Eleven candidates enter fray over three seats on the Moab City Council

All three incumbents seeking re-election

11 candidates are vying for three seats on Moab’s City Council. The general election will be held November 5, after a possible primary election on August 13. Photo by Carter Pape

Eleven people have filed to run for Moab City Council as of the filing deadline at 5 p.m. Friday, June 7. Amidst choices regarding housing, lodging, transportation, the city budget, land use planning, statewide issues impacting Moab, and the many other matters that might come up during the governance of roughly 5,300 citizens and millions of tourists annually, the candidates will compete this year for three seats on the council.

Five of the candidates filed for candidacy prior to Friday, June 7, which was the last day to declare. The other six filed just prior to the 5 p.m. deadline on Friday.

Unless five of the candidates drop out of the race, a primary election will be held on August 13. The general election will be November 5.

City Council Members Tawny Knuteson-Boyd, Rani Derasary and Kalen Jones, all of whom face term expirations this year, are seeking re-election.

Among the others running for seats are former Moab Sun News reporter and Community Rebuilds Intern Solona Jade Sisco, KZMU Music Director and bartender Josie Kovash, hotel worker Valarie Valenzuela and Mike McCurdy.

Filing on Friday were Kendall Jenson, Cassie Patterson, M. Bryon Walston, and Kenneth G. Minor. The Times-Independent was unable to reach them before press time for this story.

Below are introductions to each of the candidates who filed prior to Friday. Introductions for the remaining candidates will be available next week.

Tawny Knuteson-Boyd

Knuteson-Boyd was first elected to city council in 2015, taking the seat in January 2016. In her time on the council, she helped pass its Planned Affordable Development ordinance, oversaw the employment termination of and ensuing lawsuits by former City Manager Rebecca Davidson, has spoken out against increasing compensation for city council members, expressed support for an Arches reservation system and taken many other actions and positions.

Most recently, Knuteson-Boyd told The Times-Independent that she was in support of temporarily excluding the R2 zone from PAD, which the city passed in May as its bid to incentivize the development of affordable housing.

R2 is the city’s largest residential zone and accounts for a majority of housing properties in Moab. The version of PAD that the city council passed in May excluded the zone, with members, including Knuteson-Boyd, citing complaints from locals in the zone and what she said was incompatibility of the plan with the existing density allowances in the zone.

Knuteson-Body said she wanted the city’s newly hired Planning Director Nora Shepard to look over the plan before it was passed, but in a surprise for many city officials, including the mayor and city manager, the city council passed the plan by a vote of 3-2 on May 15. Knuteson-Boyd voted in favor of the plan.

Locals have overall been quiet in their reaction to PAD’s passage. The plan spent years in development, and the version passed by the city council will have less of a direct impact on existing homeowners than it originally would have due in part to the removal of R2.

PAD has also had its critics, including a reader who wrote a letter to the editor that the plan should not have included R3, a higher-density zone than R2.

During recent discussions of potential compensation increases for city council members, Knuteson-Boyd gave an emotional and impassioned defense of providing modest pay raises, pointing out that the proposal would result in a roughly 200% increase to the council’s current level of compensation.

Before voters have their say in November, Knuteson-Boyd will face a vote on future land use plans that will impact the regulation of lodging in Moab. The leading idea at the moment is to remove lodging as a protected use, meaning the city would accept no more development applications until further notice.

Knuteson-Boyd and her fellow council members will face that vote the first week of August, at the latest, and likely before then.

Rani Derasary

The other incumbent running for reelection this year is City Council Member Derasary. Alongside Knuteson-Boyd, she was first elected to her position in 2015 and has since taken a distinctly detail-oriented approach to governing.

On any given topic of discussion during city council meetings, Derasary typically asks the most questions among her fellow council members, usually oriented toward the finer details of proposed ordinances and their potential impacts.

Derasary voted against PAD when it passed in May, citing her concern that proper process had not been followed prior to the ordinance coming to a final vote. In particular, the changes made to an earlier PAD version that yielded the final version approved by the city council that day did not appear in the meeting packet, which is published before each meeting.

Derasary also recently took a position against a proposed contract with the Utah Department of Transportation that would have funded construction of a parking garage near the center of town.

Derasary worried that specific phrasing in the contract with UDOT might have obliged the city to remove downtown parallel parking, something that many locals, including businesses in the corridor in particular, have opposed.

After tabling a vote on the contract for two weeks, the city council ultimately voted in favor of signing the contract, after promises from UDOT that parallel parking would not go away unless the city council approved it.

Solona Sisco

Sisco is a freelancer for the Moab Sun News, writing primarily about upcoming local events. She has also written about affordable housing in an article about city council discussions over a possible incentive program, modeled after one in Vail, Colorado, for long-term housing development and rentals.

“I’m running because I think we need to take bold action on the issues of housing and climate change,” Sisco said in a statement to The Times-Independent. “Further, I would like to promote economic diversification while at the same time taking a many-pronged approach to conserving the natural resources that allow us to have a vibrant eco-tourism industry.”

Sisco has previously worked as an intern with Community Rebuilds, a nonprofit affordable housing development organization. She said in a statement to The Times-Independent that she was looking to take a “multi-pronged approach” to addressing housing issues in Moab.

“We need community to make it through the marathon tourist season in one piece,” Sisco said. “The lack of housing leads to various businesses/organizations being understaffed, placing large amounts of stress on the employees and owners/directors.”

Sisco noted in her statement that she is a transgender woman and that she takes inspiration from Greta Thunberg, a Swedish climate activist who gained attention last year for her protests outside the Swedish parliament, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who in the 2018 midterm election primaries defeated ten-term incumbent Congressman, Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley in an upset victory.

Josie Kovash

Kovash is KZMU’s music director and also works as a bartender, musician and board member of Moab’s Resiliency Hub, a nonprofit that serves to promote “creative reuse, upcycling and holistic sustainability,” according to the organization’s Facebook page.

She has worked in Moab for over 10 years, including involvement with WabiSabi, the Moab Multicultural Center, Outward Bound and AmeriCorps, alongside a “variety” of other nonprofits.

Kovash said that, if elected, she might give up bartending (although, according to her, it is “far more lucrative”) to spend more hours on the job of being a council member, but she plans to otherwise “stay involved,” including with the Resiliency Hub.

She is and has been a supporter of PAD, and she said she recognized the divisiveness of including the R2 zone in the plan.

Kovash said she was “frustrated that there wasn’t constructive dialogue” over what could be done to refactor PAD to be more compatible with R2. She said she hoped for more “compromise” to expand affordable housing opportunities in R2.

She said she was also in support of proposed health benefits for city council members and that she would support a raise for the council on top of that, something she said is “overdue.” She said the current rate of pay for council members is more like a “stipend” than a salary. “By increasing pay, we are bringing in more people who can serve,” Kovash told The Times-Independent.

On the topic of regulating lodging in Moab, Kovash said that she was in favor of the fifth option offered by Landmark Design, the planning contractor drafting ordinances for the city and county that will govern future regulations of lodging. Their fifth option, titled “No Growth,” would disallow any new lodging development applications.

Kovash said that, without more “diversity” of business operations in Moab, increasing visitation would overwhelm existing operations, leading to lower-quality visits and depleted supply of resources like water and civic services.

“The tour bus mode [of tourism] that is taking off in Moab is not necessarily something I want to see continue in this community,” Kovash said.

Kovash said one of her main goals as a council member would be to work toward finding and holding on to “what makes us whole,” saying that it was not merely tourism that defined the Moab community.

Mike McCurdy

The Times-Independent was unable to interview McCurdy before publication; more information on him and his campaign will be provided when available.

McCurdy has worked for Moab Property Group for about eight months and was previously at City Market for almost 13 years. McCurdy said he’d lived in Moab his entire life “minus the time I attended college. […] I love this town and hope to be able to help it continue to grow and thrive,” McCurdy said in a statement to The Times-Independent.

Valarie Valenzuela

Valenzuela provides evening catering at Moab’s Homewood Suites. She said she did not have any experience working on the board or staff of any nonprofit or municipal organizations but wants to “start giving back” through volunteer service.

She said that, when she learned that city council elections were upcoming, she figured she’d “give it a shot.”

Valenzuela said she did not know much about PAD. She also said she had not been following developments on proposed land use changes governing lodging, but she was interested to learn more.

Valenzuela said she was primarily interested to take care of what Moab “already has,” and was looking to “clean it up,” referring to environmental conditions. She said she is also interested to revive a farmer’s market for the town.