Cedar City Council candidates speak on issues of homelessness, housing and poverty at public forum

Stock image, St. George News

CEDAR CITY — Primary election ballots have been mailed out, and Cedar City residents have until Aug. 10 to make their choices for two City Council seats.

L-R: Candidate forum moderator Kaleigh Bronson-Cook and Cedar City Council candidates Carter Wilkey, Derek Morton and Mark Mumford at forum sponsored by the Iron County Homeless Council, Cedar City, Utah, July 22, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

A total of five candidates are running for two open spots, including incumbent R. Scott Phillips, who is seeking re-election to what would be his second four-year term on the council. Joining Phillips in the nonpartisan race are four political newcomers: Carter Wilkey, Ronald Riddle, Mark Mumford and Derek Morton.

The five candidates have appeared at multiple public forums in recent weeks, including a 90-minute debate hosted Tuesday on the Southern Utah University campus by the Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service.

On July 22, the candidates also appeared at a public forum hosted by the Iron County Local Homeless Council, where they took turns fielding questions on topics related to homelessness, housing and poverty.

When candidates were asked what they will do to advocate for the homeless,  Mumford likened the situation to providing ladders for people to climb to where they want to be.

“They find a ladder that has missing rungs, and they can’t even get to the bottom rung or they go up a little ways and then there’s a gap and they can’t get past the gap,” he said. “For people that have family that can help them out when they get into a bind, it’s a lot easier.”

Mumford cited his own experience of losing his job about 20 years ago.

“(I) couldn’t find anything in the technology area during the tech downturn after the turn of the century,” he said. “Luckily, I had family that I could go stay with for a few months and then I was able to find work later.”

Mumford said a lot of people in a homeless situation don’t have this same luxury.

“They fall into this pit and can’t get out of it,” he said. “Really, it becomes us as a civilization to help people who get into a bind they can’t get out of, and I think we need to do that.”

Wilkey said he sees homelessness as something that requires creative solutions and that “throwing money at a problem is not always the right answer.”

“In the society that we live in, some people don’t agree with helping out others,” he said. “That’s not necessarily how I feel, but there are people who feel that way. And so, it is a tough issue for a lot of people.”

Wilkey said Cedar City, which has adopted the moniker “Festival City USA,” might just as well be called “Volunteer City USA.”

“It’s actually one of the things I love about Cedar City,” he said. “If you want to volunteer, there is a plethora of options. There are organizations that need your help, that would love your help. And I think the city needs to try and be at the forefront as much as possible, letting everybody know what those things are.”

Above all, Wilkey said city officials should maintain clear communication with those who work directly with the homeless and others in need.

L-R: Cedar City Council candidates Mark Mumford, Ronald Riddle and R. Scott Phillips listen to a question during a Cedar City Council candidate forum sponsored by the Iron County Homeless Council, Cedar City, Utah, July 22, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“Communicate, and then actually listen to what they say, and follow through,” he said.

Morton spoke of his own experience as a member of the Iron County Local Homeless Council.

“I’ve been a member of the local homeless council from the beginning, and the nature of my business that I started, has allowed me to be in the trenches,” he said. “It’s a choice I made.”

“I’ll just shoot straight,” Morton continued. “I firmly believe that if the city sat down and saw what I saw on a day-to-day basis, what everyone else saw on a day-to-day basis, on what’s going on and what policies and lack of resources and lack of a willingness to have an open, candid conversation in public and to have and to put your bully pulpit behind it, things would be completely different, because that’s what it took for me.”

Morton added that much-needed resources, such as a detox center and mental health facilities, also need to be at the forefront of the conversation. He said “one moment” is pivotal for many people in crisis. 

“If people understood at the city level the impact that one moment has,” he said. “If they can get the necessary resources in that moment – not 10 minutes later, not before, (but) in that moment – lives would be changed.”

Riddle, who started off by admitting he doesn’t yet have in-depth knowledge and experience on the issue, later added that he’s “learning continually.”

“I don’t think that money is the answer either because I’ve personally thrown money at some problems similar to this,” he said.

“When we have a problem dealing with somebody who’s been living for years, in the park, in the canyon, hiding out … I don’t think that you can just automatically yank them off the street and say, ‘You know what, really all you need is a job. If you just get a job, everything would be fine.’ I don’t think it works that way.”

Riddle said he thinks a “better conversation” is necessary.

“I think the city has tried,” he said. “I think they continue to try. And I think we have to continue to try.”

Phillips said it’s important to “recognize and acknowledge, as a city, that we have these issues in our city.”

“We have to educate people that we have poverty here, that we have homelessness here and that we need additional shelters and housing for these people,” he said, citing that his own efforts have involved personally working with Canyon Creek Services, the Children’s Justice Center and the Iron County Care and Share.

“I will continue to do so whether I’m re-elected or not,” he said, “because I will always stand on the side of people who are less fortunate, for whatever reason, they need somebody to help them.”

Phillips said he recently had a conversation with state Sen. Evan Vickers regarding the need for more mental health facilities in Southern Utah, saying that he told Vickers he wants them to come to Cedar City, not just St. George.

“I know that takes time. It takes planning. It takes dollars,” Phillips said. “But the conversations are starting to happen. And that’s the only way it’s going to be fixed is if we build partnerships and relationships with all the players here: the players on the city level the players on the county level and the players on the state level. Because that’s what it’s going take to try and solve some of these local issues. I don’t have the answers, but I’m willing to work to get to them.”

The full video of the July 22 forum is available online.

A filled-out primary ballot is deposited in the ballot box at Cedar City offices, Cedar City, Utah, July 28, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Earlier in the month, Cedar City News sent three questions to each of the candidates regarding their qualifications, most pressing issues and one question specific to affordable housing. To see their responses, click here.

The Aug. 10 primary election will eliminate just one of the five candidates, and the top four vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 2 general election ballot. 

In addition to the two City Council seats, Cedar City has one other municipal race at stake, with incumbent Mayor Maile Wilson-Edwards running for re-election against challenger Garth O. Green. Because the mayoral race has just two candidates, no primary election is needed.

Cedar City voters have until Aug. 10 to return their filled-in primary ballots, which may be dropped off after being signed and sealed, at the drop boxes located at Cedar City offices, Parowan City offices or the Iron County Courthouse in Parowan. They may also be mailed, but in that case, postage is required, and ballots must be postmarked no later than Aug. 9.

Cedar City residents who did not receive a ballot or have questions or problems concerning their ballot can contact the Iron County Clerk’s office by either calling 435-477-8340 or emailing [email protected].

For all of St. George News’ coverage of 2021 municipal elections, click here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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