Note: The video above features excerpts from candidate introductions given at the forum. Not featured are candidates Gregg McArthur and Ed Baca, as they were not present at the forum.
ST. GEORGE – The public met nine out of the 11 candidates running for St. George City Council at an introductory forum held Friday at the Washington County Administrative Building. Issues of growth and code enforcement were addressed by the candidates, as were other issues.
After a round of candidate introductions, forum moderators asked the candidates what they felt a primary challenge facing St. George is and how they might address it. The majority said it is the city’s growth and issues related to it.
“It’s growth and trying to stay ahead of the curve,” candidate Craig Hammer said. Hammer is executive director of physical facilities for the Washington County School District and said the school district faces similar issues.
“I think the City Council needs a five-year plan, a 10-year plan,” Hammer said. “What do we want? What do we want to be? Hopefully, we’ll be able to look back in five or 10 years and people will say, ‘Thank you.’”
The city’s economy is based on real estate and construction, and it needs to diversify, candidate Kendall Clements, a real estate business owner, said.
“We need to expand that and grow various industries so that we have a diversified economy,” Clements said.
“Our city is based on growth, and that can be a curse if we mismanage it,” candidate Eric Hovland, owner of Urban Renewal, said.
Hovland also said there is a perception that facets of the city’s growth are planned behind closed doors. He called for more openness and transparency in city government.
Incumbent Bette Arial said that new growth also brings in people with diverse backgrounds and opinions, and it can be a challenge to bring those people together.
“We need to have wonderful activities where we come together, very transparent government, a lot of communication between us so we can understand where other people are coming from and work together,” Arial said.
Candidate Bryan Thiriot, who is executive director of the Five County Association of Governments, said a prime issue for him is providing water for a growing populace, especially one in the middle of a desert.
“I’m always going to look to diversify our water resources,” Thiriot said, adding that promoting public safety is also important to him.
While he agreed growth is probably the biggest issue facing the city, candidate Lane Ronnow broke with the others and commented on code enforcement.
“What I consider a problem is code enforcement,” Ronnow said, noting his previous experience as the director of Salt Lake County’s building and zoning enforcement department. “… We need people in there with experience in these kind of matters, not that just sit and say, ‘Well, we’re working on that.’”
The city’s code enforcement practices were the focus of a question from an audience member given via the moderators. It specifically asked about language in the code that some have argued allows code enforcement officers the power to enter a property without a warrant in pursuit of a potential violation.
Code reform was one of the platforms of incumbent Jimmie Hughes’ 2011 campaign. During that time, he said, he had others bring up this very subject, the wording of which he and many others said “was odd.”
The code is also a part of a lawsuit against the City of St. George, claiming it violates the Fourth and 14th Amendment rights of the plaintiffs involved.
Initially, the city put pending code reforms on hold while the lawsuit worked its way through the court, Hughes said. However, he said, the suit has progressed far enough that city officials feel comfortable with moving forward again.
“We have changed the wording on that,” Hughes said. “A lot of these codes are taken from other cities, and a lot of them get shoved in there. So this wording basically does say code enforcement can enter any property, so we’re changing the wording … and that will be coming before the council to change.”
Candidate Michelene Perez called the current code a violation of rights. However, she said, what really bothers her is that the city code applied by the city had been put into law without more adequate review.
“My bigger issue is how often we adapt things as a city from other cities,” Perez said. “In my account, somebody didn’t do enough research into what it actually meant before it was applied. I think we deserve a City Council that is willing to do the time and the research.”
A lot of the issue could be resolved with a little more transparency, candidate Marc Stallings said. The city needs to do a better job of letting the public know what it’s doing to resolve the code enforcement issue.
“How the citizens perceive our city is very important,” Stallings said. “A lot of them, I think, didn’t feel they were in the know or felt they didn’t really know what was going on with the code enforcement.”
Candidates Gregg McArthur and Ed Baca were not present at the forum.
Three St. George City Council seats are up for grabs this election. While 11 candidates currently vie for those seats, three will be eliminated after the Aug. 11 primary election. The general election is set for Nov. 3. (See ed. note)
Ed. note: General election date corrected.
- 11 declare run for St. George City Council
- Perspectives: Time to rethink code enforcement
- Legal battle over city code enforcement system continues
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