Local candidates talk issues at Civics on Center forum
by Steve Kadel
contributing writer
Oct 18, 2012 | 1908 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Candidates for Grand County Council debated the merits of energy development for economic benefit and the need to keep a healthy environment Monday during a roundtable discussion.

About 60 people attended the Civics on Center event in the Moab City Council chambers. The event was sponsored by The Times-Independent, KZMU community radio and KCYN. The event also included candidates for the Grand County Board of Education, along with a discussion of the pros and cons of Ballot Proposition Initiative 1, which seeks to create a study committee to study possibly changing Grand County’s form of government.

Kalen Jones, who is running against Rory Paxman in county council District 5, said it is possible to allow new energy development and still protect the aquifer.

“Those are compatible with proper management,” he said. “There are laws on the books that regulate these things.”

Energy development and mineral extraction must be a gradual, long-term process to help the community and avoid a boom-and-bust cycle, Jones said.

“Let’s benefit from it while preserving our water and air,” he said.

Jones mentioned other goals, such as more affordable housing and a good working relationship between the county and developers.

Paxman emphasized the need to diversify Grand County’s economy.

“We can no longer depend on our visitors,” he said. “We need to look for something besides tourism. I am pro-drilling and looking for other industries.”

Expanding the economic base would provide jobs that allow local children to stay in the area, Paxman added.

In addition to supporting mineral extraction, Paxman said he also is “very much pro-tourism” and supports policies that respect the environment.

Ken Ballantyne, a candidate in council District 2, said he doesn’t support all of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s effort to put some federal lands under state management. However, he said there are a few places in the valley where it could work and would help the local tax base.

In response to a question, Ballantyne said he doesn’t believe the county should take over Moab Regional Hospital should the facility’s financial situation worsen. “The hospital is doing better (financially) than in May,” he said.

Joe Downard, who is running against Ballantyne, did not attend the forum.

Elizabeth Tubbs, running unopposed for county council, said diversifying the county’s economy is important. A stronger tax base and more affordable housing also are needed, she said.

Tubbs added that elected officials must maintain governmental transparency and get the community more involved in local issues. She noted that current council members have not been guilty of hiding decisions from the public.

Lynn Jackson, also running unopposed for a county council seat, said developing mineral resources would provide good-paying jobs. He called tourism “a great industry” but said there must be other options.

During an opportunity for audience members to ask questions, Moab resident Mike Duncan spoke about extensive energy development in New Mexico, saying that when gas wells were depleted it left the landscape unsuitable for tourism. Jackson responded that Grand County won’t ever have a top-heavy energy development program.

“We have just a little bit of that stuff on a comparative basis,” he said.

Jackson said he will vote independently as a council member and will make the reasons for his decisions clear. “You may not agree, but you will know where I’m coming from,” he said.

Board of Education

Candidates in three school board races outlined their philosophies during the evening.

Charles Jacobs and Jim Webster are running against one another in school District 3. Jacobs said he wants to improve academic standards by “better teaching and possibly better staff.” He supports preserving athletics and clubs, but said different ways must be found to fund them.

Jacobs said the school district is spending “large sums of money” and should rethink that policy in light of potential future cuts to state education funding. He said more study is needed before making the commitment to build a new middle school.

Webster said significant progress has been made during his eight years on the board. He said he is generally pleased with the district’s academic level, particularly in language arts, although students’ math abilities need to improve.

Webster called public education “a bedrock of society,” noting that it gets more than half of all funding the Utah Legislature appropriates. That shows the value of education, he said.

Peggy Nissen, who is running against Jeanette Koppel in school District 5, emphasized the need to spend tax dollars wisely. It’s important for the community to understand how and why money is being spent, she said.

She believes the cost for renovating the middle school versus the price of building a new one should be weighed before moving ahead. “We need to look 10 years down the road,” Nissen said.

Raising academic achievement is a top priority, she added. “Public education is critical for a democracy,” Nissen said.

Like others, Koppel said math scores must improve.

She views school as critically important for children, and said available funding should be spent to benefit them rather than constructing large buildings. Despite that, Koppel acknowledged the need to maintain facilities.

Students in early grades should get particularly close attention, Koppel said.

She believes parents and teachers must inspire children to want to go to school every day.

“Education is the number one priority for my kids,” Koppel said.

Melissa Byrd’s opponent in school District 2, Stacey Downard, did not attend the forum. Byrd said she wants to improve the nutrition of school lunches. Many students bring their lunch because they’re not satisfied with school lunches, she said.

Byrd also wants to maintain low class sizes so each child gets individualized attention.

Overall, she said, education should be the community’s top priority. Education can help lower the teen pregnancy rate, lead to good jobs, and help students appreciate cultural diversity, Byrd said.

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