Interest is high in filling upcoming vacancies in the Moab city government. As of press time, nine candidates have registered their intent to run for office in the 2017 election, enough to ensure a primary election in August.
Moab City Recorder Rachel Stenta said that it has been awhile since Moab has seen this many candidates.
“It’s good for the community that there is so much interest,” Stenta said.
Stenta said that the primary election on August 15 will be conducted by mail and run by the county, as per directive from the Utah State Lt. Governor’s office. She said that the city had already planned to do a mail-in vote, but that with Rep. Jason Chaffetz’ decision to step down, there now has to be a statewide primary election.
“We actually found this out last week,” she said. “We’ve been in a little bit of a state of flux with the Lt. Governor.”
Four people have announced their candidacy for mayor. David Olsen, Emily Niehaus, Gerald Roy Reed and Patrick Trim are all vying for the seat that has been held by Dave Sakrison for four consecutive terms.
Five people have registered to run for two at-large city council seats being vacated by Kyle Bailey, who has served five terms since 1997, and Heila Ershadi who was elected in 2013. Georgia Russell, Brian R. Ballard, Cassie Patterson, Karen Guzman-Newton and Mike Duncan will all compete in the primary election in which the field will be narrowed to four candidates.
Common themes among candidates are protecting the quality of life for residents, solving affordable housing issues, and diversifying the economy.
Gerald Roy Reed said that the biggest thing he would like to achieve as mayor is community unity, and that goodwill and change are needed to restore the community’s trust in local government.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t be running for office if there wasn’t a need,” Reed said. “I’m needed. I’ve got the strong will to make tough decisions, the initiative to get things done, wisdom to question and dig into a situation deeper, and I know people.”
Reed said that the housing crisis was at the top of his list of concerns, and that Moab has been “tourist first” for too long.
“The tourism industry has gotten out of hand, which has also compounded the traffic and other problems,” he said. “Living costs for the average Moabite need a nudge in the right direction and that is going to be the key to really improving things around here.”
Emily Niehaus brings her experience with affordable housing to the table as founding director for the non-profit Community Rebuilds. Niehaus, who has a master’s degree in sociology, and has worked as a State of Utah caseworker, loan officer, and bookkeeper, said that the biggest challenge facing Moab is defining a vision.
“My vision is centered around the resident,” Niehaus said. “If we who live and work in Moab have our needs met and are thriving, then any industry seated in Moab will thrive.”
Niehaus said she would like to oversee focus groups designed to address specific problems such as affordable housing, traffic bypass, and city infrastructure.
“I think I’m a really good leader and I’m thrilled to be of service for a community I love,” she said.
David Olsen, whose controversial termination in 2015 ended a 25-year career with Moab City, said he was eager to get back in the swing of things.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about this — it certainly wouldn’t make my life any easier,” Olsen said. “But I love this community, I love my friends at the city, and I want to be of service.”
Olsen has a master’s degree in public administration, and a long list of completed projects from his tenure with Moab City that include extensive trails, parks and walkways, infrastructure improvements, and grant work toward affordable housing.
“Being able to get projects done is something I have a good track record with,” Olsen said.
Moab City sports and recreation director Patrick Trim is also throwing his hat in the ring for mayor.
A former special education teacher in the Grand County School District, and physical education instructor at the Moab charter school, Trim said that his experiences have dealt heavily with community involvement and outreach.
“As with anything, I believe my duty as mayor will be to achieve balance,” Trim said. “Balance in the allocation of our resources. Balance in providing amenities for our tourist-based economy, while maintaining quality of life for locals and their families. My excitement for what Moab is and can become is great.”
On the city council front, Georgia Russell said that she decided to run on a whim.
“I want to be part of the solution,” she said.
A registered nurse with 32 years at Allen Memorial and Moab Regional Hospital, Russell is concerned about Moab’s single-focus tourism economy.
“My big concern is all the nightly rentals,” Russell said. “We’re losing that neighborhood feel.”
Russell said that hotel growth is making huge demands on local infrastructure, and that the town needs to look toward attracting some light industry.
“Moab is acting like a kid in a candy store: they see other small cities and take what tastes good without researching consequences,” she said.
Cassie Patterson also believes that Moab needs to diversify its economy and that the city needs to continue to invest in infrastructure.
“I believe that supporting the growth of new industries in the city will net a lot of value for our community long-term,” Patterson said. “I am in strong support of joint County/City efforts to resource an economic development initiative.”
A mother of two, Patterson said she is concerned with the culture at city hall and the lack of quality representation.
“The city is in need of good representation in a bad way,” Patterson said. “I shoot straight and I love challenges. If I’m elected, I won’t rest until I’ve made a difference.”
Karen Guzman-Newton co-owns Poison Spider Bicycles with her husband and touts her strong business background owning and operating a nightly rental, and promoting an annual road bike event.
Guzman-Newton said that the rapid rate of growth is the biggest challenge facing the community, and she cites a shortage of employee housing and traffic congestion during peak periods as two things she would like to address.
“Growth is inevitable and should be welcomed, but it needs to be done with thoughtful consideration of the residents that live here,” Guzman-Newton said. “And sometimes it’s okay to say, no.”
Guzman-Newton said she would also like to help residents arrive at a unified vision for what they want Moab and Grand County to represent.
“I am looking forward to meeting with residents and hearing their concerns and ideas for Moab’s future,” she said.
Brian Ballard has worked as a police officer, a builder and a farmer. He sees the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol on Moab’s children as one of the greatest challenges which he said can be addressed through law enforcement.
“Our children also need an opportunity to see Moab as their home — filled with opportunity through education, training and a strong, stable economy,” Ballard said.
Ballard said that another major challenge is the rapid growth of tourism.
“The world wants to come and see the beautiful landscape we have here,” he said. “We need to make sure that we have an infrastructure that can support the numbers of people who are visiting, without sacrificing the quality of life of the people who live here.”
Mike Duncan could not be reached for comment.
Norm Knapp joined the field of mayoral candidates after the Moab Sun News went to press on Wednesday. The filing period for candidates is now closed.
Protecting the quality of life for residents a major theme