SANTA CLARA — The Nov. 2 election in Santa Clara could easily be a game of musical chairs among City Council candidates, played to music from the glockenspiel atop Santa Clara Town Hall.
There are three candidates vying for two four-year City Council seats in Santa Clara including an incumbent, a well-known political and local faith leader and a person who has long been behind the scenes in politics but is trying to take the center seat.
The incumbent is Ben Shakespeare, a business owner and developer, who is seeking a second term on the council. Two other candidates are hoping to either take his seat or that of the retiring Wendell Gubler.
Christa Hinton, 47, has long been a campaign manager and liaison for Rep. Lowry Snow since 2012 and also ran the 2016 campaign for Sen. Don Ipson. She has also been a leader in Washington County Republican Women and the Utah Federation of Republican Women.
On the local side, the Dixie State grad has made her mark in the PTA at Snow Canyon Middle School, Snow Canyon High and the Utah PTA Legislative Committee.
Jimi Kestin, 64, is a vice president with the State Bank of Southern Utah and former chairman of the board for the St. George Chamber of Commerce, and is a prominent figure in both politics and faith in Southern Utah.
He is finishing his second term as chairman of the Washington County Republican Party and, as a member of the Utah GOP executive board, served as one of five Utah Electors in the 2020 Presidential Electoral College. He co-founded the Interfaith Council of Washington County (Kestin emphasizes the council does not endorse political candidates) and, with his wife Rickine Kestin, is co-pastor of Solomon’s Porch Foursquare Fellowship.
Shakespeare, 47, was elected to the council in 2017. Outside of his work at Town Hall, Shakespeare is the owner of Shakespeare Development Group, which is one of the developers of Entrada. He has also spent the last 22 years working with his father and brother at plumbing and mechanical contractor, Tom’s Mechanical.
The Dixie High and Dixie State University alum has locally served on the boards of Snow Canyon Little League and the St. George Kite Festival.
St. George News spoke with each candidate on the issues facing Santa Clara and why they should receive voters’ approval. The following responses are in the candidates’ own words, lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.
Why do you think you’re the right candidate for the job?
Hinton: I think there are some things in my background that helped me to be a good candidate. And one of those is my financial background. I’m an operations manager so I’m familiar, very familiar with budgeting. I know how to budget and to watch every penny. I also have a human resources background in my work, and I think one of the biggest challenges our city is facing, and it’s going to continue to face, is the recruiting and the keeping of really talented employees that take great care of our city and its citizens.
And I would guess also my public relations work. And I think that experience will help me reach out to citizens, encourage their feedback. I really look forward to hearing what’s important to them. And I also intend to encourage the city to conduct regular surveys of the citizens, to find out what things they value and what they want in terms of what the city is going to look like in the future.
Kestin: I have been in leadership positions throughout the many years that I’ve been serving this community. I was one of the founders and leaders of the Interfaith Council for many years; I am not being endorsed by the Interfaith Council, which does not make political endorsements.
I am a former chairman of the board of the Chamber of Commerce and was on that board for several years and helped expand the chamber into something that was well beyond just the St. George area. I then went on to serve two terms as the chairman of the Republican Party.
And in 2020, the delegates to the 2nd Congressional District for the Republican Party elected me to be a member of the electoral college being one of the six official votes that Utah had in the most recent presidential election.
In every organization that we’ve been a part of, we’ve risen into leadership and those skills that we’ve developed along the way and bringing people together for the benefit of the community have shown it all that there is not unanimity of thought on the best way to do virtually anything. And so a good leader learns how to listen, to understand and then process all of the information, research relentlessly all aspects of an issue, and then filters all of that information through our shared values and the principles of constitutional conservatism that protect individual rights.
Shakespeare: I feel my experience in business and construction is why I am the right candidate.
I, with my brother, operate Tom’s Mechanical which employs about 28 people. We also run a Mechanical insulation company that has another 12. On top of that, I am a partner in Shakespeare Development, a construction company. The city operates much like any other business, and my experience in these other companies helps in decision making and working with city employees.
I also have four years of experience in the City Council, which has been a great blessing and opportunity to learn, which I have learned a lot.
I feel these, combined with my ability to listen and communicate with residents are what would qualify me for this position.
What are the most pressing issues you hope to address?
Kestin: The biggest single issue that I’m hearing from the residents of my town is infrastructure, particularly roads. In a couple of key areas of the community, we’re already seeing that there doesn’t seem to be sufficient plans in place to deal with the increased traffic in a couple of key thoroughfares in our town.
We are going to need to correct that to make sure that we maintain the lifestyle that attracted all of us to Santa Clara or to stay in Santa Clara, for those who were raised there.
Santa Clara Drive and particularly Pioneer Parkway – we’ve got sections of that road that are still a two-lane road with gravel shoulders. We’re going to need to find a solution to making sure that traffic is able to get in and out of there particularly as we approach Rachel Drive on Pioneer.
Shakespeare: I think we hear about water all the way around. The drought’s really kind of pushed that. For Santa Clara, probably the biggest issue we have coming down the road – we’re limited in commercial, which brings sales tax revenue to the city, and we have very little of it.
I think probably the biggest issue that I see that we maybe haven’t tackled is we’re going to be built out at some point. And then how do you transition from impact fees and things like that, which help subsidize some of the costs of the cities to where we’re just generated on property and sales tax.
And so I think for me, probably one of the bigger pressing things is getting the right businesses as we build out those last few commercial pieces and develop some of these last few areas. That’s going to sustain us.
Hinton: I think one of the biggest challenges in Santa Clara is the growth that’s been happening and that is projected to happen. And we have to balance what I call kind of the unique quality of life that we have here for residents with the need for commercial growth as well.
We have a special hometown feel here, but I also understand that we need tax revenues to support services for our citizens like public safety, water, sewer, road maintenance – all of those things. So we need to balance that growth with both residential and commercial going forward.
Related to growth is the question of the infrastructure of our streets. We have those two main roads in Santa Clara. We have Santa Clara Drive and then Pioneer Parkway, and both are struggling with traffic issues. And a lot of that traffic isn’t necessarily from Santa Clara.
I don’t know to what extent we can encourage them to take different routes, but that would be something I would want to look at and also possibly the expansion of Pioneer Parkway close to the commercial businesses up there to allow for some extra lanes, so that we can help those traffic concerns.
How serious is the drought and what do you hope to do as a city leader to deal with it? Should this affect approval of new developments?
Shakespeare: I think conservation leads the way. You look at areas around town; you look at commercial landscape strips, churches with sod, some of these areas where we’re using irrigation water on things that never get used. You start there. And I think a lot of the cities are headed to reuse and storage. Right now, we put a lot, of the reuse right down the river where we could use it for secondary water.
But I’m not a mandate person. We have to be cautious and I’m not in favor of the double meters. I think that’s a cost that’s going to get passed on to the consumers. I think it makes it hard for affordable housing, but certainly conservation and a proactive plan. Let’s teach. Let’s instruct. Let’s understand there’s going to be a more multifaceted way to do this, and let’s utilize everything in our power to accomplish it.
Hinton: This city moving forward can encourage more planning for the new homes that are coming in, in terms of having landscape that’s more friendly to water savings.
They can encourage the citizens that already have their homes in place to water more responsibly and maybe to conserve a little more of their water that they’re using.
Kestin: We are going to need to find additional water to meet the needs of the future. We have no backup to the Virgin River system. It is very restricted at the state level and, to some extent, even the federal level on being able to drop deep wells into the aquifer, because there’s plenty of water underneath us.
In Santa Clara, we aren’t in a position where we’d be issuing permits that are beyond our capacity for water, but we do need to continue to look at additional sources. I would love to see us develop a reservoir somewhere in Santa Clara that would deal with a lot of the water that is currently being sent down to St George.
You’re seeing many people on their own rethink their landscaping on their own properties. It’s amazing how smart the decisions of the average person is when you give them the opportunity to do it, instead of dictating to them by government decree.
Santa Clara is known for its shady streets and hometown feel. How can that be maintained through the future?
Hinton: I think that we should be careful to listen to our citizens and the things that they would like us to do in terms of growth and to keep to the zoning that’s already in place.
I think that the council is bound by what zoning is in place and to the extent that we can say yes, we should. And if it does not work according to the plan that the city already has, I think that we should say no.
Kestin: It is critical that we put people on the council that appreciate the lifestyle we have and will work hard to preserve it. Not only that small-town feel, but what I love about Santa Clara is we are neighbors. We still wave to each other as we drive by on the streets. Our kids can play in the front yard.
My daughter, who’s now 20, grew up here. And my daughter who is informally engaged, said, “Dad, you can’t ever sell this house because I want to raise my children in this same community that I grew up in.”
That’s powerful. That desire of my daughter is forefront in my mind as I look at making sure that everything we do in Santa Clara guarantees that my grandchildren will be able to have the same amazing experience of growing up in a small community that is safe, is family-friendly. It speaks volumes for what Santa Clara is and what it must remain.
Shakespeare: The downtown district and especially along Santa Clara drive really could be something extremely special. And as these homes, age and transition, what do they become? And so that’s something that the council and the community and all of us are going to have to think about.
I can’t dislike the growth because the growth is why we’re here. And yet with the growth brings the things that you miss, you long for. Those open fields to be able to go out freely and let your dog run along the river and on the trails. Those things change as things grow.
I think overall the city’s done a good job with planning, but people will dispute that. You know, I think there’s some that feel like we have too many vacation rentals and others, maybe too many apartments, and we need more single-family. So you try to balance that. We’ve got some great developments coming up on the north and east side out toward Harmon’s and behind Harmon’s – a mix of apartments and townhomes and single-family that will, I think, blend really well.
Our local hospital is still unprecedentedly full with COVID-19 patients. What can the local government do about it, if anything?
Kestin: I’ve been in there. It’s not as bad as it had been. That has probably more to do with the hospital’s concern about overcrowding than actual bed space, because it’s more that you have to have more than a bed to put somebody in the ICU you’ve got there. I can tell you that it was certainly not empty. They were doing a great job taking care of these patients.
The city government of Santa Clara must protect individual health freedom. That’s our job. The job of a city government is to preserve and protect the rights of the citizens of the city of Santa Clara, all of their inalienable rights. We live in a time and a country where the entirety of the Bill of Rights is under assault.
We should be declaring that the entirety of the bill of rights is not negotiable in Santa Clara. And that as a city, we will not tell any individual what they should be deciding between them and their doctor.
Shakespeare: I’m of the stance of the people have freedoms and freedom. I’m extremely concerned and adamantly opposed to denying people access for something because of vaccination status. I think that’s a travesty.
I’m not going to sit here and say, “We’ve got to mandate this.” I think we can do it with education and letting people make their decisions. I’m not anti-vax. I got vaccinated, but I, I did it for the same reason I go get my flu shots. My bigger concern is watching for what I would call discrimination against those that aren’t vaccinated. I just think that’s 100% the wrong message to be sending when we fought for equal rights and justice all these years.
Hinton: I think that government does need to let the public make those decisions for themselves as individuals. I think they also need to let businesses make decisions for themselves.
And I think that the numbers in our county – as far as hospital numbers and just case count numbers – as they go up, that is concerning, but I don’t know that it’s the City Council’s role to try to manage what the public are going to do as far as vaccinations and masks and things.
What would you like voters to know about you that they may not know?
Hinton: I am a long-time resident of Santa Clara. I grew up there. I chose, with my husband, to live there and raise our family there because it is such a family-friendly place to live. I’m hopeful that we can keep Santa Clara a place that our children and our grandchildren can come, can live, can stay and live in.
I went to school at Santa Clara Elementary. I remember the teachers and some of the teachers are still there and taught my kids when they went through that same school system.
Shakespeare: I think running a business – I look at the city as no different than a business. You’re employing people, you’re trying to balance budgets.
I love what this area offers recreation-wise. I do love to golf. I couldn’t think of a better place to be. I love to be outdoors. I love to be around people.
Kestin: I do not come into this position with an agenda beyond putting the “servant” back into public servant. Too often people run for office for their own benefit. Other than the lot my home sits on, my wife and I do not own any other property.
I have no other business investments or interests that could benefit from any decision we will make on the City Council. Also, I have not sought or accepted any endorsements from any elected officials at any level of government, so I do not owe anyone other than the citizens of Santa Clara should I get the honor to serve.
Shakespeare: Having one term under your belt, what have you learned along the way?
Shakespeare: Coming into it, you don’t quite understand all the intricacies of the cities. Where it’s different as you understand from my side is how good our city’s run. You realize, we’ve got great people running the city.
I joke with the mayor: I missed like the first three work meetings, not even knowing the schedule. But it’s a lot easier this time around, understanding the needs of the city.
Hinton: Is there anything from working with legislators that you can bring to the job and did anything from working with legislators discourage you from public office?
Hinton: It has given me the opportunity to see how government works and see myself in that role potentially. And when the seat on the Santa Clara City Council came open, I saw there was an open seat. I just kind of got the feeling that I should go for it, and that I could be a positive asset to the city in terms of my service.
I’ve just seen a lot of the positive work that they’ve done … that they truly care about the constituents that they serve, that they have opportunities to make a difference in their lives. And I see that in our city, we have that same opportunity there that I can make a positive difference. I plan to work hard and to serve the citizens in our area and try to keep Santa Clara the unique and wonderful place it is to live.
Kestin: You’re a well-known figure in the local faith community between Foursquare and the Interfaith Council. Is it possible to separate your faith work from your government work?
Kestin: My faith dictates the way I make decisions and it shouldn’t be separated from the work I do in government. Now, what we must understand is that the Constitution of the United States clearly declares that government will not dictate where you go to church, or if you go to church, right?
We do not have an official state religion in Utah. We have a predominant faith, but when you go back to the origins of the First Amendment and the reason why freedom of religion is included, many of these colonies were settled by specific denominations.
There is nothing that says that we should be separating our faith from our work in government. In fact, somebody who tells me that they’re going to leave their faith at the door when they walk into a City Council meeting … I don’t trust that person to make sound decisions because what is the basis of their decision-making? If you want to know what the basis of my decision-making is, it’s easy.
Those values inform my decision-making that, combined with the principles of the Constitution, says I can’t impose my lifestyle on my neighbor, but I need to protect that both of them are able to live their life as they want.
Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2021 election by clicking here.
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