1. Please introduce yourself. Where did you go to school, what do you do for a living and how long have you lived in Moab?
David Olsen: My name is David Olsen and I am running for mayor. I went to Jordan High School, Brigham Young University and earned my Master’s degree in Public Administration at the University of Utah. I am now the Academic Behavior Support Supervisor and custodian at the middle school, and a weekend tour guide at Arches National Park for the Moab Adventure Center. I have lived in Moab for almost 28 years.
Emily Niehaus: My name is Emily Niehaus. I followed my heart and moved to Moab in 2002 to marry my husband Chad Niehaus after graduating from Clemson University with a Master’s degree in Applied Sociology. I am a wife, mother, an affordable housing advocate and an experienced businesswoman. I am the founding director of Community Rebuilds, a locally grown affordable housing developer in Moab.
2. Describe any previous public service or community involvement.
David Olsen: I am the bicycle representative for the State of Utah Recreational Trails Advisory Committee and have served on that committee for approximately 10 years. We decide who gets Recreational Trail Program grants. I served as the Community Development Director for Moab City from March 5, 1990, to September 23, 2015. I served on the Grand County School Board for six years, as a scoutmaster/venture leader for 10 years and as a bishop for five years. I help coach the girls’ high school basketball team and have been involved in coaching kids for years.
Emily Niehaus: I enjoy volunteering and being of service to our local nonprofits like Seekhaven, the Youth Garden Project, the Multicultural Center and others making a difference in Moab. I have been involved in several community theater projects as a producer, director and an actress. And as the founder of Community Rebuilds, I volunteered my time from 2004 to 2010 to develop a program that would eventually build (by December 2017) 28 affordable housing units in 3 different communities utilizing a student education program to offset the cost of construction for participating families. Professionally, I have been a member of Moab’s Housing Task Force since its inception and a member of the Moab Area Community Land Trust.
3. What are your main concerns regarding Moab’s future, and what are your top priorities as a candidate?
David Olsen: My top priority is to improve Moab’s infrastructure. Moab’s water and sewer lines are old and many of them need replacing. A new water tank may be needed. Moab is completing master plans that will help the city plan to deal with these expensive projects. Prior to leaving the city, I had grants and loans prepared and had input from the Utah Division of Water Quality, Utah Drinking Water, USDA Rural Development and CIB personnel on how to get the best deals for the City. Everything except the sewer plant loan application was put on hold. I would like to push forward with as many projects that the city can afford, and get the best deals possible for residents.
Emily Niehaus: My main concerns for Moab’s future are a lack of affordable housing opportunities, our aging and absent infrastructure, and a lack of economic diversity. To create more affordable housing, my priority will be to connect developers with resources and work to clarify development procedure to make it easier for companies creating housing in Moab. For infrastructure development, I will support our various city departments and our partners by getting us the resources we need to further develop Moab’s gray and green infrastructure projects. And to diversify the economy, I will explore partnerships and funding opportunities that support existing and new businesses in Moab to provide residents with more employment choices.
4. How much time would you devote to the job as mayor, and how would you work to ensure transparency in government and accessibility to the public?
David Olsen: Our campaign packets state that all mayors are full-time. “They are mayors 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” I am happy to have a great boss and job that allows me the flexibility and substitutes to perform as mayor. “Team Work with Integrity” is my campaign slogan. If we honestly work as a team and give people opportunities to be involved, we can do great things and earn respect from the community.
Emily Niehaus: I want to be mayor of Moab because I am passionate about being of service to others, and right now our city needs an active and engaged professional to lead. I am committed to foster an accessible, welcoming, and respectful culture in City Hall by ensuring that staff and council have the resources and support they need to be effective in their work. And, I am committed to dedicate the time it takes to provide this needed leadership. My family and my Board of Directors at Community Rebuilds are behind me in this endeavor.
5. Just over one year ago, the city was struggling with management-, personnel- and communications-related issues. How do you think that city officials are currently dealing with these issues, and do you think that any further work needs to be done to address them?
David Olsen: It was over two years ago and after (former Moab City Manager Donna Metzler) resigned that some city leaders created those problems at a great cost. I did my best to report things that were wrong, and so did others. I wish officials would have addressed the problems earlier. The problems were mitigated when they hired Dave Everitt. I think city officials are doing a better job.
Emily Niehaus: There is no doubt we are in transition. The city hired a strong interim City Manager, David Everitt, who has provided us with the leadership needed to come together to begin to solve these issues and fill critical personnel vacancies. Everitt’s contract concludes at the end of this year, and so our city will be faced with recruiting and hiring the right leader to complete this transition and move forward to effectively manage our city.
6. The limited availability of affordable housing and workforce housing remains a perennial concern in Moab and Grand County. Is the city moving in the right direction on this issue? What can the mayor do to help city officials promote the development of more housing for people who live and work in the community?
David Olsen: As far as plans go, the city and county have moved in the right direction. The 2017 Moab Area Affordable Housing plan is fantastic and I would promote the recommendations of the Interlocal Housing Task Force’s recommendations listed on page 91 of the plan. I would also encourage more apartments to be built on top of retail stores and other buildings, and promote tiny homes to be built in the back of commercial lots that have space for them. My first priority is to help the housing authority build the proposed assisted living apartments near the hospital and try to mitigate neighborhood concerns.
Emily Niehaus: As the Founding Director of Community Rebuilds, I have addressed one slice of the affordable housing pie. As mayor, I can address the full spectrum of our housing needs and ensure that Moab is an affordable place to live and work. As mayor, I can do this work by connecting developers with critical resources and working with developers to clarify the city’s development policies and procedures. Because this is such a complex issue, our next mayor must be experienced in developing housing as well as be a creative problem solver. I see challenges as “opportunities” rather than “obstacles,” and I am ready to work hard to solve this issue.
7. Are there any issues affecting the city that should be getting more attention?
David Olsen: One concern is the amount of money that will go toward the creation of another high-paying position at the city called the Process Improvement Specialist as shown on the city’s organizational chart. Shouldn’t that be the city manager? That money, and future money could go towards essential projects to relieve the rate payers. For example, the inflated operational costs could have been used to pay off the new wastewater treatment plant, three to four years earlier. How would you feel if you worked several years for the city and all the new hire salaries start higher than you’ll get for your last retirement year? Moab is currently experiencing a boom cycle in tourism. However, a national or world event could take our community in a quick tailspin. Our future challenge may deal with the lack of growth and another bust cycle. I also have concerns with the lack of integrity; traffic and noise, and have ideas to mitigate those problems.
Emily Niehaus: We have gray and green infrastructure projects under way that need to be completed on time and (hopefully) under budget. I will do all I can to support staff and council to complete these existing projects as well as to develop a critical path for the projects next in line. This work is imperative because our infrastructure defines our safety, our culture, and our resources. But we cannot solve any issues without effectively working together. There is a lack of vision and common ground among staff, council and the citizens of Moab. My approach will be to foster an accessible, welcoming and respectful culture in City Hall as well as co-create a new vision for the City of Moab.
8. What do you do for fun, and what is one thing that most people don’t know about you?
David Olsen: I like doing things with my family, biking, motorcycle riding and hiking with my dogs. A few years ago, I re-learned how to play the trumpet and started playing a saxophone. My former bishop is now helping me do genealogy and family history work. I also like to decorate and light up my yard for Halloween and Christmas. Most people don’t know that I make really good smoothies.
Emily Niehaus: My friends know that I love getting out for hikes and rafting trips. I have paddled my SUP (stand up paddle board) down the Green River’s Desolation Canyon, the San Juan River and the Moab Daily. But not many people know how much I love roller coasters, carnivals, fireworks, corndogs and the Cincinnati Reds!
The City of Moab’s vote-by-mail general election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 7. In addition to the races for two open seats on the Moab City Council, two candidates are running for mayor: David Olsen and Emily Niehaus. Ballots for the election were scheduled to be mailed on Tuesday, Oct. 17. Voters can drop off their ballots at the Moab City Center polling place at 217 E. Center St. by Election Day, or simply return them in the mail by Nov. 7. The deadline to register to vote is Tuesday, Oct. 31, either in-person at the Grand County Clerk’s Office at 125 E. Center St. or online at vote.utah.gov. For more information, call the Moab City Recorder’s Office at 435-259-2683, or go to the city’s official election site at: www.moabcity.state.ut.us/index.aspx?NID=236.