CEDAR CITY — The six finalists for the three open seats on the Cedar City Council answered questions on a range of topics during a public forum Tuesday evening.
The six candidates include incumbents Terri Hartley and Craig Isom, in addition to challengers Tyler Melling, Don Oswald, Adam Hahn and Brittanie Parry. They were the top six vote-getters in the August primary election, which cut the field of candidates in half.
The hourlong event, staged and sponsored by Southern Utah University’s Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service, was held in the Hunter Conference Center on the SUU campus. Approximately 100 people attended.
SUU political science students James Leavitt and Autumn Thatcher served as the forum moderators, taking turns asking the candidates a series of questions. Each candidate had 60 seconds to respond to each question.
Candidates fielded questions on topics ranging from a proposed ice rink facility, reducing crime, public transportation, community involvement, SUU’s student population and associated issues with housing and parking.
All six candidates said they support the recently approved ice rink deal between the city and Staheli West, the private entity designated to operate the ice facility, which is planned to be built in a new building near the current temporary rink, which has been housed inside the Cedar City Aquatic Center for the past several years.
“We are a tourism town and everybody here knows that,” Hahn said. “This makes Cedar City unique. There isn’t an ice rink between Provo and Vegas, so there’s a lot of opportunity for events to be held here.”
“I think it’s a fantastic project,” Hahn added. “And when you look at it, the city is getting a $6 million building for $3 million. That’s a heck of a discount.”
Isom agreed, saying, “I like the idea of doubling your tax dollars with an investment of $2.85 million that would be matched by private money.”
“I just also really like the nature of this partnership and would hope that we can use the same method, public-private, for other leisure services opportunities,” Isom added.
Hartley clarified that even though she voted against the recent proposal, she still supports the facility.
“Just to correct the record, I did not vote for the city to fund the $2.85 million for the ice rink,” Hartley said. “I am in favor of the ice rink. I have worked hard with the Stahelis to try and find a way to do that. I believe in the ice rink. I think it brings a wonderful and unique thing to our city. We need more activities in the wintertime and we want to promote this, but we want to make sure that we structure this correctly.”
Parry said she liked the idea of children from nearby Cedar Middle School being able to readily access the skating rink. She also said it could be used for more than just recreation, suggesting as an example that ice performances and shows could be staged at the facility, for which art grant funding might be available.
Oswald agreed the ice rink would likely help bring more visitors to town, calling it a “win-win” situation.
“As far as that, will the thing pay for itself?” Oswald said. “That’s a tough one, but it will at least bring in a lot of tax dollars as people spend their money here in Cedar City.”
During his comments, Melling noted that Hartley’s was not the only dissenting vote among the City Council members regarding the ice rink proposal.
“Councilwoman Hartley was not the only vote against that. That was a 3-2 decision, so it passed by a hair,” Melling said. “I think anytime we have that, it represents that there is a lot of doubt in the community. Now I am generally supportive of the ice rink. I think we could have fine tuned a few of the details there and I know we will continue to do that, for a lot of the reasons already stated. But anytime we have something that just barely passes, I think it’s a good chance to take a close look at what do the people really want and why do we want it?”
Added Melling: “I think as a community, if we ask, ‘What do we want?’ rather than imposing things top-down, that’s a better policy.”
The candidates also weighed in on the issue of crime after a question was posed that noted serious crimes in Cedar City climbed 5% between 2016-17.
“We need to fully support the police department,” Isom responded. “We have a larger per capita commitment to our citizens per officer than most cities. In fact, of almost all cities in the state,” he added, emphasizing the need for ongoing officer training and proper equipment.
Parry mentioned two factors she sees as being major contributors to crime.
“Cedar City has a drug problem and has low wages. So when you put those two things together, you’re going to have crime,” she said. “That’s just how it is. So we need to address both those issues.”
Parry added that police officers should provide the same level and protection and services to all areas of town and not ignore certain neighborhoods.
“I support our police department. I wish that they would support all areas of Cedar City equally,” she said.
Hahn added that the population growth is part of the reason for increased crime, as is the issue of homelessness.
“As the population grows, it brings challenges,” Hahn said. “One thing that we needed to really address is the homeless issue. The city spent a lot of money on an animal shelter but spent no money on a homeless shelter or funding for the homeless shelter. I think we really need to work on that.”
Melling suggested that while poverty and drug use are contributing factors to increased criminal activity, he believes the city can help by making it easier for people to be in close proximity to the places where they work, shop and recreate.
“I think as a city, as we make it easier for people, especially in planning our new developments, to have areas where, within walking distance of their home, they can shop for their necessary goods, have opportunities for work and employment and have opportunities for recreation, we will see (crime) decrease overall as our community continues to grow in a smarter way,” Melling said.
Oswald said city police officers need to be paid more, saying that a starting police officer makes the same salary as a ditch digger, a claim that brought on a rebuttal from Hartley.
“We have raised our police officers’ (salaries) significantly over the past four years, and I just wanted to clarify that they are not making the wages of a ditch digger,” she said.
Regarding SUU student population and issues related to student housing and parking, the candidates offered various suggestions, including the need for a revitalized downtown area that students can walk to from campus.
The Cedar Area Transportation Service (CATS) public transportation system was the focus of another question, with multiple candidates addressing its expensive nature along with its limited use.
Hahn, the last candidate to speak about CATS, admitted he hasn’t ever used the service before and is not familiar with its schedule.
“I’ve heard up here that the CATS program is expensive, it’s limited and it’s inadequate,” he said. “So why would we continue to throw money at it? I think that this is a program that we need to look at to see if it’s worth revitalizing or if it’s worth putting more money into it.”
Instead, Hahn suggested that the city look to loosening restrictions on rideshare businesses like Uber and Lyft, as a possible solution.
“I think we need to take a look at the regulation against those services, see if we can allow those private market services to expand before we start dumping public money into a build project,” Hahn added.
After one final question regarding the need for more community involvement in public policymaking process, each of the candidates concluded with a one-minute summary of why voters should choose them for City Council.
“I love Cedar City with all my heart,” Hartley said. “I was born and raised here. I went to the schools and I raised my family here. It’s been an honor to give back to my community that has given me and my family so much.”
After listing several of the things she and her fellow council members have accomplished over the past four years, Hartley concluded by referring back to an analogy she’d made in her opening remarks, when she said, “It’s been said a pessimist complains about the wind. An optimist expects it to change. A leader adjusts the sails.”
In her final remarks, Hartley said, “I quoted how various people approach the wind blowing, complaining is not leadership, hoping things will change, but not doing anything about it or having life experience to back it up. A hopeful statement is not leadership. Leadership recognizes the current reality, adheres strongly to fact and the highest ethics and seeks to build bridges of trust and communication. This creates communities that are safe, have steady, wise growth and a high quality of life.”
In his closing statement, Melling spoke of three primary areas he would focus on, if elected.
“We live in an ever-changing world, and sometimes our government is a little slow to respond,” Melling said. “And that’s okay, because in large part, the private sector takes care of that response. However, I would like us as a city government to focus on three major issues as we move forward. And that’s housing, commerce and infrastructure.”
Hahn’s final remarks included a call for prudent spending.
“We need fiscal responsibility in city hall, and that starts with our City Council,” he said. “We need a City Council that stands up and recognizes the hard-earned money that you give them is sacred and they hold it as such.”
“We need to continue to work for improved infrastructure here in the city, so we don’t end up with traffic jams as our city continues to grow,” Hahn added. “The growth of this town is important. We need that. We need that continued growth to feed our economy.”
Oswald, a longtime hotel manager, said, “I love Cedar City. There’s no other place like it.”
“I mentioned in my opening statement to be a good listener,” Oswald said. “I think that is the biggest underlying problem in America today, not just Cedar City. We are so worried about taking care of 2% of the people that are boisterous. We need to take care of the 98% and do what the citizens want. That’s it, plain and simple.”
During her closing remarks, Parry described what she believed to be her greatest strength:
“At my core, I am a bleeding heart liberal, and that compassion will always be my greatest strength,” she said. “So Cedar City, let’s start leading with our hearts and make Cedar City the best place to live for every single one of us.”
Parry added that she hoped her candidacy has made a positive impact.
“I’m ready to go to work for you,” she said. “A vote for me will be a vote for a bright future for Cedar City.”
Isom took time in his final statement to thank those who’ve voted for him previously, including in his reelection bid.
“I appreciate your involvement in the election process,” he told those in the audience. “I’m glad you’re here. I would be honored and sustain your vote.”
“You have my commitment that you can count on me and I will be there for you,” Isom said. “If elected, I will utilize the significant business skills that I have developed as a CPA and trusted business advisor over the past 40 plus years to help successfully run the business of the city.”
Cedar City voters should start seeing mail-in ballots arriving in the mail by the end of this week, Iron County Clerk Jonathan Whittaker told Cedar City News. Whittaker confirmed that the ballots went out in Wednesday’s mail.
Election Day is Nov. 5, and ballots must either be postmarked by Nov. 4 or dropped off in person by the time the polls officially close the next day. Voters can also cast their ballots in person on Nov. 5 at the City Council chambers.
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