EVANSTON — Six of the eight candidates vying for the one open seat on the Uinta County Commission attended a candidate forum hosted by the Evanston Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, July 8, at the Evanston Roundhouse. All eight of the candidates are Republicans, meaning the primary election held on Aug. 18 will be the determining factor in who steps into the seat being vacated by long-term commissioner Craig Welling.
The two candidates who opted not to attend the forum were S. Clark Anderson of Lonetree and Evanston’s Chris Katzl. Chamber Director Tammy Halliday read statements from the two not in attendance to open the forum. Katzl’s statement said she opted not to attend due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic and individuals she knew who had been personally impacted. Due to that situation, brought on by the “recklessness of others,” she said she could not “in good conscience” attend a public forum. Katzl said if elected she would focus on economic development for the county, saying the county needs new vision and new direction to spur on such development. She encouraged people to reach out to her via Facebook to ask questions about her candidacy, experience and goals.
Clark Anderson said he had looked forward to attending so he could look into the faces of voters and vice versa but said that opportunity had been “denied us with the face coverings involved.” He said anybody who had true fear of infection would have stayed home and not attended the forum. Anderson’s letter continued by saying the job of a commissioner is to protect county revenue and that recent visits with county officials had made clear public services were going to be negatively impacted by the economic downturn related to public health closures. He said, as is the case with individuals, the time for irresponsible spending has passed. “My intention is to keep government small and opportunity big,” he said, before encouraging people to visit his website for more information.
Attention then turned to the three questions posed to all candidates who attended the forum, including Jerry Carroll, Jesse Lind, former commissioner Wendell Fraughton, Brent Hatch, Charles Anderson and Wade Lowry. All of the candidates agreed throughout the forum that the next several years will be challenging for the county because of decreased revenues and agreed on the need for economic development to bring in new revenues.
The first question posed by Halliday asked about each candidate’s plan to improve the county and what actions would be taken to implement that plan.
Carroll said his actions would include being an advocate for the county, relying on teamwork of county staff and volunteers, fiscal responsibility and cooperation with municipalities and outside agencies. He said it’s critical not only to bring in new businesses but also help strengthen existing businesses and to have a variety of different industries and multiple types of businesses.
Lind emphasized fiscal responsibility and stressed the importance of getting into a position where monies were again being deposited into reserve accounts instead of being taken out of reserves to meet budgets. Lind said he would focus on cutting wasteful spending, economic diversification and returning industry to the county and then on building up the county’s infrastructure.
Fraughton said his primary goal would be to keep essential services provided to the people of the county intact, which he believes will be very difficult under the current financial situation. Fraughton said he has served on the commission before under challenging economic circumstances and has experience in navigating such situations to protect county services.
Hatch began by recognizing the entire county is struggling financially and said he would begin by looking for inefficiencies and ways to save money by improving efficiency. He too then referenced the need for economic diversification and encouraging growth throughout the county, which he said has been a goal of the county’s Economic Development Commission, which he chairs. Hatch said the work of the commission recently has focused on developing a website that could serve as a “dating service, if you will” to allow companies looking to relocate to check out the area, make contacts and hopefully entice new business.
Charles Anderson said he wants to focus on protecting the people already in the county in their individual lives, including having businesses that provide services and products to current county residents. He stressed the importance of having good jobs available to allow people, and particularly young people, to stay in the county instead of being forced to relocate to find work.
Lowry said he would focus on listening to the people living here because there are great minds and good ideas to be found when someone takes the time to listen to them. He said it may be necessary to compromise and to make sacrifices to find agreement on paths forward. “It’s no secret we’re in a recession,” he said. “We have to rein ourselves in.” Lowry also stressed the need to take care of existing infrastructure.
The second question posed by Halliday dealt with how the candidates would handle the economic downturn and prepare the county for its financial future. All candidates again emphasized economic diversification and the need for good jobs, as well as the necessity of working with county department heads with insight and experience to spend money wisely and make targeted reductions.
Carroll said it will be important to talk with citizens to determine how the public wants money spent. Lind said his goal would never be to cut employees but focus on cutting wasteful spending. Fraughton said he couldn’t say for certain what he would do without having the actual numbers in front of him because making such claims without all the information would be “a lie.”
Hatch stressed the importance of encouraging local shopping to keep revenues and tax dollars in the community, as well as the availability of federal and state programs to help local businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic and the possibility of working with schools to develop expanded trade certificate programs. “We’re going to have to see if we can do more with less,” said Hatch.
Charles Anderson again emphasized the need for jobs so people can stay in the community and the need to provide services or a way to “give back” to the community after the people in it have given more. Lowry said the next several years will be challenging and said now is not the time to raise taxes. “Capitalism is our number one asset,” he said, adding that making sure dollars stay in individual pockets can allow businesses to expand, retain employees and more.
The final question, as with the previous forum for Evanston and Bear River candidates, was a fill in the blank. “A county commissioner should be doing…”
Carroll had a multi-part answer, saying “using tax money wisely, advocating for the county and working together with municipalities and volunteers.” Lind’s response also emphasized spending money wisely, as well as working on economic development, being available to the citizens to answer questions and listen, and promoting teamwork.
Fraughton said a commissioner should listen to the citizens of the county and the county employees, as well as utilizing money wisely. Hatch said a commissioner should be serving the whole county, listening to citizens and being visible in the county by promoting and attending local events.
Charles Anderson again emphasized making sure the citizens are protected and that money is going “where it belongs.” Lowry said a commissioner should be serving and leading. “I don’t want to be a politician. I want to be a leader,” he said, adding that the county needs to be working together with all municipalities to make progress and a leader works to ensure the “legitimate needs” of the people are met.
Although the primary election does not take place until Aug. 18, early and absentee voting has already begun and ballots are already available by contacting the Uinta County Clerk’s Office.