The name “Doug Jones” should have been a giveaway. But as polling places closed across Alabama on Tuesday, Dec. 12, outgoing Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison was gearing up to honor a Helen M. Knight Elementary student for the last time – or so he thought.
As the mayor scanned the Moab City Council’s chambers in search of a student with the same name as a U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, HMK Principal Taryn Kay stepped forward to announce that – surprise – Sakrison himself was the actual honoree. Once her words had sunk in, Kay upgraded the mayor’s honorary title from Student of the Month to “Student of the Century.”
A contingent of former HMK Students of the Month joined her to recognize and thank Sakrison for honoring the contributions of young people in Moab. City officials, meanwhile, paid tribute not just to Sakrison, but to outgoing Moab City Council members Kyle Bailey and Heila Ershadi, as well.
“You have given so much to our community over the years,” Moab City Council member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd told Sakrison. “Every one of us is indebted to you … We have all benefited from your compassion, your thoughtfulness, your kindness and your humor, and we will do our best to carry on your legacy.”
Sakrison, who spent 10 years as a city council member, and 16 years as Moab’s mayor, thanked past and present council members he’s worked with during that time.
“I couldn’t have done it without the councils that have sat at this dais,” he said. “We’ve worked with some really, really, really great people.”
“It’s been a pleasure; it’s been an honor, and I’ve had a great time … hopefully, you all have, too,” he added. “We’ve done a lot of good for the community.”
Kay handed the mayor a pin-on HMK griffin and a personalized school jacket, along with two more symbolic gifts: a City of Moab pin and a $50 bill – a nod to Sakrison’s monthly ritual at council meetings, when he presented both items to the Students of the Month.
Ershadi and Bailey did not walk away empty-handed, either: The mayor presented them with plaques that recognize them for their service with the city.
Bailey said it’s amazing to look back on everything that’s been accomplished in the community since the uranium industry collapsed in the 1980s.
“It’s just been incredible what the councils have done, and the way the city’s progressed,” he said. “I think it would set the standard for communities that can progress – that can rebuild – after a devastating economy.”
The outgoing council member was among those who lost their jobs in the uranium industry after the Atlas Mill shut down in 1984. Moab soon lost a quarter of its population, and Bailey said that houses were selling for half the price that they’d gone for just one year earlier.
At the time, there was a feeling that the town was “kind of doomed,” he told the Moab Sun News. His uncle may have summed up the mood in the mid-1980s with his saying: “The last person in town should turn off the lights behind them.”
But Bailey stayed put and became involved in local government – first as a city planning commission member, and then as a city administrator and council member – for 31 consecutive years. He said that he and other council members, along with Sakrison and former Mayors Tom Stocks and Karla Hancock, strived over the years to rebuild people’s lives and make Moab a better place for its residents.
“This is a great community, and all of those mayors have always had the future of Moab on their minds,” he said.
Bailey has been actively involved in the development of the city’s parks and walkways, as well as the renovation of the Moab City Center. But he’s especially proud of his work with the Moab Area Partnership for Seniors, as well as his role in the construction of Moab Regional Hospital and the Canyonlands Care Center – his “pet project,” he said.
He’s also pleased to see Utah State University-Moab grow, noting that city officials envisioned the campus as not just an economic development engine, but a facility that was meant to serve students from Moab.
“Look at the community first: That’s always been my philosophy,” he said.
It’s a philosophy that Sakrison said he and other city officials share.
“Everything that’s been done has been done for the people who live here,” the mayor told the Moab Sun News. “That was one of the guiding factors.”
“Keep stepping up”
Ershadi said it has been a privilege to serve the community.
“As with many of life’s most worthwhile endeavors, it has also been very challenging at times,” she told the Moab Sun News. “But I leave office knowing that we have taken some important steps forward in the past few years with regard to housing affordability, infrastructure integrity, energy and water sustainability, the university expansion, and in many other critical areas. I am grateful to have been a part of it.”
Ershadi said she wishes Sakrison and Bailey the best, thanking them for their years of service to the community – and extending her gratitude to other council members.
“Even when we have not agreed, I have appreciated and respected your commitment, your thoughtfulness and your tenacity,” she said. “I also tip my hat to the new council members, and Moab’s new mayor. May your terms be as enjoyable as they are productive.”
Ershadi encouraged the “many caring citizens” with strong feelings about local politics to keep stepping up and give it their best shot.
“Many of you are already doing the critical work that makes this community awesome,” she said. “To others, I give the friendly advice to take the hours you’re spending on Facebook and find a board to join, or run for office. There is much to be done.”
“A bittersweet moment”
Sakrison called their departures a bittersweet moment.
“We’ve invested a lot of time and energy in this, and we’re going to miss it, to a certain extent,” the mayor said, with a playful aside:
“You can all me any time – just don’t call me for a city council meeting.”
Mayor-elect Emily Niehaus will take over from Sakrison, while Moab City Council members-elect Karen Guzman-Newton and Mike Duncan will replace Bailey and Ershadi, and Sakrison said he has full confidence in all of them.
“These guys are going to do a great job,” he said.
City officials face some challenges ahead, Sakrison said, such as land-use issues and improvements to Moab’s aging infrastructure.
“There are tough decisions you’re going to have to make, but just do what’s right for the community,” he said.
Perhaps the biggest issues will center around the development of not just Moab and Grand County, but future growth on the San Juan County side of Spanish Valley.
“This has to be a community dialogue, and I hope they can engage the community to say, ‘What do we want to be when we grow up?’” he told the Moab Sun News.
Sakrison said he’d like to see city officials and their counterparts from Grand and San Juan counties collaborate on efforts to plan for that development.
“I would hope that they would take a regional approach,” he said.
While the mayor hasn’t made any plans for the future at this point, he hopes to remain actively involved in efforts to develop USU-Moab’s new campus.
But he thinks he’s had more than his time in public office, and instead of saying “yes” to the idea of broader involvement in local government, he’s learning how to say “no.”
“That’s my big thing right now,” he told the Moab Sun News. “It hasn’t been in my vocabulary for quite a while.”
Bailey said he’ll miss the involvement with people in the community, but moving forward, he’ll still play a lower-profile role: He wanted to stay involved, so he joined the city’s Water Conservation and Drought Management Advisory Board, where he’ll be able to focus on issues such as climate change and the overallocation of water in the Colorado River Basin.
“I think that the water issues are critical,” he said. “It’s always been on my mind that we protected our water supply.”
On a broader level, Bailey is encouraged by the direction that the city is taking, especially since the addition of employees like Moab City Manager David Everitt and Moab City Police Chief Jim Winder.
“I feel very positive about the community right now, and the elected officials and the people who are in place running the city,” he said. “I think we’re on a good course for the future.”
Sakrison, Ershadi and Bailey recognized for their service to the city
It’s just been incredible what the councils have done, and the way the city’s progressed … I think it would set the standard for communities that can progress – that can rebuild – after a devastating economy.