman Jon Pike see eye-to-eye on many – but certainly not all – of the issues brought up. As the debate went on, pronounced differences of character were apparent, and a few tense moments revealed a stark contrast in leadership and communication styles.
During the debate, Pike, an executive with SelectHealth, used facts and data to illustrate his points; whereas McArthur, the incumbent and local business owner, often answered questions narratively with stories and examples.
When speaking about concerns that the city’s code enforcement division is sometimes overbearing or biased in the enforcement of zoning codes, Pike began by analyzing the problem and discussing his plan to correct it.
“We have good reasons to have city codes,” Pike said, “but sometimes we get overzealous and the way we communicate things is a little troubling to me.”
He has already asked City Council members Jimmie Hughes and Gil Almquist to head a commission, Pike said, to take a close look at how codes are enforced in St. George.
“This wouldn’t just be us,” Pike said, “it would be bringing in business leaders and members of the general public to really look at what things we could do to refine, eliminate, and massage … our existing codes.”
McArthur, on the other hand, communicated his views with a story. He told the audience about a weed-ridden empty lot he had purchased years ago.
“I was going to build a home on it and every year I got a note from code enforcement saying ‘we’re going to put some teeth into that and we’re going to fine you if you don’t take care of those weeds.'”
McArthur said that each year he would take his tractor out to clean the lot up.
“And next thing you know,” he said, “somebody was building a house next door, and they would go put cement on it. And who had to take care of it? It had to be me. There are some rules and things we need to do within our community. I think we do those pretty good.”
The conversation soon turned to what the term “good ole boy” means. The phrase references a perceived group of Washington County “insiders” who hold many county and municipal offices, and whose families were among the first to settle the area. The phrase has become increasingly contentious ever since City Council candidate Tara Dunn adopted “Definitely NOT a Good Ol’ Boy,” as her campaign slogan, featured prominently on campaign signs throughout the city.
“To me, our community has been built by good ole boys in the past,” McArthur said, and suggested that the person to plow the first furrow in St. George was probably a good ole boy. “And so was Brigham Young,” he said, “so was Erastus Snow; so was Mayor Brooks who was mayor before myself.”
The term good ole boy describes anybody who wants to make a difference in their community, McArthur said.
“I think we owe a lot to the good ole boys and, at some point in time,” he said, “I hope I’m considered one of them.”
Pike joked to McArthur that, while he considers McArthur a good boy, he wouldn’t say that he’s old. Although Pike said he that shares McArthur’s sentiments about the people who built the community, he understands that when people use the term, they often are talking about something different. He said:
I think that what some people get nervous about – and I understand it – is: what are we doing with today’s good ole boys? Are we doing business appropriately? Are we getting bids appropriately? Are we making sure that we are being fair in that way?
The debate then moved on to questions about the St. George Animal Shelter. Some residents have expressed dissatisfaction with the findings of an internal investigation by the St. George Police which found no evidence that city or police employees had broken any laws. The candidates were asked if they support calls from the community for an independent third-party investigation into allegations of mismanagement and potential abuse and neglect at the shelter.
Pike said he had requested an independent investigation from the beginning.
“We’re not having our state Attorney General John Swallow investigate himself, Pike said.”
While he said that he has confidence in the integrity of the individuals who conducted the investigation, Pike said he feels the investigation left certain questions unanswered.
“While I think they did a reasonable job, there were some holes in it. I would have liked to see more data,” Pike said, “I would have liked to have seen all of the questions and answers released to the public.”
However, Pike said he doesn’t believe that an independent investigation would have had a different outcome. He said he is ready to move forward and is now focusing on creating a permanent citizen advisory board to oversee operations of the animal shelter.
McArthur said that when the allegations about the situation at the shelter were first brought to the public’s attention, people said that he should have known. He said:
I can tell you I did not know. But when it was pointed out to us, and we did that internal investigation … if they would have found anything criminal, it would have been turned over to another organization; but there was nothing criminal found in that investigation.
Pike then said he regrets that, as a sitting City Council member, he didn’t know what was happening at the shelter.
“I should have gone up there,” Pike said. “It will cause me to do a better job in the future to pay attention to the budget, for example. They were surviving on literally just pennies up there.”
There was some contention between the candidates when the future of the Dixie Sunbowl was brought up.
McArthur said that whatever happens to the Sunbowl, it should come down to what the St. George Lions Club wants. He said that no decision had been reached about the fate of the Sunbowl and that no official discussions have even taken place.
“There has not been a proposal to put anything on the Sunbowl,” McArthur said. “I’ve heard lots of people talk about it. I’ve heard kids say the teachers at East Elementary have said ‘it’s going to be right there.’ No.”
Pike took exception to this statement when it was his turn to speak. He said:
To be completely honest, I don’t think his answer is entirely accurate. There is a proposal and there has been a fair amount of discussion between the college, the school district, the city and the Lions – well, the Lions a little less so – about the Sunbowl being the location for a new East Elementary. I think it’s fair that you know that.
Pike said that the discussions had largely taken place between City Manager Gary Esplin, and the leadership at DSU and the Washington County School District.
In his rebuttal, McArthur re-emphasized that, while conversations had taken place about the fate of East Elementary, they had never discussed moving it to the Sunbowl.
Pike, however, insisted that, not only had there been discussions about purchasing East Elementary, but the money for the purchase has already been allocated.
“Ask the state legislature where the $500,000 towards purchasing East Elementary is,” Pike said, “that’s a down-payment for the purchase of that property. That’s public record, but it just hasn’t been talked about much.”
Pike said that there have been discussions about both Elks Field and the Sunbowl as places where East Elementary might move to.
In closing, Pike talked about what he’s learned in his six years on the City Council. “St. George has no defined mission,” he said, “we need one.” Too many people feel like they aren’t being listened to, Pike said, “we need to.”
His goal as mayor, Pike said, will be to develop a culture that really understands business and places a huge priority on education.
McArthur talked about his love of St. George. “Many people may say of St. George that they might love it as much as I do, but nobody loves it more,” he said. “I eat, sleep, and drink Dixie. I am the greatest cheerleader that Dixie has had.”
“You get one vote, – and if you vote for me, you get us both,” McArthur said. “If you vote for Jon, I’m gone.” As the audience laughed, Pike said: “Just remember, vote for me and there will be an open City Council seat.”
The St. George mayoral election will be held on November 5.
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