Candidates for mayor and city council outlined their visions for the future of Moab during a Grand County League of Women Voters forum Oct. 5, addressing issues such as affordable housing, bullying and transparency with the public.
During the mayoral portion of the forum, candidates Emily Niehaus and David Olsen described their leadership styles and outlined their personal reasons for entering politics.
Olsen described a desire to “get [his] desk back.”
After working as Moab City’s community development director for 25 years, Olsen lost his job in 2015 job during a re-structuring process approved by former City Manager Rebecca Davidson and the city council.
He told forum attendees that as mayor, he would issue apologies to several individuals involved in a 2016 lawsuit brought by Davidson.
“The first thing I would do if I got elected would be to try to get my desk back,” Olsen said. “The second thing I would do ... I’d write apologies to Jim Stiles, Chris Baird, Janet Lowe … and that lady from Kemmerer and probably give them a four–year pass if they allow this for the [Moab Recreation and Aquatic Center].”
As community development director, Olsen said he felt “like a millionaire with taxpayer’s money” and that the City of Moab often felt like the “City of David.”
“I worked for the city; I loved it, every bit of it. And I always thought I was like a millionaire with taxpayer’s money. You could do so many great things and get grants and do this and do that and I enjoyed it so much it became a part of me,” Olsen said. “I thought this was the City of David ... I want to run for mayor because my family asked me to, my friends did, and I felt I needed to.”
Niehaus, the executive director of non-profit Community Rebuilds, described herself as “a wife, mom, and affordable housing advocate and professional” whose engagement with city hall extends over the past 15 years.
If elected as mayor, Niehaus told community members to expect “power with” rather than “power over” leadership.
“We’re better when we work together,” Niehaus said. “That is the kind of leader that I am and that I hope to be as mayor of Moab.”
Niehaus said her future vision for Moab would bend towards community engagement and fiscal responsibility.
“I know budgets. I’m really excited about the opportunity to serve all of you as mayor of Moab. I love living here, it is my home and I will do what I can to make sure that we all come together ... and really develop a new vision for Moab,” Niehaus said. “A vision that is based in fiscal responsibility, but also excitement of what’s around the corner for us.”
Both candidates fielded several questions, including how — if elected as mayor — they would each work with the Utah Legislature on bills that affect the Moab community.
Niehaus described a recent town hall meeting where state representatives David Hinkins and Carl Albrecht told Moabites to work on coordination between the city and the county.
“[Hinkins and Albrecht] said to us ‘city, county, come together [and] create a joint resolution for the issues that you have. That’s our responsibility. It’s our responsibility to come together,” Niehaus said. “We have to play the long game approach to how we move Moab forward. In that long game approach it’s going to take serious engagement with our state legislature — we’ve got to be willing to go there, and we’ve got to be willing to invite them here.”
Olsen said that state engagement is “like a grant process” that necessitates the coordination of outside entities, including advocacy groups like the Utah League of Cities and Towns.
“Get the Utah League of Cities and Towns involved [to] fight for the city, and other cities involved and influential people,” Olsen said. “This is like a grant process. And I was really good at it.”
The forum also featured the four candidates running to fill two open city council positions. Each candidate identified issues they felt most important to the community, which ran the spectrum from youth issues to affordable housing.
According to candidate Brian Ballard, the city council has a responsibility to “take care of our city” from youth to budgets and roads.
“I feel like the role we have as city councilmen is to primarily take care of our city, to make a safe environment for our youth and all the public,” Ballard said. “That includes watching over our money, to be sure there’s no fraud, to be sure we’ve got a safe place to live, a safe place to have an education, a safe place to cross the road.”
Candidate Karen Guzman-Newton outlined her priority to create a healthy community for all people in Moab, noting that it’s imperative to “guide growth.”
“We are very fortunate to live in this beautiful area, where we still know one another and are accountable to each other,” Guzman-Newton said. “We cannot stop growth but we can guide it to reflect our values and regulate it so it doesn’t change the character of the place we consider home. I’m passionate about creating a healthy community for all of us, families, children, old–timers, new–timers, visitors.”
Noting that she will “negotiate, compromise, and listen to the citizenry,” candidate Cassie Patterson called for greater “balance” at Moab City Hall.
“I just want to see more balance in our local government — it's all one–sided and that’s causing problems,” Patterson said. “We need to bring about more change, and balance, and accountability, and transparency. These are all words that everyone has heard so much lately but it’s true and we need to work on that.”
Speaking to his experience as a Grand County Planning Commission member, candidate Mike Duncan said that he wants to put his “analytical skills to work” when it comes to local issues.
“Our job is to carefully analyze [arguments] and in the end I want to err on the resident’s side,” Duncan said. “Moab has good problems – we’re not Price or Vernal or Delta. There’s a lot of resort towns like ourselves from whom we can steal solutions. That’s a good thing.”
A recording of the Oct. 5 candidate forum is available on the League of Women Voters of Grand County website: grandcounty.ut.lwvnet.org.
Voting in Grand County will be done by mail-in ballot only. Mail-in ballots will be mailed starting Oct. 17 and registered voters in Moab will begin receiving them within the week.
Ballots must be postmarked by Monday, Nov. 6, or returned to the Grand County Clerk’s office in person no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 7.
Those who are interested in registering to vote still have time to do so. Voters may register in person at the Grand County Clerk’s office, 125 East Center Street, through Tuesday, Oct. 31. Voters may also register online through Oct. 31 at www.vote.utah.gov.
For additional information about voting, visit www.vote.utah.gov, or contact the Grand County Clerk’s office at 435-259-1321.