EDITORIAL – As a new year begins, we bid a fond farewell to the only mayor many of us have ever known, while welcoming a new one.
“Mayor Dan,” as he has come to be known, has been at the city’s helm for 20 years and a member of the City Council for 10 years before that. When he became mayor, the city’s population was hovering around 30,000, now it is moving toward 80,000. By many accounts, McArthur has accomplished much. He, on the other hand, will be quick to tell you he couldn’t have done it without the dedication and hard work of others.
A labor of love
“I’ve never met anyone that cares about the City of St. George more than Mayor McArthur,” St. George City Manager Gary Esplin said to me over the phone. The mayor’s always giving something back to the city, he said.
“Nobody can question his dedication to the job,” Esplin said, relating times when McArthur would be at city meetings that lasted until midnight only to return afterward to McArthur Welding – the mayor’s private enterprise – and tend to waiting business.
With McArthur, Esplin said, what you see is what you get – a man who isn’t fake, but honest and genuine.
I recalled the day when the mayor and City Council announced the Community Arts Building was being converted into a children’s museum. McArthur had called the downtown area “the heart of the city” and stressed that a lot of effort had been and would continue to be put into restoring and vitalizing downtown.
“We both share the philosophy that the health of a community can be judged by the vitality of the downtown,” Esplin said, also noting the mayor’s deep respect for the history and heritage of the area.
After the museum announcement wrapped up on Feb. 28, 2013, McArthur, Esplin and others walked over to the Electric Theater. The city had recently bought the theater along with two neighboring buildings. I was following behind the two when I heard parts of an exchange between them. They spoke of the cooperation between the city, school district and county in helping to create the St. George Town Square.
All had come together in “a labor of love” Esplin said.
“It’s one of my proudest accomplishments,” McArthur later said of the downtown area during an interview. “It was a labor of love for a lot of people,” he said.
Those words have stuck with me ever since.
McArthur protected the town square and saw to it that it would become a focal point for the downtown area. Today, the Town Square Park plays host to numerous activities throughout the year, drawing people into the heart of the city and its downtown. McArthur still has vision for the Electric Theater and adjacent properties, he said: “That will be a great thing in the future.”
Changing of the guard
Now, as McArthur’s tenure as mayor draws to a close, Mayor-elect Jon Pike will officially take the reins of the City of St. George on Jan. 6.
Pike beat McArthur in the November 2013 election with 60 percent of the vote while McArthur received around 39 percent.
McArthur said the election was similar to what happened when he ran against Mayor Karl Brooks 20 years ago. Brooks had been in office for 12 years when McArthur was voted in with similar numbers as Pike received in the recent election, he said, and likely for similar reasons.
“I’m sure it was a lot of the same reason,” McArthur said. “Someone had served a long time and it was time for a change.”
For the man taking his place, McArthur certainly has made a difference in the city and has left giant shoes to fill. I had the chance to talk to (OK, more like corner) the mayor-elect during the recent Prayer Over the City event and asked Pike for his thoughts on his predecessor.
“I enter the job in very good stead,” Pike said, noting the foundation McArthur has helped build as a public servant over the last 30 years. Many great things have been put in place, he said, and now it will be his job to continue and build upon the work McArthur and others have begun.
“I have the great fortune to do that from the plateau he has left,” Pike said.
Pike has heard McArthur say on occasion that there may be people who love St. George as much as he does, but none that love it more than him; Pike said he believes it.
“I hope I can show I love (the city) as much,” Pike said, “but I couldn’t pretend to love it more than he does.”
Moving forward, Pike said he would continue the work of revitalizing the downtown area, echoing McArthur and Esplin’s proposition that “as the city’s downtown goes, there goes the city.”
Mentor-mayor: Area mayors share thoughts on McArthur
During his 20 years in office, McArthur has become a friend and a mentor to newer mayors in the surrounding communities.
“I’m always thinking of our sister-cities,” McArthur said. “You can’t talk about St. George without talking about the county’s other cities.”
Each of the mayors I spoke to remarked on McArthur’s deep respect and love for the whole of Washington County.
“Mayor McArthur has been a mentor to many of the area mayors including myself,” Santa Clara Mayor Rick Rosenberg said. “We have learned from his example of how to work together to benefit all of our communities.”
Tom Hirschi, who is stepping down after 12 years serving as Hurricane City’s mayor, said he looked up to McArthur and has sought his advice on several occasions.
“He loves Washington County,” Hirschi said of McArthur. “He’s worked his head off for Washington County and St. George.”
“He’s not only had the interests of St. George at heart, but Southern Utah as well,” Washington City Mayor Ken Neilson said.
McArthur has said before that the communities of Washington County are interconnected; what affects one affects all. So he has worked not only to benefit St. George, but Utah’s Dixie as a whole where possible.
The mayors also shared their thoughts on McArthur’s character. Rosenberg noted his willingness to help whenever needed and said he greatly appreciates his integrity. Both Hirschi and Neilson referenced his seemingly-endless enthusiasm, cheer, and kindness.
“He’s always upbeat,” Hirschi said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him down, he’s always up.”
Each of the mayors belong to the Washington County Mayors Association. McArthur spoke highly of the organization and said working with it has been a blessing.
Dixie’s biggest cheerleader and the Dixie Spirit
“Is there a bigger cheerleader for Utah’s Dixie than Mayor McArthur?”
That was the question Gov. Gary Herbert asked the crowd while in St. George last year for the signing of the legislative bill that transitioned Dixie State from a college to a university.
After the things I have seen and heard from the mayor and those who know him, I doubt it.
To say McArthur is a proponent for the area’s culture, its history and its heritage, may be an understatement. He brags up Utah’s Dixie wherever he goes, and never misses an opportunity to share the Washington County-centric “Are you from Dixie?” song by the late Roene DiFiore.
He loves to ask people why they moved to Southern Utah, McArthur said. Often he’s had people tell him it was because of a special feeling about the area. Smiling, McArthur said he tells them that feeling is what he calls “the Dixie Spirit.”
The Dixie Spirit has been described as a feeling of community, cooperation, fellowship and overall unity. It means something special to McArthur as it embodies the heritage of the area. It’s why he fought for Dixie to remain in Dixie State’s name once it became a university, he said.
Speaking to a spirit of cooperation, McArthur said he has been able to foster that spirit on many levels throughout the years for the benefit of the city and county. He is on a first-name basis with the governor and members of Utah’s congressional delegation, as well as various officials throughout the state. Those relationships have worked to the area’s advantage when needed, he said.
Still, for all that has been said and done over the last 20 years, McArthur said he was given undue credit for the work of others.
“This is a team effort built on the shoulders of many men and women that have served and continue to serve the functions to make our community the best it can be,” McArthur said. “I have been honored and proud to have been involved.”
“I don’t think there’s enough that can be said (about McArthur),” Hirschi said to me. I agree.
I have learned a great deal about the mayor while putting this article together, and there isn’t enough time or words in this medium to allow for it all.
More can be said about his and others’ efforts to establish the St. George Municipal Airport, as well as overseeing the execution of a multi-million dollar bond that has given the city its many parks, aquatic center and miles of trails.
Like many whose families moved to St. George in the 1990s, McArthur is the only mayor I’ve known. Thanks to my position in media I have gotten to know him better. I have been in council meetings and at events where he’s led others in singing “Are you from Dixie?” or recited a poem that seemed to fit the occasion.
He told me he may run for a seat on the County Commission at some point, or he and his wife may go on a church mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For now, he will continue to tend to the family businesses. Whatever the future holds, one can count on McArthur’s love of Utah’s Dixie to continue as he finds new ways to serve.
“This is my hometown, this is where I can make a difference,” he said.
As for the mayor’s nature, I believe Rev. Jimi Kestin, president of the St. George Interfaith Council, put it best: “He’s the most genuine man I know. He doesn’t put on a politician’s face. His love for community and spirit of togetherness is not an act. He’s a good man.”
These are two peoms McArthur shared when I interviewed him. He said they were among his favorites. He also recited “The World is Mine” at the recent Prayer Over the City interfaith gathering.
- Public bids farewell to mayor, outgoing council members
- Prayer Over the City honors mayor, prays for continued unity
- Mayor says goodbye at last city council meeting
- St. George gets a new mayor, Washington keeps the old
- Augmenting the heart of St. George; Children’s Museum and Electric Theater