ST. GEORGE — After being sworn in, Vardell Curtis’s first motion as councilman came off without a hitch. The council had to consider whether or not to grant a zoning change on the block where the St. George Art Museum is situated.
“I’ve seen all these agenda items in Planning Commission meetings,” Curtis told St. George News. “Hopefully that’ll get me through my first meeting as a councilman.”
As CEO and executive vice president of the Washington County Board of Realtors, he’s got his finger on the pulse of St. George’s community of realtors. His work on the St. George Planning Commission helps, too. It means he’s keenly aware of the population boom, the attendant need for housing and the city’s need to plan for such growth.
“I’d like to make a motion, if that’s okay,” Curtis said. There were no objections, so Curtis made a motion to approve the zoning change from residential development to commercial development. The council voted affirmative, so the motion carried.
“Good job, Vardell,” said Councilman Bryan Smethurst. Though Curtis and Smethurst both ran for Joe Bowcutt’s seat when the late councilman died unexpectedly on Aug. 31, 2019, Smethurst cast his votes last week for Curtis.
Smethurst said he’s known Curtis for 10 years or more. Whether they’re on competing teams on the softball field or gliding through the desert on their Harley Davidsons, Smethurst admires Curtis’s approach.
“He’s a man of great integrity,” Smethurst told St. George News. “He doesn’t beat around the bush. That’s why he was my choice last week. And that’s why he was my choice back when we ran for my dad’s seat, too. If I didn’t win, I was pulling for Curtis.”
Smethurst said that he’s always been impressed with Curtis’s concern for the history and heritage of the community, while also being aware of the coming changes.
“Leading up to last Monday’s special meeting, we spoke briefly on the phone,” Smethurst said. “I was impressed by how much he cares for the community, and our heritage.”
Curtis is a fierce competitor on the softball field, Smethurst said, but he also plays with respect. Those qualities also inform Curtis’s approach when working towards a solution to problems on the Planning Commission.
“He makes no secret that he’s looking out for his constituents, who are realtors,” Smethurst said. “But he also understands that if we don’t do something about this growth, we’re going to be in trouble.”
Curtis said he’s been thinking about St. George’s future, and what he can do to help make it better. Though he was born in Rexburg, ID, he moved to St. George to work as the first general manager at the Red Cliffs Mall.
“I worked for the same company for a long time,” Curtis said. “I followed them from Boise to Pocatello, ID, and on to Rock Springs, WY, before moving to St. George. I had other opportunities to relocate, but my wife and I loved it here. So, we stayed.”
Curtis jumped into the service community quickly. He joined the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce, then the Dixie Sunrise Rotary Club. That led to a series of other service roles – as well as a new job.
“When I applied for a job at the Washington County Board of Realtors, they told me that my involvement in the community was highly desirable,” Curtis said. “It got me the job.”
That was 25 years ago, which, Curtis said, makes him the longest-tenured real estate executive in Utah. Working there, in turn, helped prepare Curtis for public service.
“We vet people for realtors,” Curtis said. “We target specific questions for them. We want people who understand our industry at the state and local levels. After speaking to a lot of people, I thought, I could do this.”
Curtis said that as a long-time resident of St. George, he shares the concerns of his commmunity. The most pressing, he said, are growth and development, water conservation, impact fees and attainable housing.
Because he’s fairly new to politics, it’s hard to know which way he’ll vote on a given ordinance. But Smethurst said he isn’t worried.
“If Curtis votes on something, you know he’s done his research,” Smethurst said.
Curtis’s trip to the dais was a wild one. He went from losing the seat to Deputy Washington County Attorney Rick Erickson via coin toss, to earning three of four votes to win the seat just 48 hours later.
With all the reversals, when Curtis finally took his seat among the council, after being sworn in, the emotions stirred by the previous 48 hours bubbled to the surface.
“I’m just happy to be here,” he said, choking back tears. And with that, his first meeting, as well as his life as an elected official, began.
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