At odds with town council, Cedar Highlands mayor resigns

Cedar Highlands Mayor Steven Swann, who resigned June 28, 2019, is shown in a photo taken before he took office, Cedar Highlands, Utah, Nov. 27, 2017 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — Saying he can no longer work with what he described as a “rogue town council,” Cedar Highlands Mayor Steven C. Swann resigned his position Friday morning.

In a letter sent via email to council members and county and state officials, along with citizens and members of the news media, Swann cited the progress made by the mountain community of Cedar Highlands over the past several years, including its official incorporation as Utah’s newest town on Jan. 1, 2018.

In his emailed statement, Swann said one of the reasons for resigning was that he had recently taken a new executive position requiring him to dedicate more time to his business career.

However, he said a more important reason was his inability to work effectively with the council.

“More importantly, I can no longer be effective or condone the actions of, or work with, a rogue town council that continually, foolishly and ignorantly rejects and ignores sound legal and business counsel and training,” Swann said in the letter. “The council is too influenced by external voices who are new to the area and its culture, and are seeking to reverse the incorporation and keep others out by suppressing meaningful progress.” 

Sign welcoming visitors to the mountain community of Cedar Highlands, Utah, Nov. 9, 2017 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Swann said the council members had recently decided to eliminate the town’s legal and administrative budgets, a move he called “risky.”

“By removing the town legal and administration budgets, I believe they have placed the Town in a risky operational and legal situation that is untenable, and perhaps, in my opinion, may lead to serious financial, operational and legal complications,” Swann wrote. “So I tender my resignation as Mayor of Cedar Highlands, effective as of today.”

Contacted shortly thereafter by telephone late Friday morning, Swann told Cedar City News his resignation was not brought about by a single incident.

“It’s been a series of events over the last year,” he said, adding that the June 20 town council meeting, which included a discussion of the town’s annual budget, was “the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Swann said some of the town’s residents, including some who have recently moved into the area, have been trying to hinder the town’s progress, with some even suggesting its incorporation be undone or dissolved.

“The influences that have come into the town over the last year have influenced it in the wrong direction,” he said. “A lot of it is new move-ins. It’s been kind of difficult because you’ve got new people moving in who don’t know a lot about the area and are trying to change things based on their view of the world from where they came from. And it’s created a little bit of chaos and concern.”

“It’s a sad day,” Swann added. “There comes a point where you see that you’re either making progress or you’re just being in the way, and you have to make that decision of what’s best for you and what’s best for the situation at the town. And that’s pretty much where I got forced to do, because of some of the decisions that they had made, which I thought were foolish and irresponsible.”

At the conclusion of his resignation letter, Swann expressed hope for the town’s future. He wrote:

Cedar Highlands is a beautiful community with many wonderful people and amazing vistas and scenery. It possesses the resources to become a wonderful place to live for many people and I wish the community and the new council success and hope that they can find greater wisdom and continue to improve the services and functions of Cedar Highlands in the future as a town.

Upon being reached by Cedar City News Friday afternoon for comment, Cedar Highlands town council member Linda Stetzenbach said she and her three fellow council members, Paul Starks, Beth Gaines and Susan Allman, were surprised by Swann’s resignation.

Stetzenbach said one of the key issues that arose during last week’s budgetary meeting was the question of whether the town should formally contract with Iron County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services, including regular police patrols.

“We put that in the budget, and the mayor did not agree with that,” Stetzenbach said. “He thought we could do it with a rent-a-cop on a rare occasion. The council fundamentally disagreed with him.”

“When you finally fundamentally disagree with others and you’re unwilling to compromise, things happen, and he resigned,” Stetzenbach added.

Stetzenbach, a retired college professor, said she and her husband chose to move to Cedar Highlands several years ago because it was “a quiet little town.”

“That’s why we love it up here so much,” she said. “But as our discussions grew in the town council, it was very clear to me that Mayor Swann was on a totally different path in wanting to make this a resort community. And I asked him, Steve, I said, ‘You know, if we wanted to live in a resort community, we could have gone to Duck Creek or Brian Head. We just want a sleepy little country mountain town.’ ‘Well that’s not what I want!’ was his response on more than one occasion.”

One of the town council’s next pressing items of business will be to select and appoint a new mayor. Stetzenbach said the process is governed by state law.

“We have to put out an advertisement for applicants that would like to be our mayor,” she said, adding that the applicants must be residents registered to vote in the town. The town council will then interview the interested applicants during an upcoming public meeting.

“We’re probably going to have a work meeting for the council members to talk about this,” Stetzenbach said, noting that a date for such a meeting has not been set, but that it would be publicly advertised in advance.

Stetzenbach, who has decided not to run for re-election this fall, said she is also hopeful for the town’s future.

“I strongly believe that the property owners and the residents up here really need to have a lot of input to the council,” she said. “The council doesn’t really, and should not, shape the town. The people that own property here and the people that live here, whether it’s part-time or full-time, they should have a say in the direction their town is going. And that was not a vision that was shared by the mayor.”

Click here to see an electronic copy of the mayor’s letter sent out to the public in advance of the Cedar Highlands budget meeting held on June 20. The document itself has an incorrect date of July 25, 2018 on its header; it was actually written earlier this month, in mid-June of 2019.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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