ST. GEORGE — When Jon Pike was elected mayor of St. George in Nov. 2013, he felt a mix of emotions. By turns he was thrilled, overwhelmed and surprised.
Sure, he was thrilled by the opportunity to serve the citizens of St. George and overwhelmed by their support. But why surprised?
“We don’t poll here,” Pike said. “Though you’re out in the field, you really don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know who’s going to win. Their vote was a stamp of approval.”
Though he won the election, another challenge came clear to Pike: How to improve upon the work of his predecessor, Dan McArthur.
“He was a beloved mayor,” Pike said. “I wanted to leave the city in a slightly better position that what I found it in. But Mayor McArthur left it in a really good position. So, I knew I’d have to work that much harder.”
Pike’s platform focused on planning, listening, economic development and education. Though Pike accepted a role as commissioner of the Utah Insurance Department in Gov.-elect Spencer Cox’s cabinet, and will step down from his role as mayor on Jan 4, he doesn’t spend much time reflecting on his accomplishments.
Not only is he preparing to leave two very busy jobs — he currently works as regional operations director at SelectHealth, as well as mayor of St. George — he just doesn’t like talking himself up very much.
“I try to listen twice as much as I talk,” Pike said.
His ability to listen quickly won the respect and admiration of St. George Councilmember Dannielle Larkin.
“He’s always saying, ‘Whose voice have we not heard?'” Larkin said. “He doesn’t live in a silo. It doesn’t matter who you are, he wants to hear what you’ve got to say.”
That’s not just empty rhetoric; Pike has met, at various times, with Black Lives Matter, the ACLU and members of the LGBTQA+ community, to name a few.
“This is part of the American process,” Pike said. “Whether or not I agree with someone, my job is to listen. I’m not just the mayor of those who agree with me; I’m the mayor of St. George.”
Those who speak with strangers often know that this doesn’t always bode well. Disagreements can be common. Emotions may run high. Hurtful words may be said. Yet Pike said he never wavered from his mission to listen.
“I read a book called ‘Love Your Enemies,’ by Arthur Brooks,” he said. “In the book, Brooks writes that we don’t need to disagree less, we need to disagree better. That’s hard when people are yelling, but that’s what I’m always trying to do.”
“You can always trust him to listen,” Larkin said. “I’ve seen people come into the council chambers and say some hateful, hurtful things. But Mayor Pike never retaliated. That’s impressive.”
Larkin said that she’s learned a lot from working with Pike.
“His approach reminds me of how important it is to connect with people,” Larkin said. “He calls everybody back. He responds to every email. He considers being mayor a responsibility and a privilege.”
Of course, that privilege is often entwined with responsibility, as in the case of making decisions that run counter to one’s personal interests.
“If you’re a politician making decisions for yourself, you need to get out of the way,” Larkin said. “Mayor Pike taught me that. Even if people dislike my choices. It’s not about me; it’s about the city.”
Pike said that he’s worked diligently to ensure that the city emphasizes planning, and to make sure planning is in public view.
“With our annual state of the city meeting, we’re striving to make the community part of the planning process,” Pike said. “It’s a make-good report. We want to know what’s working and what isn’t. We’ll keep doing what’s working, and we’ll change what isn’t.”
David Cordero, director of communications and marketing for the city of St. George, said that Pike’s optimism is infectious.
“I’ve learned a lot from working with him these past two years,” Cordero said. “He’s a consummate leader. The way he brings people together to approach challenges, especially for bigger projects, like Tech Ridge, has been instructive.”
Pike said that he was happy to be a part of the Tech Ridge development, an example of his focus on economic development. He was also pleased with improvements to the city’s transportation system and his efforts to re-brand St. George.
“We built that on two pillars,” Pike said. “Activity and optimism. If you look at our city, it’s built among some of the most beautiful land in the country. We love getting outside, doing things. And we need that optimism – especially during this time. COVID-19 has changed so much about how we live.”
Pike likened the city’s efforts to help people and businesses survive, and even thrive, during this challenging time to barn-raising.
“During the times of the settlers, this was a tough place to live,” Pike said. “It was tough to eke out a living. But when it was time to build your neighbor’s barn, you showed up to do whatever work needed to be done. That’s the underlying attitude. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Perhaps more than anything else, Pike said he’s proud of the way he and his colleagues have worked together to provide services to the community.
“That’s the only reason we’re here,” Pike said. “To provide services to people. That’s my focus everyday I come into work.”
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