Democracy is not a spectator sport. The oft-repeated quote was included in the League of Women Voters pamphlet. That’s why, on Monday, Sept. 24 at Star Hall, the LWV hosted its 38th annual candidates forum to hear from some of the contenders in this year’s local government elections.
The format allowed candidates to submit questions they wanted to answer themselves. The moderator, Carey Dabney, also read questions previously submitted by the public.
Board of Education
Ryan Anderson submitted a video while Kathy Williams was at the event in person. The two are competing for the fourth district seat on the Grand County Board of Education.
Anderson emphasized his 40 years of award-winning experience as a professional educator. “I’ve worked many different jobs in my life and can say unequivocally that other than parenting, teaching has been the most challenging, most important and most fulfilling work I’ve ever done.” For his self-submitted question, Anderson chose, “What level of importance would you give prior experience or knowledge to the position for which you are a candidate?” He outlined a vision of public schools as “a place where parents want to send their kids, teachers want to teach, and children are engaged”, a vision which he said he had the time, commitment and experience to make real.
Williams cited her role as a mother of two and her engagement as a parent, volunteer and member of the community councils at Helen M. Knight Elementary and Grand County High School, among other aspects of involvement in the schools. Her self-submitted question was, “In your opinion, what is/are the most pressing issues facing the school district in the coming years?
“I do think that the affordable housing crisis is definitely a crisis and it is affecting many aspects of the Moab community, but the teacher community as well ... the need is urgent.” She also answered two audience-submitted questions. The first addressed the role of the community to support public education. Williams suggested that the community can show support “by our willingness to increase their salaries, which involves taxes” and said she would be voting yes on Question 1, a nonbinding referendum on whether to increase the gas tax by 10 cents to free up funding for schools. Her second community question concerned the strengths and weaknesses of the school district, to which Williams responded that the strengths are the teachers and the weakness is a lack of resources.
Grand County Attorney
In the race for county attorney, Christina Sloan and Stephen Jay Stocks faced off.
Stocks spoke first and said he is passionate about holding the accused accountable and allowing victims their day in court. He said that the greatest challenge facing the county has been a lack of communication between the groups involved in the prosecution process.
Sloan said she had 17 years of legal experience and noted that she also ran for county attorney in 2010 against Andrew Fitzgerald. For her self-submitted question, “How is the role of the Grand County attorney different than a criminal prosecutor?” She explained that the county attorney is responsible for all of the civil and criminal work for the county. She said that historically, the Grand County attorney has focused on the criminal side, but that the civil side was just as big a deal. “The civil piece is more important than ever with HB 224 ... this is a huge crucial question for the future of our county and we need someone who has the leadership and the experience to handle those questions in-house.”
Stocks said that the criminal portion of the county attorney’s workload is very important. He brought up Grand County’s high case dismissal rate and said that the solution is better communication between the police department, sheriff’s office and county attorney. Civil practice, he said, is important, but the county can afford to contract out anything it does not have the expertise to do in-house.
Sloan said that the most important role of the county attorney is to protect the community through the justice system. She said that the attorney’s office should have a victim’s advocate. Sloan said the county attorney needs to be accessible and transparent. “It takes months and months to get an opinion out of the county attorney’s office, if you can at all … It’s very difficult and has been for years and years, to get the county attorney on the phone ... some of that is obstructionist in my opinion. I do want to make the office more open and available to the community.”
As for the pressing issues facing the county attorney, there needs to be more collaboration and communication, Stocks said. “Next, we need someone who is young enough and aggressive enough to go forward, to be bold, and ask questions. Honestly, I know I’m the younger candidate here,” Stocks said. “But my strength is that I’m passionate. I’m inquisitive, and I’m naive enough to think that I can solve many problems ... I’ll reach out to the community.” He added that HB 224 is an issue the county will have to address.
Sloan said that collaboration with law enforcement agencies would help address the declination and dismissal rate in the county. The other important issue, she said, is HB 224. The county attorney’s role, she said, is to be nonpartisan and guide the county through the process of the change of form of government. Sloan also said that she would hire a full-time deputy county attorney to reduce expenses spent on outside contract attorneys.
Stocks closed by noting that being county attorney was his dream. “My goal is to make sure that ... victims get their day in court, that the county is represented by an independent, non-biased individual or individuals.” He said that like Sloan, he would consider hiring a deputy county attorney.
Grand County Council
Incumbent Grand County Council Member Mary McGann and challenger Norm Knapp represent the third and final contested race this election cycle. While McGann emphasized her service to the community as a teacher, Knapp focused on his experience as a local businessman and his involvement in the Moab Chamber of Commerce.
McGann answered her own question first: “What’s happening with HB 224?” McGann said Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald has advised the county that the council should be the group to initiate the change of form of government process by passing a resolution – which they have done. She quoted from the bill: “The county legislative body shall before July 1, 2018, initiate the process of changing the county’s form of government.”
On Sept. 14 a one-page letter from Justin Lee of the lieutenant governor’s office was sent to the county clerk. The letter contradicted the Grand County attorney’s advice and in his own words, he said was merely an opinion, not a directive from the office of the lieutenant governor. In follow up conversations, McGann said, Lee advised the county to follow the advice of their county attorney, which was to go along with the county council resolution to initiate the change of form of government process, rather than allowing the citizens’ petition to change the form of government – which was filed first – to take precedence.
“How can the county support an increase in affordable housing?” was the first question from the moderator. It went to Knapp, who did not have a self-submitted question. “Affordable housing, everybody is talking about it and it is a very big issue. The high-density overlay is huge. That’s something that in my opinion brings investors and builders to build affordable housing both for rental and for sale.”
“Affordable housing is a difficult topic,” said McGann. “Partly because you have to look at protecting our neighborhoods, making sure our neighborhoods that are established are protected, while at the same time finding ways to increase density and increase our affordable housing.” She said that she voted to protect neighborhoods by voting for an ordinance restricting bed and breakfasts, and said the high-density housing overlay program was a work in progress and only one tool among many that the county should use to create affordable housing. She gave credit to Ben Riley and the Housing Authority of Southeast Utah for their work on affordable housing in the community.
Both candidates addressed the issue of water conservation and water-smart development. “We are not currently taking more out of our aquifer than we are using, but that’s right now,” McGann said. “We have to really look closely at how much our housing, our residents and our businesses are using ... we have to use careful planning to make sure we don’t overdevelop.”
To close, McGann spoke of her experience and achievements as a county council member. She cited her decision to vote to pull the county out of the Seven County Coalition, with the result that Grand County tax dollars have not gone to support a Book Cliffs highway. “I have remained committed to listening, researching, and questioning,” McGann said.
Knapp said, “I agree with Mary, that the USGS survey shows that the water is good for the current situation and also for growth,” said Knapp. “But we can never get enough water. It’s our most important resource ... I think if we work hard together, we can do something to help that issue out....I’m not a long-winded person, unless I’m trying to sell you a car,” Knapp joked. “All I can say is, I work hard, I care, I really care about this community ... I want to help build communication between everyone. There’s been a lot of roughshod along both sides of the aisle and I think we can come together as a community and do a lot of positive things.”
For more information, visit www.lwvutah.org and select Grand County. People may check their voter registration status and the address on their registration by visiting vote.utah.gov.