ST. GEORGE — Mayoral candidates Dan McArthur and Jon Pike met for the Duel at Dixie Debate this evening.
The debate, hosted by the Dixie State University College Republicans, was held at the DSU Gardner Center Ballroom. Both candidates were cordial enough through the first few rounds of questions, but the gloves soon came off as the conversation wandered into controversial topics, such as the shutdown of Dixie Ambulance Service, failures at the city Animal Shelter, and questionable code enforcement practices.
The first questions were about the economy. Both candidates talked about the importance of the Washington County Economic Development Council and pledged to continue working with Director Scott Hirschi.
“I went out and asked Scott Hirschi (to be on the economic council),” the incumbent McArthur said, touting his own role in St. George’s past growth. “Economic development started under my tenure,” he said, stressing the important role St. George has played in the economic development of the entire county. “Wal-Mart couldn’t have been there if it hadn’t been for St. George,” he said, “Litehouse Foods couldn’t be over in Hurricane if it wasn’t for St. George.”
Pike said that he thinks that the future of the economy in Washington County rests on the shoulders of today’s students.
“I’d like to emphasize education,” Pike said. “As we sit in this great jewel of an institution, I think it’s important to remember that from an economic standpoint that this is the key to our future in St. George City and Washington County.”
He has high hopes for a science and technology campus, Pike sad, that the city plans to develop in partnership with the state, on top of the Black Ridge where the airport used to be.
On the importance of the next mayor being native to St. George, Pike said that he believes there are advantages to having lived here long enough to understand the region. He said that he and his wife have lived here for 18 years, and he feels like that’s just about the right amount of time.
However, Pike also pointed out that the city is full of transplants from up north and out of state. He asked audience members to raise their hands if they were born in Washington County, and less than one-third of those in attendance raised their hands.
“What does that tell us?” he asked. “There’s a lot of people that weren’t born here. I wasn’t born here. I have relatives that were here in the old days, but they didn’t stay here,” he said. “But we all love St. George, and we can all say now we are from Dixie, can’t we?” he said, recalling the lyrics to one of McArthur’s favorite song.
“That’s what the song says: Are you from Dixie? Well sure, because we all live here now. So, I’m from Dixie too, and I think it’s great that we have different perspectives and different experiences.”
It is important to understand what came before, McArthur said. “Knowing that history and imparting that to the rest of the public that comes here … by imparting that to you, it makes this your hometown,” he said. “We stand on the shoulders of giants who have gone before that have always stood here and tried to invite the world to our community. And we continue to do that, and welcome the world to our community.”
Pike was asked why the city didn’t consider creating a city-run ambulance service when Dixie Ambulance collapsed after its license was revoked by the state. Pike said that the city didn’t make that decision.
“Frankly, we kind of abdicated our role in that process because we never put forward a standard-of-care agreement,” he said. “I wish we would have. I think it would have protected them as well as us.”
Pike said that he had fought for such a measure to be implemented five years ago when he first joined the Council, but the city never went through with it.
McArthur said that he regretted what happened to Dixie Ambulance, and accused Intermountain Healthcare – the company that Pike works at – of instigating the ambulance service review that led to the revocation of the ambulance service’s license.
“I thought that it was going to be just an appraisal of what kind of service we had,” McArthur said, “because we never had an appraisal of our ambulance service from the state.”
Pike later took issue with McArthur’s statement.
“I just wanted to clarify one thing,” he said. “I don’t think the Mayor meant to say this, but Intermountain Healthcare did not request that we look at this, it was Gold Cross that did. Is that what you were trying to say?” Pike said to McArthur.
“What I’m saying is that you brought it before the City Council,” McArthur said, addressing Pike directly.
Pike hesitated for a moment, then said: “Well no, I didn’t, actually, it was Gold Cross who brought it. Gold Cross brought us the letter and asked us to sign it.” Pike said that the Council refused to sign a letter of support for either company, and agreed to wait to see the outcome of the review process. Pike then pushed the blame right back to McArthur, he said:
We failed 15 to 20 years ago when we failed to set up a standard-of-care agreement that protected everyone. I believe that if that were the case, Dixie Ambulance would have stepped up to the level they needed to be at, and they would still be in business today.
The most interesting questions may have been the ones that the candidates submitted themselves for one another. McArthur’s asked Pike how he expected to be an effective mayor when he already has a full-time commitment working for Intermountain Healthcare.
Pike said that, while he doesn’t own his own business, as McArthur does, his job gives him quite a bit of flexibility of scheduling. He said he spoke with his boss and with the president of IMHC.
“I’m a very efficient person, by nature,” Pike said. “my job is such that I can go in early, I can stay late, whatever it takes to get my job done.”
Pike then asked McArthur if he thinks that recent questions surrounding the animals shelter and code enforcement might be symptomatic of a larger problem with city governance.
McArthur said that Pike should share some of the blame for problems that have come to light in these areas.
“I feel like a deer with the target painted on me during deer season,” McArthur said, “when I think it should have been spread out among other people.” McArthur said that he doesn’t have very much authority over some areas of city government.
“A ‘weak mayor’ form of government it’s called because we have a city manager that is appointed by the City Council,” McArthur said. “Certainly when you point fingers, a lot of them come right back at you.”
It’s up to the City Council to decide on what codes and ordinances the city adopts, McArthur said. “I don’t have a vote,” he said.
The general election will be held next Tuesday, Nov. 5. The polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Follow this link to see if you are currently registered, and where to go to cast your vote this year.
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