Iron County Commission Seat A candidates address issues, cite qualifications

L-R: Iron County Commission Seat A challenger Fred Rowley and incumbent Michael Bleak take part in a debate forum at Cedar North Elementary, Cedar City, Utah, May 31, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

IRON COUNTY — Republican voters in Iron County should start receiving their primary election ballots in the mail next week. The ballots are due June 26 (must be postmarked by June 25).

The four county-level races being contested in the GOP primary will face no candidates from other parties in November, meaning that the June primary will effectively decide the final winner in each of those races – two Iron County Commission seats, Iron County Sheriff and Iron County Attorney.

Only registered members of the Republican Party will receive primary ballots, said Iron County Clerk Jonathan Whittaker, who added all balloting is being done via mail. Voters had until May 15 to officially declare their affiliation with the party.

For Iron County Commission Seat A, incumbent Michael Bleak is being challenged by Fred Rowley. For Iron County Commission Seat B, Paul Cozzens, Sam Brower, Jennie Hendricks and Michelle Jorgenson are seeking the seat currently held by Dale Brinkerhoff, who is not running for re-election.

For Iron County Sheriff, Kenneth Carpenter, Caleb Anderson, Del Schlosser and David Evans are in the running to take the place of outgoing incumbent Mark Gower.

For Iron County Attorney, Scott Burns and Chad Dotson are vying to replace outgoing incumbent Scott Garrett.

Thursday evening, a public candidate debate took place at Cedar North Elementary. Another forum is scheduled for June 6 at 6 p.m. at Southern Utah University’s Leavitt Center. A half-hour meet-and-greet session with the candidates will begin at 5:30 p.m.

Here’s a look at the two candidates running for Iron County Commission Seat A:

Michael Bleak (incumbent)

Bleak is the chairman of the three-member Iron County Commission. He is descended from pioneer ancestors who settled the Iron County generations ago. He had a 23-year career in law enforcement, including 20 years with the Cedar City Police Department until retiring earlier this year.

Iron County Commissioner Mike Bleak, who is running for re-election, speaks during Iron County GOP Convention, Canyon View High School, Cedar City, Utah, April 14, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Bleak has been a member of the commission since January 2017, when he took over for interim commissioner Casey Anderson, who in turn was filling in for former commissioner Dave Miller, who resigned in March 2016.

“I have served just over a year as a commissioner,” Bleak told Cedar City News. “There is a steep learning curve for the job. I have finally hit my stride and am becoming a very effective commissioner.  Most of all, I enjoy the challenges that come with the position. I feel that committing to be a part of the solution to the issues that face us is important.”

Bleak said his campaign is “going great” so far.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but also a lot of fun. It’s nice to meet people that you might not otherwise.”

One discouraging aspect of the campaign, Bleak said, is that he and Rowley, along with candidates in the other races, have had some of their their campaign signs stolen or vandalized.

“The ‘sign war’ is a necessary part of campaigning. I don’t particularly like it. It’s expensive and clutters up the landscape,” Bleak said. “I think that every candidate experiences vandalism of some sort. It’s disheartening because signs are expensive and time consuming to put up. I’m missing a couple of large signs signs and numerous yard signs from supporters that asked for them.”

“I fix my signs during my travels, but I also stand up others signs too,” he said. “I’ve even fixed a few of Mr. Rowley’s. There’s no reason to be uncivil to each other. We are all working toward what we feel is best for the county.”

“Everyone just leave the signs alone and they will be gone soon,” Bleak added. 

Bleak said one important issue the county faces that needs to be addressed immediately is recruiting and retaining experienced county employees, particularly in the Sheriff’s Office and the Corrections Department.

“A few weeks ago we began meeting to come up with a plan to fix this issue,” Bleak said, adding that the plan’s first phase calls for a higher starting wage for sheriff’s deputies and a $5,000 signing bonus for experienced, certified officers.

“Candidates will also be able to come in at a lateral position on the pay scale based on their verifiable experience,” Bleak said. “Even with these incentives, the county will save over $5,000 in hard costs per hire. The time it takes to put a stand-alone deputy on the streets will decrease from 9-10 months to 4-6 weeks.”

“I am continuing to work toward this solution for the rest of the county departments.  We will see the implementation of this plan over the next several weeks and months.”

“We are working very hard to provide a wage that is fair and competitive for each job description, while balancing the budgetary needs of the county,” he said.

Bleak also cited public lands issues as being of vital importance.

“I am working hard to be a part of the solution of some public lands issues, particularly, the delisting of the Utah prairie dog, control of wild mustangs and the rehabilitation of the mountain after the Brian Head Fire. I have close relationships within the Forest Service, BLM and Congress that are critical to moving these issues ahead in a timely manner. These are the issues that I will continue to put at the forefront.”

“There are other issues such as water, economic development, and other infrastructures that are always on my mind.  There are plans and resources in place to address each of these issues, and they will not be overlooked,” he added.

Bleak cited his dedication, experience and relationships with other government leaders as qualifying him for the position of commissioner.

“I have worked in and for local government for the last 25 years. I am recently retired from a career in law enforcement. I understand the need for honest relationships. The decisions that I make are never going to please everyone 100 percent. There are always those that will disagree. Regardless, I have to make the decisions that are right for the county as a whole, whether I particularly agree with the outcome personally. I will always make decisions with the integrity that I have instilled in me.  

“I love Iron County,” Bleak said. “Our people are our greatest asset. I have chosen to raise my family here. I will continue to do my job with dedication and integrity. I will make the decisions and move the projects forward that will impact us for the best in the coming years.”

Fred Rowley

Rowley, a longtime educator and former Cedar City Councilman who also served a four-year term as mayor of Santa Clara, says he’s running to make a positive difference in Iron County.

Iron County Commission candidate Fred Rowley speaks during Iron County GOP Convention, Canyon View High School, Cedar City, Utah, April 14, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“​I guess I’m running for the same reason I pick up litter in the parking lot on my way in to Walmart and why I’ve been a teacher for 33 years. … I want to make the world a little bit better place to live in,” Rowley said.

Rowley said he’s enjoyed meeting with voters during his campaign.

“I’ve been grateful for the opportunity that various groups and individuals in various forums  have provided for me to meet people and share my ideas. As for the signs, ​I appreciate that some individual hates snipe signs as much as I do and wants to make our city sparkle by taking them off the roadsides. I just wish they’d wait until June 27 to get involved. Then they can have all the signs they want!”

Rowley said one unknown vandal in particular cut his image out of multiple signs, a move he believes actually backfired on the culprit.

“It brought me a lot more positive attention that it would have if my signs had been left alone,” he said.

Rowley said that if elected he’ll focus on three main goals: water, public safety and economic development.

He said he hopes to help ensure the county has a sustainable water supply for its future.

“I’d like to amplify the work I did as a member of the Cedar City Council to put policies and infrastructure in place to reclaim water and to develop new sources of water for citizens all across the county.”

Regarding public safety, Rowley said he would focus on bolstering salaries and morale for peace officers, ensuring that ambulance and other public health programs are stable, and having a well-planned emergency preparation program.

He also advocates boosting economic development. “(Let’s) put some protocols in place to ‘grease the skids’ for any clean manufacturing facilities that want to pay good wages and have good benefits to come to Iron County to set up shop without giving away the store on tax incentives.”

“I have 10 years of experience in elected public service under my belt already. Four of those in the executive position as a mayor,” he said, adding, “I have a great capacity to get opposing groups to work together for a common cause. I have the ability to communicate my ideas to the public in a way that they understand whenever there’s a difficult issue that needs to be resolved. And I have on several occasions come up with unique ways of solving difficult issues.”

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