Council members find inspiration, hope during special meeting to find interim mayor

ST. GEORGE — The special meeting called by the St. George City Council to find an interim mayor to serve the remainder of Jon Pike’s term stood in stark contrast to the scene in Washington D.C.

Interim Mayor-elect Michele Randall pleads her case with the council during candidate interviews at City Hall in St. George Utah, Jan. 19 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

While Washington D.C. is fragmented by fences, concrete barriers and security check-points, the 23 mayoral candidates who filled the council chambers Tuesday afternoon sat quietly, many of them beside their wives or husbands.

They didn’t bring assault rifles to assert their freedom; they carried typed pages and books from which they intended to quote. They didn’t shout each other down as tempers flared; they patiently awaited their chance to share their qualifications and plans if elected interim mayor.

Mayor pro tem Jimmie Hughes, who counted himself among the applicants for the position, presided over the meeting.

“We have 23 applicants tonight,” Hughes said. “It’s just great to have that many people who are willing to serve.”

St. George city recorder Christina Fernandez administered the oath of office to freshmen council members Danielle Larking and Gregg McArthur, joined by incumbent councilmember Jimmie Hughes (center) during their swearing in ceremony at city call Monday. St. George, Utah, Jan. 6,2020 | Photo by David Cordero, St. George communications and marketing director, St. George News

Some of them were veteran public officials. Hughes announced weeks ago that he not only intended to run for interim mayor, but he also intended to run for mayor come November. Council member Michele Randall, who would ultimately become the first female mayor in St. George, had applied too. Dan McArthur, who served as mayor of St. George for 20 years, was also there to offer his service.

There were also lesser known candidates, whose desire to serve their city appeared to be just as strong as their opponents’.

Mike Eagar, a self-professed “old cowboy who grew up in Leeds,” Katheryne Novick, a victim of domestic violence who lived for a stint with her daughter in the shelter at Switchpoint, and Auston Hafen, who couldn’t attend the meeting to plead his case because, as council member Bryan Smethurst speculated, he’s currently serving with the Utah National Guard and was likely deployed to Washington D.C.

As the candidates pled their case in three-minute blocks, one sentiment tied them all together; the refrain went something like this: Our country – and by extension, our city – is in trouble.

For some, the trouble stemmed from divisive politics and ideologies. To others, it meant the need to protect their way of life from encroaching changes – “the cancer of culture,” as one candidate had put it. The answer, according to many, including council member Dannielle Larkin, was to listen more deeply, as the interim mayor’s predecessor Jon Pike had tried to do.

When the 24-year-old Novick concluded, she turned to walk back to her seat. But she stopped as Larkin spoke.

Councilman Ed Baca, right, who was defeated in the 2019 municipal election for St. George City Council, congratulates newly elected Dannielle Larkin on her win, St. George, Utah, Nov. 14, 2019 | Photo by David Louis, St. George News

“I just want to take a moment to thank you,” Larkin said. “When I was your age, I never would have had the courage to come here, to do what you’ve just done.”

Randall chimed in.

“I find your story very inspiring,” she said.

As Dan McArthur began his speech to the council, he said he hoped they hadn’t already made up their minds about who had their vote.

“I’m here today, because I’ve still got the fire in my belly,” McArthur said. Then, he revisited all of the time he’d spent serving St. George and some of the things he’d accomplished as mayor: building the Red Hills Parkway and the St. George Airport among them.

As his son Greg McArthur sat at the dais, listening with the rest of the council, one might speculate Dan McArthur had at least one vote in the bag.

When the candidate interviews concluded, the council was required to deliberate in public the criteria by which they would cast their votes.

Smethurst said he was happy to see so many people with a lot of experience in politics.

Bryan Smethurst is sworn in as the newest member of the St. George City Council, St. George, Utah, Sept. 30, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“But I’m also happy to see so many people who don’t have experience in politics,” Smethurst said. “I was inexperienced in politics when I got elected, and I learned a lot.”

Hughes expressed his gratitude towards each of his colleagues on the council. Randall said she recognized that each candidate clearly loved St. George and thanked them for that.

“I kept a notebook as I read all of your applications,” Larkin said. “And I wound up writing a lot of notes. You all have so much love for the community, and I have that for you all.”

Greg McArthur said that he was looking for love of their community, spirit and desire to serve, among other things. Then, emotionally, he thanked all the candidates.

“I went through this process twice before I got on the council,” he said.

After two rounds of voting by paper ballot, Randall was elected interim mayor.

Though Greg McArthur would ultimately cast his vote for Randall, he took a moment to acknowledge his father’s service to their community and to thank him.

At the meeting’s conclusion, people gathered around Randall to congratulate her. Meanwhile, Dan and Greg McArthur embraced.

“Thank you, son,” Dan McArthur said, as the candidates filed out of the council chambers.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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