ST. GEORGE — Managing growth and addressing the city’s water needs dominated the discussion during a recent forum for candidates running for Washington City Council.
Organized by the Washington Area Chamber of Commerce, the candidates met at the Washington City Community Center on Tuesday evening, featuring incumbent Roger Bundy and challengers Marisa Thayn, Kimberly Casperson and Bret Henderson.
The candidates took a number of prepared questions from a moderator as well as a handful from the audience, mostly focusing on water and growth.
The issues of conflict of interest relating to sitting council members and COVID-19 mandates were also raised during the forum.
Proposed conflict of interest ordinance
As candidates were asked what new policy or practice they may bring to the city if elected, Thayn said she wanted to see an ordinance passed that would block the city’s elected officials from being able to do business with the city on behalf of their own business or their employer.
“That bothers me,” she said. “If elected, I want to see an ordinance passed that eliminates that practice. I think if you’re elected, you’re there to serve, not to fill your pockets.”
Thayn said she had a collection of city documents acquired through Utah’s Government Records Access Management Act requests that shows some of the city’s elected officials were getting city contracts and bids for their own benefit.
While Utah laws does require elected officials to publicly declare any potential conflict of interest, it does not stop them from engaging in business on behalf of themselves or an employer as long as the conflict is duly noted before hand.
As being a politician in Utah is generally seen as a part-time venture, arguments were made that holding public office shouldn’t disqualify someone from earning a living otherwise.
Thayn also said she would like to create citizen board in order “to bring the citizens’ voice back into our city” so the public and elected officials can become more unified in moving the city forward.
Thoughts on water and power
When the candidates were asked what the major issues impacting Washington City’s future were, there was a consensus that water supply and managing growth were at the top of the list.
Bundy said he was glad to see that various city mayors and councils were working with the Washington County Water Conservancy District to create new water-saving ordinances. However, he is also worried that process could take too long since it involves multiple parties.
“Obviously water is an issue,” he said. “We have to move on this quickly.”
Bundy said he worries having too many hands involved in the process of determining and employing the best water conservation practices may actually slow the county’s overall progress. At some point, the city may need to move ahead on its own if that happens, he said.
As for the Lake Powell Pipeline, each candidate expressed general support for the project.
Making sure Washington City continues to have reliable power was another concern for Bundy as he noted the forthcoming shutdown of coal plants in parts of Arizona.
In order to keep the lights on in Washington City, Bundy expressed support for the Carbon Free Project being pursued by Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems. The project focuses on the NuScale nuclear power project taking place in Idaho.
“NuScale, small nuclear reactors, is something we’re involved with as a city through UAMPS, and we need to pursue that and need to prepare for that; otherwise, my prediction is we’re going to see roaming blackouts like they have in California.”
Growth and taxes
Consensus was again found among the candidates concerning issues of growth, including the need for attainable affordable housing. However, the question of just how to spur the development of that housing wasn’t easily answered.
“One of the things we can do as elected officials in Washington City — we can encourage businesses to come in that have high-paying jobs, so that can help with (housing costs),” Henderson said.
Henderson said he supports the idea of smart growth and believed the city has been managed well in this aspect so far, but he added the city needs a larger commercial base in order to keep property taxes low.
“We need some commercial development – good commercial development that’s going to bring in some good tax money and some good paying jobs,” he said.
An aspect of potential community redevelopment Henderson envisions is turning downtown Washington City into “a real destination place.” That part of the city could be converted into a walking area filled with small shops, boutiques and so on, he said.
“Downtown Washington City – the corner of Telegraph and Main – that strip has the potential to become one of the most beautiful downtowns in all of Utah,” Henderson said. “There’s a lot of potential there.”
Standing for citizen rights in the wake of COVID-19
Casperson found agreement with many issues shared by her fellow candidates yet also spoke to issues that arose during the pandemic – namely personal freedom and supporting those freedoms versus government mandate.
“I believe we need leaders who will to stand up for freedoms and our God-given rights,” she said. “I want to see Washington City become a beacon of freedom.”
Casperson supports keeping businesses open and the idea that all businesses, despite their nature, are essential.
“We are going to stand up for our businesses here,” she said, adding there needs to be continuing support for personal choice in health decisions and “to not have someone else dictate what is best for you health.”
“I want Washington City to be a place that stands for citizen rights and freedom,” Casperson said.
During the forum, an audience member asked for a raise of hands from the candidates showing who supported mandating vaccinations, or as he called it, “the jab.”
None of the candidates raised a hand.
Mail-in ballots are being sent out this week, with the election taking place Nov. 2.
Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2021 election by clicking here.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.