Meet the Candidates Night in Springdale

Since there are three candidates for mayor in Springdale in the upcoming election, we have to hold a primary to narrow it down to two. It seems like a waste of time and money to me, but the Utah legislature writes these laws … so … what are you going to do?

Hold a primary, that’s what. Town Clerk Fay Cope announced that the ballots were in the mail and residents of Springdale should be getting one very soon. It’s one more reason to go to the post office and meet your neighbors. And, of course, it’s a good reason to go to the Meet the Candidates Night at the Springdale Town Hall where Bill Bassett, representing the Lions Club, hosted Kathy LaFave, Stan Smith, and Mark Chambers … and a full house of citizens eager to hear what the candidates had to say.

In fact, there was such a good turnout that Bill confided to me after the meeting that they had spoiled his secret plan. He was really expecting just a handful of people so he could take most of the cookies home. Drat! Foiled again!

Each candidate gave us a short introduction where they told us who they were, their experience and qualifications for the job, and why they were the best candidate. Kathy and Mark both emphasized that no matter who won, Springdale was assured of having a great mayor. Then Bill collected written questions from the assembled citizens during a short break and the real fun started.

These are the questions that the candidates answered. I typed them up during the meeting so I’m sure that I got both questions and answers wrong in a few cases. I hope the candidates themselves correct my mistakes in replies to this article … but this is the way I heard it.

Do you support having fireworks on the 4th of July?

Kathy: I love fireworks! But unless conditions are exactly right, no. If it was a really wet year and there was no significant fire danger, however … Yes!

Stan: Yes, if conditions were right. I got the tradition started and I think it’s a great tradition. I’d like to see a return to that kind of celebration. But the danger of a fire would have to be very low.

Mark: I love fireworks too, but no. I believe that most of the citizens of Springdale don’t want fireworks on the 4th now due to the experience we have had with them and I believe in listening to what the citizens want.

Editorial comment: If Mark is correct, then I’m one of “most of the citizens”. I think they’re a waste of money …

(During a budget meeting a few years ago, Rick covered the cost. If I remember correctly, it was around $10,000 just for the fireworks. Maybe Rick can comment more accurately about this.)

… and a risk that we should never take again here. Many people don’t realize how close we came to burning down part of the town. We can celebrate the 4th without blowing up explosives.

What is your position on “formula restaurants”?

Stan, Kathy, and Mark: I don’t support formula restaurants, but there’s not much that we can do until the court decides the current case. If we lose the case, then we’ll do what we can to minimize them.

Editorial comment: There really wasn’t much of a difference in the replies here. The candidates emphasized how Springdale seems to be unified on this question.

What will you do to ensure that problems like the recent police citations mess don’t happen again?

Mark: As a member of the Town Council, I can assure you that we’re working hard on this. This was a wake-up call that is now resulting in changes and it won’t happen again.

Kathy: The Town Manager and the Chief of Police should have noticed that there was a policy that was not correct as well as the Town Council. As a member of the Town Council, I apologize. It won’t happen again. And I also think that these charges should never have been brought against our staff.

Stan: Everything comes down to the mayor. But I think we have a fantastic staff and I stand behind them. The charges were wrong and never should have been brought.

Editorial comment: Stan and Kathy are right. I attended the arraignment hearing in St. George. There never was a case against Rick and Kurt and the entire affair is (another) blot on the record of State Attorney General John Swallow. A relatively small amount of money was not being processed exactly the way it should have been and that has now been corrected. But this incident shows how Springdale needs to be exceptionally careful about everything. This is a point that the candidates all emphasized later.

Do you support commercial tubing on the Virgin?

Kathy: Zion Adventure is doing everything they can to mitigate the problem. But we should remember that even if we don’t have commercial tubing, we will still have tubing. Right now, Zion Adventure does a lot to clean up after people and manage the activity. If they weren’t doing that, it would probably be worse than it is now.

Stan: I remember when tubing was a great experience because it started way up inside the park and took all day. I have a hard time understanding why people want to walk down the Virgin in an inch of water carrying a tube these days. But as a property owner near the river, I don’t enjoy it. As mayor, however, I would take a point of view that reflects the realities of the community.

Mark: I haven’t considered this carefully before because it hasn’t come before the Town Council, so I’m not sure how this should be decided. The voice of the community should be the deciding factor.

Editorial comment: Score one for Kathy on this, especially for taking a stand anchored in facts rather than just emotions. Besides, Springdale gets a lot from our customers and we need to provide the vacation experiences that we reasonably can in return.

Should we rewrite the rules for changing zoning in Springdale?

Stan: The way it’s being done now isn’t broken. Changing zones should only be done in a way that is best for the town but the way we’re doing it now seems OK.

Mark: It should be as difficult as possible to change zoning and our current ordinances do make it difficult. That’s the way it ought to continue to be done.

Kathy: The Lion Boulevard zone change request shouldn’t have been done the way it was because the proposal changed between the Planning Commission and the Town Council. If a proposal changes, it should go back to the Planning Commission for reconsideration. In the future, our general plan should be what guides the town and zone changes should rarely be granted.

Editorial comment: I was very pleased to see that Kathy recognizes the need for at least a change in attitude about this process. But I politely insist that all of the candidates are simply wrong. A zone change could be done with a simple majority vote of the Town Council in as little as three weeks. Kathy claims that nobody attended the Town Council meeting where the Lion Boulevard zone change request was approved. I did! This is a great example of another point. Just attending Town Council meetings really doesn’t solve any problems. We need more than that.

And besides, whose fault is it when people don’t attend Council meetings? I think that a big part of leadership is making citizens want to be involved and we don’t do as good a job there as we should. This subject came up in a later question and the candidates were wrong again.

I wrote a letter to the Town Council in June of 2013 where I proposed specific changes aimed at this problem. Just for the record, here’s the changes I recommend:

  • A proposal that is brought before the Town Council must be identical to the one presented to the Planning Commission. For the golfers out there, proposal “mulligans” are not allowed.
  • If the Council chooses to reject a decision of the Planning Commission, the reasons for reversing the decision must be a part of the motion.

Notice that I am NOT saying that the Council should not be able to reverse decisions of the Planning Commission, only that the process should guarantee that a meaningful deliberation actually takes place. That is not what happens now, regardless of what individual members of the Council have said. Actual experience has shown that the way we do things now leads to rushed decisions, misunderstanding, extra expense for everybody, and opens the door to sub-par land use for our extremely limited land.

 (ps … I wasn’t the author of this or any other question. I was too busy typing the answers so I didn’t submit any of the questions.)

Should Springdale have increased police protection, especially at night?

Stan: We have to be reasonable about what we can do and carefully consider how much it costs. I’m not sure we can afford it.

Kathy: I think that is something that we’re going to have to do at some point. We have been studying this issue because we realize that it’s important and our police can’t respond effectively in some situations.

Editorial comment: For some reason, I didn’t hear an answer from Mark. When I talked to both Mark and Bill after the meeting, they insisted that he answered every question. So I must have missed it.

In any case, largely because our staff doesn’t actually live in Springdale, we’re on our own after normal business hours most of the time … and not just for police protection. That makes me very nervous.

Does Springdale have so many ordinances that we can’t enforce them all now?

Kathy: Code enforcement is essential. We have tentatively planned for a part time person for enforcement, but we’re still not convinced that we can’t do it with our current staff. We have to have a code enforcement officer because we have ordinances that are just not being followed now. But before we increase the town’s payroll budget to cover this, we need to make sure that our money will be well spent.

Stan: Springdale is more complex than it used to be. I hate this, but it seems like it can’t be avoided.

Mark: We have had a huge growth spurt in Springdale. I’m concerned about this same problem but my experience in the Town Council tells me that we need the ordinances we have. We also need to change the culture in Springdale so that the ordinances we have are enforced. I think that someone dedicated to that job is necessary and I have pushed to make that happen.

Editorial comment: Score one for Mark and Kathy on this. And classify this problem under “growing pains”. This is what you get with an unpaid and part time citizen government. We do a great job when you consider how we do it. We don’t have too many ordinances but they probably could be more professional than they are. (Believe it or not, ordinances are often written “on the fly” DURING meetings. I sometimes complained about that when I was on the Planning Commission, but nothing has been done to fix this problem.) And we certainly ought to be more organized in our policy about enforcement. I don’t think that the enforcement issue is a lack of manpower. I think it’s a lack of clear policy.

What is your management style?

Stan: Have good people and then stand back and then let these people do their job.

Mark: My style is collaborative. The best way to manage people is to work with them and make sure that everybody works together.

Kathy: My style is that I work with people, they don’t work for me. But I have a serious side too. You have to take a disciplined approach to business and to the Town’s business. You have to know whether the Town and the departments in the town are working and do something about it if they aren’t.

Editorial comment: When I was a manager of software development in a previous life, I learned that most people (certainly, this describes me) don’t really know what their own “style” is. Only other people see you for what you really are and you have to depend on other people for feedback – or you never figure it out.

What are the most important projects ahead for Springdale?

Mark: The lighting ordinance means that the Town will have to replace all the street lights and that will be a huge project. We’re also learning that the big new hotels are placing such a demand on our water that we will have to upgrade our facilities much sooner than we thought due to state requirements.

Kathy: The first budget we will have to look at will be water, not only because of hotels, but also because there are new homes being built. We have recently learned that we might have to upgrade our facilities in as little as one year from now. Lighting will also have to be looked at. And parking must be addressed because as visitation grows past 2.8 million visitors in Zion Park, more people are looking for parking in Springdale.

Stan: Lighting needs attention. Water needs attention. And sewer facilities need attention. In my hotel, I have had to upgrade the roof and water heaters even though it won’t bring in any more people because those are expensive improvements that people can’t see. You have to make the tough decisions.

Editorial comment: All of the candidates assumed that this question meant, “expensive projects”. Mark made the point earlier that we need a new perspective in Springdale. I think the “project” to change our perspective about how to solve our problems should be the most important one.

What is your position on the Lake Powell Pipeline?

Kathy: Lake Powell is silting in. The pipeline would be tragic because it would mean that we would build a pipeline that potentially allows huge developments in Washington County that might not be able to be sustained in the future. I’m not in favor of the pipeline.

Stan: I’m not excited about the pipeline, but taking a vocal public position isn’t always the best choice. I will work behind the scenes to oppose it.

Mark: Quote: “I’m not in favor of the Lake Powell Pipeline.”

Editorial comment: Score one again for Mark for brevity. See my article: The Lake Powell Pipeline: Solution or Swindle?

What will you do to bring the citizens of Springdale closer together?

Stan: We need more community events, like the 4th of July. Let’s do things together.

Mark: I remember filling sandbags to protect the cemetery. This is the kind of thing that you see in Springdale. Springdale is a special community because people do come together to help each other here.

Kathy: Springdale is a diverse community. It’s much different than other towns with fewer than 600 residents. We have highly educated people, people who just want to live here, people who work here and own businesses here. My first priority is the residents of Springdale, then the businesses that support Springdale. I want to make sure that everybody in Springdale feels welcome.

Editorial comment: Score zero for all of the candidates – not because they said anything wrong, but because they didn’t answer the question.

This is my bullmoose number one favorite question of the evening because I think that the number one job of the mayor is leadership and doing something about this problem is the number one best way to lead.

I started this website because I can see that the different sub-communities in ZiCC are not coming together like they should. We’re not working out problems together and people do feel isolated and marginalized. Like Mark, I remember working with people to rescue the River Park after a flood. I remember building the trail with Mike Marriott. These things show that the spirit is still willing … but the path to a better community still needs work.

What are the most important qualities for Town department heads such as the Town Manager and the Chief of Police?

Mark: The ability to work with other people and strong management skills. I rely on our staff to be professional and to understand their jobs.

Kathy: Our town came under a microscope recently due to a problem that we could have solved before it became a problem. We need to work more closely with our staff to improve their job skills. But I want to re-emphasize that we do have highly professional staff. If would be great if we could clone Tom Dansie.

Stan: Integrity and trust are the most important qualities. The quality we need most is for our staff to do what they say they will do.

Editorial comment: Getting the right qualities in staff positions has been a problem since God contracted with Noah for emergency preparedness. Like everybody else (Literally!) I think our staff is first rate. Still … there’s something missing in the way staff relates to the community. This isn’t a problem that will be solved in a paragraph but the answer really goes back to the previous question about bringing the community together.

What would you do to strengthen the Springdale brand?

Kathy: Maintaining the “village atmosphere” that makes Springdale so unique is the best thing we can do for our brand. We also need to work with the media to make sure that Springdale’s side of stories gets out. And we need to upgrade our parks and facilities and complete the bike trail.

Stan: I have a lot of pride in our little town. Nothing thrills me more than getting a note from a guest telling me what a great town we have. I’ll do whatever I can do to keep this town as great as it is. I care about what happens in Springdale. It’s my town. 

Mark: Zion Park brings people to Springdale but Springdale brings them back again. We need to get the word out better about all the great things that are happening in Springdale. Protecting and preserving our brand is important, but then we need to let people know about it.

Editorial comment: Score one for Kathy because she emphasized the thing about Springdale … other than the Park … that really does make us special. But take half a point away from Kathy, and the other two as well, because nobody told us how to maintain our “village atmosphere”.

Afterword: Kudo’s to Bill Bassett for doing a great job of MC’ing the affair. He was large and in charge! And I agree with Kathy and Mark that Springdale will be in good hands no matter what. (Although the differences in the way these “good hands” will lead us is significant.)

Both Mayor Cluff and Council Member Excell are turning over the tiller of our little ship of state to someone else. We owe both of them a sincere “Thank You” for the years of service and a proud record of accomplishment. Springdale is a better place because they have been in our corner.

But maybe I’ve got it all wrong. What do you think?

Dan Mabbutt – 17 July 2013

This entry was posted in ZiCC Government and Administration on by .

About Dan Mabbutt

I was introduced to Zion Canyon as a teenager working for Utah Parks Company at Zion Lodge. (See my Zion Park Centennial writing contest winning essays "Zion Lodge Stories" here under "About ZiCC".) I bought land here as soon as I could and moved here after a career misspent in corporate data processing. Springdale and the Zion Canyon Community is special and this website is my contribution to the strength and unity of the community.

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