ST. GEORGE — Last week, six candidates vying for two openings on the Hurricane City Council met with Hurricane residents for a sit-down Q&A session at the Sky Mountain Homeowners Association clubhouse.
The candidates – Travis Christiansen, Brian Hawkins, Doug Heideman, David Hirschi, Kevin Thomas and Darin Larson – fielded questions from residents submitted prior to the meeting. Some questions were directed toward all of the men seeking a seat, while some addressed specific candidates. Each candidate was afforded a set time to answer the questions.
What is your stance on upholding the masterplan and zoning, as it stands, in order to manage responsible growth?
Travis Christiansen started the discussion with the familiar John Steinbeck quote: “The best laid plans of mice and men.”
“When you go into battle you must have a game plan, and you stick to the game plan as long as it is working,” he said.
However, Christiansen also cautioned that no one could predict the future, and it is entirely probable the plan may be to be altered to fit the times.
Brian Hawkins likened growth to the human body.
“Just as a body needs muscle to grow, a city needs infrastructure to grow.”
Yet unlike a human body, which grows according to its own fashion, Hawkins said he believes Hurricane’s growth, while inevitable, must be both sensible and restrained.
Of the six candidates, Doug Heideman was the strongest advocate for sticking to the city’s masterplan. He mentioned a Hurricane City Council meeting where the council vetoed a proposal from a developer to reduce building lot sizes from one-half to one-third.
“The council denied the application because it decided to stick to the masterplan,” Heideman said. “I respect the council’s decision.”
David Hirschi, son of former Hurricane mayor Tom Hirschi, said he wants the city to hold onto its agrarian roots. He said he believes Hurricane can be both suburban and agrarian but only if the city curbs itself from unchecked growth.
Kevin Thomas, who served on the City Council four years ago, said during his time on the council, he was an unwavering proponent for property rights and for property owners to develop their property as they see fit. Since then, Thomas has had a change of heart.
“I favor adhering to the masterplan and only changing it every six months,” he said, adding that he does not like the direction Hurricane is going with respect to growth, comparing it to St. George.
Darin Larson is a sitting council member up for re-election. Larson has served on the Hurricane City Council for 7 1/2 years. Larson summed up his position on the masterplan by saying, “We don’t want big farms next to high rises.”
With that in mind, Larson said he believes the masterplan should be modified when the occasion arises. Echoing the other candidates, he said the city must exercise caution and wisdom when planning growth.
Do you favor job fairs as a tool for assisting the business community?
The candidates were largely uniform in their responses. They favored job fairs, provided these were conducted on the local level and without federal intervention.
“Leave the decisions to locals and let them control the federal money,” Larson said, “because Washington (D.C.) will mess up the process.”
Thomas echoed this sentiment.
“The government creates more problems for hiring people than what occurs naturally.”
Hawkins cited the “values of the Constitution,” adding that Hurricane needs to “keep government out of our lives.”
He went on to say that what’s needed for Hurricane — for any city for that matter — is a strong sense of patriotism. He said this patriotism, combined with firing up the youth and encouraging them to pursue better jobs, will reinvigorate Hurricane’s economy.
Hirschi adopted a more moderate tone. While agreeing big government must get out of the way of local concerns, he conceded that there are times when aid and tax incentives are necessary to attract big business, such as a Walmart distribution center.
Heideman later reached out to St. George News to say there needs to be a better balance between the service businesses and larger industrial or manufacturing businesses.
“Hurricane City needs a more diverse tax base, and our people need better paying jobs,” he wrote.
The desire to attract new business was echoed by Christiansen, who said that if Hurricane can offer prospective employers – and employees – quality schools and cultural and recreational opportunities for the entire family, Hurricane will be a magnet for new business.
Do you consider water the biggest challenge for Hurricane?
The answers ranged from pragmatic to providential.
Christiansen answered that Hurricane residents must be good stewards of their water.
“When the (Washington County Water) Conservancy District tells us to cut back on our watering, we should.”
He also touched upon the city’s growth conundrum. The city has approved 12,000 new building sites, which means more water use. Christiansen said he supports these new developments and is in favor of the city ensuring these sites have water, but he added that residents “shouldn’t have to suffer from water shortages because of these developments.”
“I shouldn’t have to give up my water for someone else’s house.”
Hawkins responded by saying the fastest way to kill a city is to stop growth.
“Hurricane must stop maxing out its water supply.”
He said he believes in drilling new wells and is a proponent of the Lake Powell Pipeline Project, but added that he now believes that is pipe dream.
Heideman noted the city’s population now stands at 22,000.
“In 10 years, it’s supposed to be 44,000,” he said, expressing confidence in the city being able to provide water for the near future. He mentioned a water treatment facility that can produce 3 million gallons of water per day. He pointed out that Toquerville and LaVerkin supply about half of Hurricane’s water, adding that he believes new wells will provide for the remainder. But he cautioned that Utah, as a state, remain vigilant about protecting its water.
“Arizona, California and Colorado are after our water,” he said.
Hirschi and Thomas said the city should rely on prayer and God to ensure the water does not run dry.
“The Lord is involved,” Hirschi said. “We need to keep the Lord in our lives.”
But on a secular note, he said residents must be prudent with water usage but that he also advocates the drilling of more wells and is in favor of the Lake Powell Pipeline.
Thomas took it a step further and said prayer and repentance are “the single greatest way that we can improve our situation.”
However, he also said he is a proponent of the Pipeline Project and echoed Heideman’s call for Utahans to protect their water.
“We have rights to that water,” he said.
Larson said he believes Hurricane is self-sufficient when it comes to water, but the city needs the county to help defer the costs of digging new wells.
“By digging new wells, we’re helping bring water to the county. But we need the county to support us,” he said.
He also said politicians in Las Vegas complain of only being able to increase its population by 900,000 residents, due in part to a water shortage.
“We’re only increasing our population by 10,000,” he said. “Why is our water going down there to double Las Vegas’ size?”
Should the city increase adoption fees to help with spaying and neutering and what is your opinion of the city’s two-dog limit?
The candidates were uniform in answering they did not want government intervening in what they see as a citizen’s responsibility.
Heideman and Christiansen advocated for common sense when acquiring pets. Heideman said when he was canvassing the neighbor, it seemed that everyone had at least two dogs, adding that he does not have an issue with people owning more than two dogs.
As for Christiansen, he cited the difficulty and cost of animal adoption as prohibitive, saying that it cost him $100 to adopt a cat.
“I couldn’t just carry the cat home, so I had to buy a carrier for $50. I’ve used it once. To bring the cat home.”
He said believes it should be easier and less expensive to adopt animals and also counseled common sense when owning pets.
“We should be able to do what we want with our property, provided it doesn’t negatively impact our neighbors. That’s when it becomes an issue.”
Regarding the ‘good ol’ boys’ network, are you related to anyone currently or in the past who has worked for the city, paid or unpaid?”
Hirschi noted his father was mayor for 12 years. During his father’s tenure, he said, a city job opened that the family believed would be perfect for Hirschi’s brother.
“I personally thought he was the best person for the job, but my dad wouldn’t appoint him,” he said.
Heideman said he believes there is an unnecessary negative connotation attached to the phase “good ol’ boys.”
“What we need is good communication,” he said, adding that such networks as the phrase implies will not flourish when people communicate with each other.
Echoing Heideman, Christiansen said the phrase has an unjust reputation.
“There are plenty of ‘good ol’ boys’ here in Hurricane,” he said. “The Rotary Club. The Lions Club. These are good people pulling together for the good of the community.”
Larson replied he is the only member of his family involved in politics. He did not directly mention “good ol’ boys.”
Thomas mentioned he has no relations currently involved in politics but that he is related through marriage to Tom Hirschi.
“Tom Hirschi is my wife’s uncle,” he said, adding that a lot of people in Hurricane are related, but he doesn’t know of any “good ol’ boys” network.
Hawkins, the youngest of nine siblings, said he and his family rarely see eye to eye on anything. Then taking a different tack on the question, he said, “Love of God and country is what matters at the end of the day,” adding that he has no conflicts of interest anywhere.
How many planning commission or city council meetings have you attended in the past year?”
Larson said he has been to “most” council meetings during his time on the council.
Thomas said he felt the meetings have become too long in many cases.
“They start at 5 p.m. and sometimes go to midnight,” he said, adding that he has not attended any meetings in the past year but that if he survives the primary, he will attend more.
Hawkins mentioned he attended only one council meeting this year and provided a possible reason for lengthy meetings.
“It got pretty heated, I can tell you,”
Hirschi said he only attended the most recent council meeting but felt community participation is paramount.
“The Constitution is hanging by a thread in this country,” he said. “We need good citizens and good patriots.” he
Heideman couldn’t recall the exact number but had been to “quite a few,” and Christiansen said he attended a handful of meetings last year.
The state allows a councilmember to vote on issues even though a conflict of interest might be present. Morally, should members recuse themselves if their involvement has the appearance of a conflict?”
Christiansen said he is an attorney and practices some criminal defense, including defending individuals who receive speeding tickets.
“If I’m elected, I’ll have to let that part of my business go,” he said. “It wouldn’t be right for a councilman to be striking a deal with a prosecutor.”
The remaining candidates agreed that appearance of a conflict is sufficient for a councilmember to recuse himself.
Earlier in the Q&A, a question was directed specifically at Larson, asking if he considered it a conflict of interest to work for State Bank of Southern Utah, which loans money to developers.
“I consulted with the city attorney many times about this,” Larson said, adding that he sees no conflict provided he is not personally benefitting from a business deal. He said he declares publicly when he is involved in a project.
“If I have a personal stake, I must abstain,” he said.
Building on his earlier answer, when the question came up to all candidates, Larson said the key word is “morally.”
“I’m proactive and pro-business,” he said. “We all will be filing financial disclosures next week. We just need to be transparent.”
Other direct candidate questions
As part of his campaign for a council seat, Hawkins promised he would fight for the silent majority. One resident asked what he meant by ‘the silent majority.’
While admitting there is not a blanket answer for this question, Hawkins said everyone has a voice, even if the elected official was not the preferred choice of the citizen.
“The voice of the silent majority is everyone’s voice,” he said. “Not just the voice of those who speak the loudest.”
Thomas, who was voted off the council four years ago due, in part, to the perception he ignored his constituents’ wishes, was asked if he had changed his attitude of if he felt still had ‘no responsibility to listen to the voters.’
Thomas said he had learned from his past mistakes and apologized for offending any of his voter base during his time on the council, but he said he believes in the idea of voter-mandated representation.
“That’s the way it works in this country,” he said. “We have a representative republic. If you don’t like the job they [representatives] are doing, vote them out.”
The city will hold its primaries for City Council on Aug. 10.
Ed. note: One of Heideman’s statements was clarified post-publication.
For all of St. George News’ coverage of 2021 municipal elections, click here.
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