The Civics On Center candidate forum was held Oct. 9 at Moab City Hall, with mayoral and city council hopefuls gathered among many concerned community members to debate the city’s most pressing issues.
The event, which was hosted live via Facebook stream by KZMU and The Times–Independent, kicked off with a debate between mayoral candidates Emily Niehaus and David Olsen. Here’s where each candidate stood on the issues:
Moderators asked the mayoral candidates how they might address one of the most pressing issues in Moab — affordable housing — with minimal impact to the taxpayers.
Niehaus said she has been deeply involved in setting a plan for affordable housing, which includes deed restrictions, an “assured housing” policy, and told voters that she is currently open to other innovative plans that could help alleviate the housing crisis.
“I have dedicated my professional life to solving affordable housing, so I’ve had to learn a lot about housing … from the procedural side to the policy side” Niehaus said.
Olsen also touched on the necessity for affordable housing, saying he was involved in a block grant proposal for housing in Moab.
“My heart is in helping people find a place to live,” Olsen said.
Responsible growth and
The candidates were asked how they would respond to the issue of resort area pricing and the lack of housing in Moab — causing problems for local businesses, primarily in regards to maintaining a stable workforce.
Olsen stated he had set up meetings with the heads of several organizations including the Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund Board, water quality and rural development to essentially put their heads together to come up with improved policies moving forward. He was “stunned” when the collaborative effort was quelled by former city manager Rebecca Davidson, who he claimed cancelled the meeting.
Olsen says he would “add more to these [affordable housing] projects and get a better deal,” which would lead to better rates on loans. Niehaus focused on facilitating local government to promote infrastructure development.
“It’s really important that our staff and our council have the resources to do the job,” she said.
Niehaus then proceeded to take aim at a statement Olsen has made in the campaign, saying, “at the last forum, you had said that you felt like a millionaire with the taxpayer’s money … and I come from a different approach ... I really feel like that fiscal responsibility means that we spend just what we need … and try to save money as much as we can, especially for infrastructure projects.”
Bullying and its effects on the LGBTQ community
In January, 13-year-old Grand County Middle School honor student Lily Clara McClish died by suicide. Her mother has stated that “persistent bullying” by her classmates affected her daughter, who identified as LGBTQ. According to The Deseret News, local law enforcement is currently looking into possible manslaughter charges for three of Lily’s classmates.
The two mayoral candidates were asked to describe their potential role in preventing these tragic events in the future.
Olsen says the event was “eye opening,” and he believes that the city must work with the school district in order to fight back against bullying.
Niehaus believes we need to “come together as a community” and define what is acceptable behavior and what is not.
Earlier this year, the city hired a sustainability director. With that in mind, the candidates were asked to expound on the implications of Moab deepening its commitment to being a “green city.”
Niehaus started off with a plug for “regenerative systems,” maintaining that sustainability is baseline for economic growth. She stated that it is crucial to find an intersection between the pillars of society, economy, and the environment. Niehaus also said there are concerns many Moab residents have about the potential expenses of sustainability, as well as ensuring the new director can actually increase city revenue by reducing the city’s carbon footprint.
Olsen argued that maintaining roads in the city could contribute to the sustainability efforts. He also added that biking where possible can also contribute to the reduction of our carbon footprint.
City council candidates
The city council debate took place among four candidates: Brian Ballard, Karen Guzman-Newton, Mike Duncan, and Cassie Patterson.
Ballard — a ten-year veteran of the Moab police force — is currently working as a developer, and says he has experience with infrastructure. Ballard brought along a pair of ragged, worn work gloves “to show I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty.”
Mike Duncan is a retired engineer who moved here with his family 15 years ago, and he believes his analytical skills will be essential to the Moab City Council.
Karen Guzman-Newton is a local business owner, and runs Poison Spider Bicycles alongside her husband. She has two children enrolled in local schools, and she said she is ready to give back to the community that she has been “deeply embedded in” for over twenty years.
Cassie Patterson is a single mom of two, and even though she’s only been here full time for eight years, her family has lived here for four generations. Her mission is to “get Moab back on track.”
On the issues
Debate topics ranged from the possibility of medicinal marijuana legalization to how to deal with the noise pollution from tourists and OHVs. Perhaps the most polarizing issue of the night, however, was that of water conservation. The issue essentially caused a split among the candidates.
A recent water study by the USGS indicated that the safe yield in Moab and Spanish Valley is likely between 12,000 and 14,000 acre-feet of water per year, rather than the 13,000 to 17,000 ranges previously estimated.
There are currently more than 20,000 acre-feet of water rights allocated on paper. Municipal usage, irrigation from groundwater and domestic wells add up to 3,900 acre-feet per year of water used currently, according to the Utah Division of Water Rights.
Ballard stated that “we are not diminishing water as quickly as it’s filling up.” He said he believes that the media has misrepresented the urgency of the water depletion, but maintains that we still need to be careful in regards to water consumption on the whole. Patterson agreed, stating that only about one-third of the stored water is actually being used, but maintained that the water levels should be closely monitored to avoid overuse.
Duncan, who serves on the Moab City Water Advisory Board, disagreed with Ballard, stating the USGS reports were correct. He believes this is a “tricky and technical issue,” and hopes the issue can be solved. Guzman-Newton added “water is not an issue, until it’s an issue,” in regards to staying proactive in efforts to maintain vital resources.