Mitt Romney Announces 2018 Senate Run

On February 16, 2018, Mitt Romney announced that he is running for the Utah Senate seat being vacated by Orrin Hatch who is retiring at the end of his term. Romney posted a video announcing his campaign for the seat saying, “I am running for United States Senate to serve the people of Utah and bring Utah’s values to Washington.”

While many have viewed Romneys running a foregone conclusion, with polls showing him far and away the favored candidate, some have expressed concerns regarding the perceived inevitability of Romney winning the seat. Some criticism has even come from the Utah Republican Party Chairman, Rob Anderson. In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune Anderson stated, “I think he’s keeping out candidates that I think would be a better fit for Utah because, let’s face it, Mitt Romney doesn’t live here, his kids weren’t born here, he doesn’t shop here.” In addition to that, Anderson noted Romney’s history of criticizing President Trump.

These comments reflect the fact that Romney has a long history in the national political spotlight. His political career includes a run for the Massachusetts Senate seat that was held by Ted Kennedy, a stint as governor of that state, and two failed bids for the presidency, one of which he clinched the Republican nomination and lost to President Obama. Some have even drawn parallels between Romney and Hillary Clinton, noting similarities in their political ascendancy. Both ran for Senate seats in states where they hadn’t historically lived.

Quickly after the statements came to light, Anderson released a statement apologizing for the tone of his comments saying, “Pursuant to an article today in the Salt Lake Tribune, I regret that my comments about potential Senatorial candidate, Mitt Romney, came across as disparaging or unsupportive.” He may have faced some backlash from Romney supporters in the state. Some polls show him having a nearly 70 percent approval rating.

Chairman Anderson is not the only one criticizing Romney’s decision to run. State Auditor John Dougall said, “We need to talk about what we want out U.S. senator to be rather than talk about who it should be. As an auditor, I know that single-source bidding is no way to do business.” Dougall too notes the tense relationship between Trump and Romney and has suggested that Utah requires representatives that will work with Trump to fulfill his agenda.

Water Impact Fees to be Reduced

The councils of Colorado City Arizona and Hildale Utah have adopted resolutions to reduce water impact fees by 180 dollars. This action was in response to the court order in the case of United States of America v. Town of Colorado City, Arizona, et al., which found that the Twin Cities had illegally discriminated based on religion.

The court ordered that the Twin Cities modify their water development impact fees if an independent review found that they were too high. The review was undertaken by Alpha Engineering, based upon water usage data from 2011 to 2013, a Water Rights Purchase Analysis, and meetings with local government officials and the UEP Trust.

While the report did find that the impact fees could be lowered by $180, one glaring element is the Water Rights Purchase Analysis. According to the report, “In our meetings with the UEP, it was reported that additional water rights for the City of Hildale could be provided at no cost to the community provided the impact fee was reduced to an amount agreeable to the UEP. It was also reported that water rights could be obtained in Arizona for no cost, which the IFFP [original analysis] considered.”

Documentation provided to the review team showed that there were meetings between the UEP and city officials in 2015 but that no agreement could be reached on, what appears to be, free water rights offered by the UEP. The UEP’s only stipulations were legal assurances that those water rights would not be sold by the cities so that the benefit would go to residents in the form of lower fees.

The city of Hildale then acquired water rights elsewhere, for a price tag of $355,600.00 which increased impact fees. The report says, “From our discussions with the UEP, it is our understanding that they maintain the position that they are willing to provide the water rights needed as part of the IFFP at no cost, provided the impact fee is reduced an amount proportionate to the credit given.”

The second point in the summary of the report says, “Water rights held by the UEP may be available at no cost, but the Client has already purchased water rights which were within the limits of the costs provided in the IFFP.” According to statements made at the meeting, there were no impact fees before 2014.   

The cities will be required to undertake a new analysis within the next few years. That process will consider new data, perhaps giving a clearer picture of where the communities water needs are and may head if current trends persist. Many of the council members and the mayor expressed their desire to bring those fees down as much as possible.

 

Hildale Government Nominations and Retirements

Hildale has recently seen several city employees retire after the new city council members and Mayor took their positions in city government. Among those positions, are the City Recorder and City Treasurer, along with various other support positions. The hiring process requires a considerable degree of cooperation between both city governments due to an intergovernmental relationship that has evolved between the two cities. Many constituents who voted for the new council members and mayor for Hildale have long expressed concerns about nepotism in municipal government.

With the departure of high-level administrative positions, there was a need to fill the positions quickly and transparently. Mayor Donia Jessop organized hiring boards using a defined ranking criterion to narrow her nomination decisions to bring before the city council. The hiring board consisted of municipal officers from surrounding cities as well as current and former Hildale city officials.

In the February 13, 2018, council meeting, Mayor Donia brought a nomination before the council. Some council members had concerns about the hiring process. They requested more time to review the criteria used and an opportunity to contemplate the decision. They tabled the decision until February 15, 2018, to understand the process better.

After a lengthy executive session in the latter meeting, Mayor Donia put forth nominations for the positions of Treasurer and Recorder. Vinson Barlow was nominated to be the City Recorder. Mayor Donia cited his previous experience in various municipal capacities in the past. John Barlow was nominated to be the City Treasurer. Both nominees were confirmed by the council with Doran Jessop abstaining and Brian Jessop not present.

The nominees then came before the Colorado City Council for approval. The salaries for Hildale City employees are run through various Inter-Governmental Associations. As the cities have grown together, relying on much of the same infrastructure, they have worked very closely in nearly every aspect of governance.  

Edit: A previous version of this article stated that Colorado City subsidizes the pay of Hildale Employees. That was inaccurate. They pay for services rendered by those employees.

 

Utah Teachers May See Pay Increase

Utah teachers may see an increase in their salaries as Utah legislators deliberate on the best use for funds trimmed from state budget spending. The cuts amount to $69 million and many lawmakers favor allocating around half of those funds to teacher pay, a potential $2000 raise. On average, Utah teacher salaries ranged from $33,852 to $48,291 according to 2013-2014 data from the Utah Education Association.

Additionally, lawmakers are considering an increase in what is called the Weighted Pupil Unit—the primary funding formula for Utah’s education system. This could bring further increases, amounting to hundreds or thousands in teacher pay depending on how local school districts decide to allocate the funds.

The subject of education is at the forefront of issues this legislative session. Utah has been ranked among the lowest in the nation in the pupil to teacher ratio. Half of new teachers quit within their first five years.

Utah is last in the nation for per-pupil funding. There is also a shortage in STEM and Special Education teachers. Some believe those issues could, in part, be attributed to teacher pay. Without competitive pay, much of the talent is drawn to other more lucrative fields.

There is also a movement to bring a ballot initiative before voters in November to consider increasing sales and income taxes to pay for a $700 million a year increase in education funding. It would provide each Utah school nearly $1000 more per enrolled student.

 

Colorado City Seeks New Chief Marshal

The Colorado City Town Council voted to replace Chief Marshal Jerry Darger on February 11, 2018, Town Council meeting. Mayor Joseph Allred suggested during the meeting that, although Chief Darger has done an “overall good job” performing his duties and working to fulfill the requirements of the court injunction, he felt that the Marshals office would be better off to seek a new Chief Marshal.  

Mayor Allred cited comments from the court monitor and the police consultant that the police departments progress has been slow. He also said that there had been some negative reporting to the court regarding the police departments progress toward meeting the court’s requirements.

“I wanted to discuss this item with the council and see if maybe the time has come for us to have somebody else, maybe somebody who has more experience, who can bring the department forward,” said Mayor Allred. “I know that Jerry has done a good job within his scope and abilities.” He suggested to the council that they consider bringing in somebody from an outside police force to lead the department, someone with more leadership and managerial experience.

Some comments in defense of Chief Darger were brought forth by Hildale Councilmembers Jared Nicol and JVar Dutson. Nicol stated, “I feel like he’s doing a wonderful job. He’s shown a willingness to take the recommendations from the judge and move forward in a positive direction.”

Dutson said, “I know there was a DOJ case and there were things he was asked to do. I have only heard that he has done nothing but try to the best of his ability to bring the department up to standard. I have not heard anything negative.” City Manager David Darger suggested during the meeting that the Hildale council had expressed concern with Chief Darger’s performance.

Chief Darger was asked to comment and said, “I got into law enforcement for the community. I took on the position of Police Chief for the community. If it’s the best thing for the community, I’ll respect your decision on it.” The council replaced Chief Darger with Sam Johnson, pending a 30-day transition period and a letter of accommodation. The vote was unanimous.

Based on comments by City Manager David Darger, discussions with the police consultant led to the conclusion that none of the current members of the Colorado City Marshals office have the supervisory skills required for the Chiefs position. The council then went on to consider advertising for a Sergeant’s and a Chief Marshal position. The reasoning behind this move was to beef up the administrative side of the Marshal’s office as many of the patrol and administrative functions were mixed. Sam Johnson would retain his post as a sergeant but would be considered a patrol sergeant. The council voted unanimously to advertise for the two positions.

 

Arizona Passes Law to Address Opioid Epidemic

Governor Doug Ducey signed the first bill of the 2018 legislative session into law on January 26, 2018. The new law passed the Arizona Legislature unanimously. The Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act was designed to attack the opioid epidemic from multiple angles while preserving access for individuals that suffer from chronic pain.

According to a fact sheet on the law, 812 Arizonans have died of a suspected overdose between June 2017 and January 2018. In addition to that, 5,202 Arizonans suffered opioid overdoses and 455 babies were born to opioid-addicted mothers. There is not a single county in Arizona that has not been impacted by opioid overdoses. Mohave, Yavapai, Pinal, Pima, and Maricopa counties reported the highest reported opioid overdoses.

According to Governor Ducey’s office, the law addresses the following factors:

  • Identifying gaps in and improving access to treatment, including for uninsured or underinsured Arizonans, with a new $10 million investment;
  • Expanding access to the overdose reversal drug Naloxone for law enforcement or corrections officers currently not authorized to administer it;
  • Holding bad actors accountable by ending pill mills, increasing oversight mechanisms, and enacting criminal penalties for manufacturers who defraud the public about their products;
  • Enhancing continuing medical education for all professions that prescribe or dispense opioids;
  • Enacting a Good Samaritan law to allow people to call 911 for a potential opioid overdose;
  • Cracking down on forged prescriptions by requiring e-prescribing;
  • Requiring all pharmacists to check the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program prior to dispensing an opioid or benzodiazepine;
  • And limiting the first-fill of an opioid prescription to five days for all opioid naïve patients and limiting dosage levels to align with federal prescribing guidelines. These proposals contain important exemptions to protect chronic pain suffers, cancer, trauma or burn patients, hospice or end-of-life patients, and those receiving medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorder.

One of the most interesting aspects of the new law is the Good Samaritan provision. Oftentimes, people who witness drug overdoses are drug users themselves and may not call for help, out of fear of prosecution. This provision would encourage reporting of overdoses. Previously, Arizona was numbered among ten states that did not have a Good Samaritan Law.

 

Hildale Economic Forum

On February 1, 2018, the Uzona Chamber of Commerce (UCC) organized and held the first Hildale Economics Forum. The event featured speakers from across the region to discuss some of the challenges, opportunities, successes, and plans relating to economic growth in the Short Creek area. The discussion of Hildale’s economic future stoked a palpable sense of excitement in the room from both the attendees and the guest speakers.

Any thriving economy requires that common elements and infrastructure be in place. Education is first and foremost on that list. The first guest speaker was Washington County School District (WCSD) Superintendent Larry Bergeson. He discussed the history of the WCSD’s involvement in the area and outlined their plans to bring every benefit they can to the Hildale area.

The WCSD has already invested 10 million dollars in the Water Canyon School building, and they intend to make further investments as the need arises. Bergeson discussed plans to acquire land for future development, including gym and vocational facilities.  The WCSD is also focusing on internship and continuing education programs to help graduating students enter the workforce. This includes partnerships with local colleges and other institutions to ensure that students can see a clear path from education to the workforce and understand how to set and reach their career goals. “We’re here, and we will continue to fulfill that responsibility to educate the students here. That is indefinite. We are excited to be here! We will marshal all of our resources to take care of the needs of the children and the community here, as far as education is concerned,” said Bergeson.

Education is an ongoing process. As workers and business owners adapt to changing economic situations, there is a robust network of business and government institutions that provide a wealth of resources. Zachary Renstrom, Chairman of the Washington County Commission (WCC), discussed some of the things being done on the county level to help integrate the burgeoning workforce of the Hildale area to other areas of the region that are having trouble filling positions. He discussed plans to pave roadways to cut commute times from Hildale to Springdale which needs workers.

Tourism is another significant driver of the economy in Washington County, and he discussed the potential for Hildale in that respect. The WCC has also made a substantial investment in bringing a library branch to the community, which is now one of the most visited small branches in the Washington County Library network.

Jay Aguilar, of the Five County Association of Governments (FCAG), discussed the host of resources and support his organization provides to government, private, and non-profit partners across the region. The FCAG offers business loans for startups and business expansion, support in public transportation, elder care, home rehabilitation, and utility costs and basic needs for struggling families. They help to secure funding and facilitate collaboration across jurisdictional lines to promote economic development and sustainability. The FCAG focuses on addressing underlying community conditions to achieve that goal.

Pam Palermo, President of the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce gave some background into the history of the UCC and the Southern Utah Regional Chamber Coalition (SURCC) which she invited the UCC to join. Chambers of commerce play an essential role in organizing and advocating for business interests. Inviting the UCC to join SURCC has been a fantastic resource for the UCC. The UCC is responsible for many of the positive changes happening in the community. “We’re all about making sure that the people in our communities, and our businesses, are heard and that they succeed,” said Palermo. Many connections can be built between business, government, and individuals, on many levels, and the Chambers help develop and strengthen those bonds.

The Utah Department of Workforce Services was represented by Liz Labado and Ben Baldonado. They provide yet another layer of resources to business owners, workers, and families. There are representatives from DWS available two days a week to help residents of Hildale, and they have had a long track record of helping people seek opportunity and personal growth in Short Creek.

The final speaker of the evening was Hildale City Mayor Donia Jessop. In her first month on the job, she has been working frantically, taking care of city business and getting up to speed in her new position as mayor. She reported that she and Councilman Jared Nicol had just got back from the State Capital where they spoke with representatives across the state. Senator Orrin Hatch’s office has also contacted her. She reported that there is a lot of excitement about the direction Short Creek is taking and that people at the state and federal level are watching and eager to engage. Mayor Donia said, “I want to acknowledge the citizens of Hildale and Colorado City; it’s hard not to say those two together. They are the strongest, most hard-working, and industrious people on this planet. And with that, I would like to include Centennial Park.” She went on to say, “I want to thank Washington County on every level. The State of Utah has completely stepped up. They have our backs; they want to see us succeed. I can’t thank them enough.”

If you would like to be more closely involved with the economic happenings in the area or take advantage of the numerous resources available, consider joining the Uzona Chamber of Commerce. They offer business and individual memberships. You can contact the UCC at www.uzonachamber.org or by phone at (435) 414-1790.