St. George City Council candidates face off in debate concerning public safety, water, affordable housing

ST. GEORGE — Vince Brown asked an audience of more than 300 at Dixie State University’s Eccles Theater to forget national politics for a moment on Tuesday evening.

“Local politics is so important to our daily lives,” said Brown, a professor at Dixie State and co-chair of the Southern Utah Debate Commission.

He then introduced the four candidates vying for two seats on the St. George City Council: Greg Aldred, Natalie Larsen, Michelle Tanner and incumbent Councilman Vardell Curtis.

What follows is a combination of moments gleaned from the debate, as well as interviews St. George News conducted with each candidate.

Greg Aldred

City Council candidate Greg Aldred, St. George, Utah, Oct. 12, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Aldred told St. George News that he has run for a council seat twice before. He said he draws inspiration from: his mother, who was a nurse who taught him the importance of community service; Abraham Lincoln, who ran for office six times before being elected as U.S. President; and Albert Einstein, who once said that the only way to lose is to quit.

Aldred said his experience as a businessman, Rotarian and fourth-degree blackbelt who has trained with St. George law enforcement officers for many years, sets him apart.

“And I have expertise in infrastructure and energy,” he told St. George News. “As a community, we have some hard decisions to make regarding growth, water and taxes.”

When the issue of growth was brought up by debate moderator Andy Griffin, Aldred said he wants to see St. George’s current rate of growth, currently at 18%, scaled back.

“It’s not sustainable,” he said, eliciting cheers and whoops from the audience. “We don’t want to stop growth, but we want to manage it. It can be done.”

One of the factors that will limit growth, Aldred said, is water. While he said St. George needs to find a solution to shortages, he also noted that the Biden administration is creating obstacles to accessing the Lake Powell pipeline.

Like the other candidates on the stage, Aldred is thinking of St. George’s rising cost of living. Were he elected, Aldred told St. George News he would like to see 15% of new development go toward the service industry.

“And when outside developers who have no vested interest in the community want to build,” he said, “we should just say, ‘No.'”

On his approach to collaboration, Aldred said that he’s not running for the government but “to serve the people.”

Natalie Larsen

City Council candidate Natalie Larsen, St. George, Utah, Oct. 12, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

While Larsen did not respond to St. George News’ request for an interview, she did offer voters a glimpse of what kind of candidate she is during the debate.

A business woman, she, along with her husband, ran Larsen’s Frostop Drive-in. Between that and her time on the Planning Commission, Larsen said she’s a pragmatic candidate who will fight for property rights, while ensuring that residents won’t have to live with unruly tourists staying in short-term rentals.

Like the other candidates on the debate stage, she said that she doesn’t want to see the Dixie name removed from the community.

“I wrote to the legislation during their last session, and asked them to keep the name,” she said.

She encouraged those in the audience who agree to write their legislators, too.

“And stick to the facts,” she said. “Tell them what it means to you and your family. Don’t get caught up in semantics.”

When asked what she would do to encourage unity in an increasingly divided nation, Larsen said service is key.

“We need to work together for the common good,” she told the debate audience. “Through working with others, we learn to get along with people who have different ways of life.”

Larsen said that one of the challenges she wants to see addressed is the lack of a fire station near Desert Canyon.

“There’s 1,400 roofs out there,” she said. “But the nearest fire station is at Sun River. That’s a problem.”

Michelle Tanner

City Council candidate Michelle Tanner, St. George, Utah, Oct. 12, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Tanner received more votes in the primaries than any of her opponents. A board licensed nurse practitioner and a business woman, Tanner told St. George News that her lack of experience in the realm of politics is a non-issue.

“The last thing we need is another ‘experienced politician,'” she said. “What I do have, is seven years of experience as a business leader and more than 15 years of experience as a health care provider.”

Tanner elicited an ovation from the debate audience by denouncing mandates and business closures during the pandemic, saying that is not the proper role of government.

“We should not have complied with those mandates,” she told St. George News. “We need to stand up in the face of government tyranny.”

When Griffin asked how Tanner would unify voters, she said that liberty is something that everyone can stand behind.

Like her opponents, Tanner said that public safety would be her top priority.

“We’re seeing growth, as well as the crime that comes with it,” Tanner said at the debate. “Another problem we’re having is that the jail is dictating who gets locked up and who doesn’t.”

This, she said, was due to short staffing and pandemic restrictions.

Tanner told St. George News that, if elected, she would work to ensure that local law enforcement has the resources they need to do their jobs properly.

Regarding the rising cost of living in St. George, Tanner said to the debate audience: “Free market, free market, free market.”

“There’s not much government can do,” she said. “We can build high-density housing, but it’s not as affordable as people think.”

On the subject of keeping the Dixie name, Tanner said that “we must be bold in fighting cancel culture.”

To sum up her approach as a councilwoman, if elected, she noted this time as a pivotal point in history.

“I will place principal over popularity,” she said.

Vardell Curtis

City Councilman Vardell Curtis, St. George, Utah, Oct. 12, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Curtis told St. George News that his battle cry throughout his campaign is: “Experience matters.” His experience as CEO of the Washington County Board of Realtors, as well as the year he spent on the Planning Commission before being appointed to the St. George City Council, makes him an ideal candidate, he said.

“This isn’t the kind of job that you can learn as you go,” Curtis told St. George News. “The Planning Commission is an excellent launchpad for those who want to join the council.”

Curtis said that while traffic is an issue, public safety tops his list of priorities.

“Sure, I get frustrated when I sit for too long at a red light,” he said during the debate. “But I need to know that someone’s coming when I call 911.”

In contrast to Aldred, Curtis said that “St. George does not have a water problem.”

“We have a storage problem,” he said during the debate.

As to the affordable housing problem, he said his real estate expertise gives him a deeper understanding of the issue.

“We need to solve that if we’re going to convince our greatest resource, which is young people, to stay in St. George,” he said to the debate audience. “It’s also, at least in part, the reason we can’t fill over 700 state-wide vacancies in law enforcement.”

When asked about his style of collaboration and how to unify the community, Curtis said that everyone must work together.

“When we do that,” he told St. George News, “we will either share in our success, or we’ll share in the pain.”

For all of St. George News’ coverage of 2021 municipal elections, click here.

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

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