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Southern Utah News Front Page: July 22, 2021

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Future growth a major topic at Election Forum

Kanab Chamber of Commerce hosted the first Mayoral Candidate forum on Monday, July 19, 2021. Mayor candidates are seated from left to right: Colten Johnson, Hal Johnson, Sindi Vetere and Jeff Yates. Matt Brown (far left) moderates the discussion amongst the candidates. Photo by Neal Brown.

By Neal Brown

On Monday, July 19, the Kanab Chamber of Commerce hosted the mayoral and city council election forum, which started with an introduction of the city council candidates. 

Candidates April Crofts, Chris Heaton and Scott Colson (Judy Woolley was not in attendance), first introduced themselves and spoke about why they decided to run. 

Crofts said she was focused on preserving small town Kanab and supporting the current small businesses in town and that she was against allowing big box retailers to come in. She knows the benefits of community involvement and felt like she needed to put her hat in the rink to help serve the residents of Kanab. 

Heaton followed by praising the political process allowing citizens to step up by serving their communities. He mentioned he’s been on the Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) for the past four years, and is focused on responsibly managing the inevitable growth Kanab is experiencing. 

Colson concluded the city council candidates by stating an appreciation for all those who are willing to put themselves out there by running for public office. His leadership style is making decisions with the best information possible, but being humble enough to admit when you’re wrong. He’s served on the P&Z for the past three years and has learned a lot and wants to take that knowledge to serve on the city council. 

The candidates for mayor introduced themselves to start the mayoral portion of the forum. 

Candidate Colten Johnson was born and raised in Kanab following a tradition of eight generations. He said, “The reason I’m running for mayor is to be a voice for young families, and to preserve the values I grew up with.”

Hal Johnson was born and raised in Kanab, raised his family in Utah county, and moved back to the area nine months ago. He said, “I am thrilled to be back home, and I want to keep Kanab … Kanab.” 

Sindi Vetere grew up in Kanab as well, but moved away while serving in the National Guard. She commented, “I’m not a politician, but I like to serve and improve our community.” 

Jeff Yates moved to Kanab 25 years ago, and is grateful to be able to raise his kids in Kanab. He was on the Planning & Zoning Commission for two years before being elected to the city council for the past six years. He stated, “Kanab needs to focus on being great at the basics; although it’s not flashy, I believe it’s the proper role of government.”

Matt Brown moderated the forum by asking a mix of individual questions directed to each candidate, as well as questions that all candidates could answer. The first question directed to all candidates was: What are your plans to improve the housing situation in Kanab? 

Yates answered with, “That’s the million-dollar question.” He said it starts with the planning & zoning committee, and proper planning will help us manage the growth better. “Sales tax has grown 16 percent over the past year compared to six percent growth the prior year,” Yates stated. “So the growth is coming and it’s going to be a struggle to manage it properly.” 

Hal Johnson commented next saying he didn’t want to  break any eggshells, but vacation rentals were throwing things out of balance, driving up rental costs and property taxes. He doesn’t want to take away individual rights, but the large number of vacation rentals is making affordable housing limited. He said, “We need to get more input from community members and have an honest and frank discussion, admit there is a problem and find solutions to the problem.” 

Vetere echoed Hal’s response about it being a vacation rental problem, but didn’t think government sponsored housing was the answer. She said, “There should be limits on sizes and we need to do a better job at living within our means.” 

Colten Johnson said diversifying Kanab’s economy would assist in sorting out the housing problem, stating,  “A reliance on tourism is good, but it makes the job and housing market one-dimensional. Jobs that could provide an income for young families would balance out the housing problem, and those kids would then be able to fill the shortage of jobs.” 

Yates disagreed with Hal Johnson that more committees and bureaucracy wasn’t the answer. He argued that the P&Z is already formed to make informed decisions regarding property. He said, “We don’t want to micro mange people’s property.”

Hal retorted, “Yes, but the status quo needs to be addressed.”  

The second question addressed to all candidates was: How would you best handle the water situation in Kanab? 

Colten Johnson said he would like to have a better avenue of getting the correct information about water usage in the area. He stated, “If we don’t have the right information, it’s hard to make informed decisions.” 

Hal Johnson admitted he didn’t know a lot about the water situation in Kanab.

Vetere commented on the differences between irrigation water rights and culinary water. She was concerned about the growth Kanab is facing, and how that will affect culinary water usage, while mentioning the irrigation water being used for the proposed golf course. One idea she proposed was finding new crops instead of alfalfa that could be beneficial and require less water. 

Yates offered, “One thing I heard when I first moved here was that whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.” He said he didn’t believe it until recently. As a current city council member, he said Kanab just finished a five million-dollar project to replace the current water tanks that were from the 1970s. Kanab currently has enough culinary water and the wells are at similar levels as the last two years,so he’s not alarmed. 

When asked what three top issues face Kanab, Yates answered with, “Growth, infrastructure and public safety. Increased growth requires increased fire, police and emergency medical services, and I want to make sure Kanab has those needs met.” 

Vetere said water is a huge issue, and that too much government is interfering with personal liberties. “We should have more volunteer and community service and less taxes,” she stated.

Hal Johnson focused on the unrestrained growth, suggesting we should be more strategic about how to manage it. He mentioned how housing and employment are major issues and we need a serious assessment, not a patchwork of decisions. He concluded that we want to make Kanab a place that we can be proud to pass on to our kids.  

Colten Johnson concluded by stating we need responsible growth, and would like to keep Kanab with the heritage and family values he grew up with. He said he would like to focus on parks and recreation and the youth as the center of the community. 

One problem no one seemed to have an answer to was how to properly manage the growth Kanab is experiencing. 

To close the meeting, each candidate had a chance to give final remarks.

Yates said he’s been involved with the city for a long time, and that the  city’s main responsibility is to properly spend taxpayers’ money. If elected, he said we can be better at the basic things, such as roads, water systems and public safety. He stated that as Kanab grows, we need to grow into a big boy city by providing the basic services at a professional level. “We need to have a reliable water system. The sewer system needs to be reliable, and we need to have trained staff to maintain these services,” he concluded. 

Vetere said she thinks the culture of government needs to change.  We need to go back to the cowboy legacy of taking responsibility for ourselves. She finished by posing the question: What legacy do we have that we can evolve from, while keeping a safe community? 

Hal Johnson concluded his remarks saying he was grateful for the Chamber of Commerce for hosting the event, and that he wants to keep Kanab, Kanab. He stated, “We need to protect the quality of life and maintain a healthy tourism industry. If elected, I will address the housing issues and will be highly accessible to residents for comments, questions and concerns.” He also mentioned remote work in Kanab will expand our economy without the need to build new infrastructure. 

Colten Johnson closed by saying he is a quick learner and a good listener. He knows how to make good decisions, and cares deeply about Kanab’s growth. He mentioned the importance of not losing the values and heritage that make Kanab a great place to live. He said he’s running so he can serve and give back to those that gave so much to him while growing up. 

The primary election will be held August 10, 2021, with mail-in ballots being sent out prior to that date. We encourage everyone to get out and vote. 

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