ST. GEORGE – Questions related to growth, a controversial interchange project and roles of a mayor or City Council member were addressed by Washington City candidates Wednesday during a forum at Dixie State University.
Hosted by the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce, the forum also featured the St. George City Council and mayoral candidates. With the municipal elections less than three weeks away, candidates will be hitting other public forums and debating the issues in an effort to gain votes.
Mail-in ballots are being sent to homes across the state and early voting begins Oct. 24.
Candidates for Washington City mayor featured at Wednesday’s forum were incumbent Ken Neilson and challenger Ben Martinsen, along with City Council incumbents Kurt Ivie and Garth Nisson and challenger Douglas Ward. Council candidate Daniel Cluff was not present at the forum.
Council and mayoral candidates were each given the opportunity to answer three questions posed by a moderator.
The issue of the proposed Interstate 15 off-ramp that would be built somewhere between Exits 10 and 13 was brought up first. The candidates were asked if they were in favor of a highway off-ramp potentially being built in the middle of the city’s downtown neighborhoods.
The interchange is seen as one of many possible solutions for dealing with the traffic congestion at the Green Springs/Exit 10 interchange and is the subject of an environmental assessment study. Anticipated to be completed near the end of 2018, the study could propose the interchange be built, or completely ignore it in favor of other options.
Though the tone of their responses varied, none of the candidate spoke in favor of the interchange.
“What I favor is good transportation,” Ivie said, adding that no one knows if an interchange will even be built as the assessment study is still underway. He also noted citizens can provide input on the study. However, Ivie said he is in favor of alternative options.
Nisson referred to the idea of an interchange in the heart of downtown as a “travesty” and “utter nonsense.”
Ward, who has been outspoken critic of the interchange, said it would a be “a terrible thing” for the city and that other options need to be looked at. He also decried the study, saying it was simply a final step in a predetermined process that needs to be stopped.
“We need to exhaust every single option that is out there, and there are several options,” Martinsen said.
Neilson said he wasn’t in favor of anything that would destroy the city and agreed with Martinsen that there are other options to be considered.
An age-old question put before city councils on a regular basis was asked next: How do you go about balancing the rights and desires of residents and the need of development and growth?
“That’s a question that probably can’t be answered,” Nisson said, adding it was one of those issues everyone has an opinion on.
The best city government can do is make sure there’s proper zoning, he said.
Washington City’s plans for growth are vague when compared to other cities and need to be more comprehensive, Ward said, adding he would work to resolve that if elected.
Ivie called the matter one of “individual liberties versus collective welfare.” Where do the rights of the few give way the benefit of the many? The key is knowing where to find that balance, he said, and compared it questions related to vaccination and law enforcement.
“It’s a very delicate balance,” Martinsen said, and as a member of Washington City’s Planning Commission, it’s one he deals with each week. The best way to address the matter, he said, is for the parties involved to sit down and hash out their differences.
“(Balance) only happens when people talk to each other,” Martinsen said. “They have to talk it out and work it out and compromise.”
Neilson agreed, calling the issue “a great balancing act.”
The final question to the candidates was concerning what they believe an important leadership role of a mayor or council member is.
“We need to understand what the problems are,” Ward said, adding that those problems and issues facing the city and its residents need to be studied out and fearlessly addressed. All the while, a council member must also be accessible to the people and willing to listen to them, he said.
Ivie said it is a council member’s responsibility to learn the issues on behalf of his or her constituents and make decisions accordingly while also involving citizens along the way.
Nisson echoed Ivie, yet added elected officials also need to know the extent – and limits – of what they can actually do.
Considering all of the options surrounding an issue is a role elected officials should take to heart, Neilson said.
Martinsen said it is necessary to be objective while researching and deciding on city issues.
Throughout the forum, each candidate stressed listening to city residents and being accessible to them.
Washington City voters have two additional chances to meet and hear from the candidates at the following meet-and-greet forums:
- Oct. 19, at 6 p.m., at Riverside Elementary, 2500 S Harvest Lane, Washington City.
- Oct. 27, at 6 p.m., at the Washington City Community Center, 350 N. Community Center Drive, Washington City.
The general election is Nov. 7.
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