Ivins City has a new council member after public ‘job interview’

IVINS CITY — For the first time since the pandemic first closed Ivins City Hall in March, the entire Ivins City Council was in the council chambers Oct. 1, rather than some members being on Zoom. But there was still an empty seat. 

Ivins City Council, Ivins City, Utah, Oct. 1, 2020 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

In late August, council member Miriah Elliot announced she was leaving the council for undisclosed reasons that the city said are “personal.”

With that being the case, the council’s Thursday meeting took on the atmosphere of a job interview, with seven candidates making their cases before the council to serve with them. 

The candidates ranged from current planning commission members Jeff Loris and Lance Anderson – who traded playful barbs with council member Jenny Johnson over who was the person in the room who had lived in Ivins the longest – to piano instructor Regina Roper, who spearheaded the 2018 effort against the then-proposed Snow Canyon Resort, and local businessman and former 2019 candidate Derek Larsen.

But the appointment interviews were nearly stolen by a former police officer. 

Realtor and 14-year resident Paul Bryson may have been the candidate with the fewest links to past city business, but his impressive work experience included a 39-year career with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was a homicide detective and helped design the department’s computer system, as well as helping train Delta Force soldiers in Iraq as a security consultant with Chevron. 

Realtor and 14-year resident Paul Bryson speaks to the Ivins City Council, making his case to join them as an appointed council member during the City Council meeting, Ivins, Utah, Oct. 1, 2020 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“I want to say publicly how impressed I am with Paul,” Johnson said, “not necessarily his four-page resume but with his character.”

With that, Johnson motioned to put Bryson on the council, but she did not receive a second on the motion. 

Council member Cheyne McDonald then put Larsen up for nomination and received a second from council member Dennis Mehr. After a 3-1 vote, Larsen was Ivins City’s newest council member. 

Some council members stated that the edge went to Larsen based on him finishing fourth when three seats were up for election last November

“My decision is based on where the election was last time. My honest direction is, you were just the next one in line,” McDonald said, a sentiment that was echoed by Mehr. 

Larsen, who started Hurricane-based LP Building Solutions as LP Windows & Doors in 2008, said he comes to the council with no agenda.

“I just hope to be able to shine light on both sides of the issues,” he said, “to be able to make observations and look at things logically and make the best decision for the city. It’s just been great to be in a position where I’m able to give back.”

Wearing a face covering for coronavirus prevention, new council member Derek Larsen is seen following his appointment to the City Council of Ivins City, Utah, Oct. 1, 2020 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Larsen will finish up Elliot’s term before the seat is up for election again November 2021. 

Council members said they wanted to see a new council member continue Elliot’s drive for more affordable housing in Ivins City, a goal to which Larsen stated he is committed, with the caveat that protections be included to ensure affordable housing doesn’t just became Airbnb-like vacation rentals. 

“One thing that happens in Ivins is we put in a subdivision, and they’re bought up by investors and turned into rentals,” Larsen told St. George News, “and we lose that chance we had to have some affordable housing for people who may need it.”

Council member Sue Gordhammer was the lone vote against the appointment. While she didn’t state a reason for her dissenting vote, she expressed earlier that her criteria would be someone who was either already on the city’s Planning Commission or had attended city meetings regularly.

Ivins City Mayor Chris Hart, who only had a vote in the event of a tie, pointed out that he began his own long council career as an appointee, and he quipped that after spending a week looking over the qualifications of the candidates, “We ought to expand the council to 11 members.”

In the first swearing-in of a new council member since the pandemic began, Larsen and Ivins City Recorder Kari Jimenez were a good distance apart – seemingly double the usual 6-foot recommendation.

And Larsen took his seat between McDonald and the mayor as a full council got down to business.

Council approves new gate for Snow Canyon State Park

One of the first votes Larsen had on the council was to approve a request from Utah State Parks to move the south entrance of Snow Canyon State Park approximately 800 feet south. 

Kristen Comella, manager of Snow Canyon State Park, presents a plan to move the southern gate of the park 800 feet during the City Council meeting, Ivins City, Utah, Oct. 1, 2020 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Kristen Comella, manager of the park, said the purpose of moving the entrance is to increase revenue. 

Moving the entrance, which can’t be passed without paying admission for the park, would also allow it to include an existing parking lot for the Johnson Canyon Arch Trail. In turn, plans would be to expand the parking lot to provide additional parking at the entrance to the park.

Presently, entrance into the park for Utah residents is $10 per vehicle (up to eight people) and $5 for pedestrians, cyclists and seniors. The fee goes up to $15 per vehicle for nonresidents. 

“We would be able to pick up revenue that we don’t presently collect,” Comella said.  “We need more parking because they’re coming.”

No one on the council raised objection to the proposal, though McDonald said the approval should be contingent on also having the blessing of Red Mountain Resort, which has land that would border the new south entrance.

A map shows the new position of the southern gate of Snow Canyon State Park, as well as expansion plans for parking, that was presented during the City Council meeting, Ivins City, Utah, Oct. 1, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Utah State Parks, St. George News

There was also a suggestion by Mehr to add a quick-access lane for annual pass holders, which Comella said she wasn’t discounting but that there wouldn’t be the space to add an additional lane.

Johnson saw another benefit for Ivins City residents: slowing down the traffic on Snow Canyon Drive. 

“Residents talk about speeding on that road, so if you move it south, it will slow down traffic as well,” she said. 

The council then approved the move of the south entrance unanimously, contingent on the input of Red Mountain Resort.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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