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East Zion project discussion dominates Chamber of Commerce Election Forum

[CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article reversed which candidates were running for which commission seats, and has been corrected.]

The Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Southern Utah News, hosted an election forum for the Kane County Commissioner races and the Kane County School Board race last Thursday night, October 6. Mary Beth Koontz was the moderator and took turns asking questions of each candidate.

“We expected a turnout, but this turnout really turned out,” exclaimed Don Jennings, member of the Kanab Chamber of Commerce. “Awesome attendance from the people of Kane County.” Photo by Ty Gant.

Andy Gant and Patty Kubeja are running for Commission Seat A, while Camille Johnson, Celeste Meyers and Pat Horning are running for Commission Seat B. Patty Kubeja was not in attendance at the forum. School Board members in attendance were Brian Goulding and Jared Brinkerhoff, running for District #5 seat, and Mark Grow and Loral Linton running for the District #4 seat.

Write-in candidate for the Kane County Clerk position Chameill Lamb introduced herself first to start the forum off, and she is the only candidate for this position. The forum moved to introductions of all the candidates with current Commissioner Gant stating why he is running, saying he’s lived in the county for 30 years, primarily running small businesses. He went on to say he loves working and meeting people and does most of the legislative work for the county and primarily focused on land use for the county as well as helping the county become fiscally sound, compared to when he took office four years.

Horning introduced himself stating he has served the county for 20 years as an emergency medical provider, fireman and fire chief in Big Water. He said his life has been dedicated to helping others and he has no business interests in the county, stating he will be available always to his constituents. He wants to offer a fresh and honest approach to county government.

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Johnson introduced herself as the current Kane County Tourism Director. In that position, she’s had a front row seat to the different aspects of the commission roles working directly with them and has learned a lot. She feels she has given her heart and soul to the county as the Tourism Director and now feels it is time to do it as the commissioner.

Meyeres then introduced herself, thanking the community of Kanab for welcoming her almost seventeen years ago as she moved to Kanab from Oregon. She was the Planning and Zoning committee chair and then moved onto becoming a City Council member. She said she’s been a republican as long as she can remember, and in 2021 became the Kane County Republican Party Chair, and mentioned that she won the popular vote in the primary election which is how she earned a placed on the upcoming ballot. She said she believes her connections, experience and knowledge to work as a county commissioner. She plans to leverage those things on behalf of Kane County.

The first question was asked to Gant: what experience and education qualifies you to serve as a county commissioner? He answered by saying he started his public service by being elected on the Garkane Energy Board of Directors, while also serving on the Deseret Power Board of Directors. He said he’s learned a lot about business management on those boards, as well as through owning personal businesses himself, and most importantly, serving as a Kane County Commissioner the previous four years has opened his eyes a lot to what it takes to operate a county. He was appointed as a monument advisory committee member to help with public lands along with road access and land use and is uniquely positioned to continue to help Kane County with those issues.

Pat Horning had education through business school for a few years and served in the National Park Service for 28 years, a lot of those years at the Grand Canyon. He also ran the facilities for the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. He stated he also managed millions of dollars in solar projects, while also reducing the $115 million-dollar maintenance expense by 60 percent.

Johnson spoke about her education stating she was a Kanab High School graduate and went to Weber State University graduating with a degree in Communications, with an emphasis in Broadcast Journalism. She went into finance, which has helped her throughout her career tremendously. She moved home to Kanab and became the Tourism Director, and she’s seen an increase in two hundred tourism related jobs in Kane County and increased revenue from just under $2 million, to $5 million. She stated she knows how to get grants and increase revenues for the county, which is valuable education. She has served on a lot of local boards and is very service oriented, and willing to give up a good career as the tourism director for a chance to serve the county as a commissioner.

Meyeres replied to the question of what qualifies her to be a successful commissioner stating that her and her husband run two businesses together: a bed-and-breakfast and selling her hand knit scarves, which allows her the free time to be a politician. Along with sitting on many boards, she’s been on the city council for the past four years, handling budgets, ordinances and contracts for the city. The difference between city council and commissioner is that commissioners are a little more executive and legislative, working with state and federal legislatures. She said her education is a great fit for her experience working with local legislators. She also donates her stipend she gets from city council to local care and share, and other organizations to improve the community. She also was the president of local non-profit in Oregon, where she lived before coming to Kanab.

Another topic asked of the candidates was to provide a plan to diversify the economy of Kane County. Camille started by saying, that she wants to facilitate economic diversity in the county, by trying to get grants for downtown beautification, and to create new businesses through facilitating investment opportunities from the investor to the owner.

Meyeres answered the question by stating that 94 percent of the county is not privately owned, so it means only six percent is up for private investment and with tourism being the main part of the economy. That 47 percent of the TRT tax revenue must be spent on marketing for the county to bring more tourism. She mentioned that she would like to work with legislators to lobby different ways to use that TRT tax, where the people have more say in how to use those funds.

Johnson corrected some of those TRT uses, saying some of those funds go to the operating budget, and that the dollars spent out of the area are only for co-op directed funds.

Gant answered by saying he has worked to diversify the economy, and that we need to support and keep tourism alive for Kane County, but his focus is on protecting what we have. His immediate focus right now is to protect what we have before we grow too much.

Horning said we need well-paying jobs to keep our youth here, stating that tourism jobs don’t always provide that. He would look at a community college or vocational school. He would like to change those rules on the TRT Tax money rules and create industry that doesn’t damage the reason people are coming here in the first place, and doesn’t have to be huge manufacturing, but apply tax increment financing for the benefit of the county.

The biggest question of the night was the claim from a postcard in the mail that the county is giving $97 million dollars to rich developers for the East Zion development. Meyeres started by stating she believes it’s a Tax Increment Financing project or TIF project, is where a local area can get tax deferment where that area can defer taxes to build the economy and got back to the area. She said she’s in favor of the idea, because it gives that area the ability to decide if it’s a good project for them.

Gant started by saying this postcard claiming a handout to rich developers is the biggest lie being perpetuated that he’s heard in the thirty years that he’s lived here. He stated the lies are getting crazier and crazier, and that if you don’t live in the development area of where this project is happening, which is East Zion subdivision, this will not touch your taxes period. The people that live in that area highly support the project.

Horning followed by stating that the federal government has allocated money for this purpose. He said he is in this for the people. He says we need to take care of the people we have now, and not focus on projects for the future.

Johnson closed the discussion by saying no money is going to rich developers. She has been in multiple meetings about East Zion and the potential development, and that the owners of the property have worked hard at developing it in the right way, and not just making a quick buck. They projected the revenue coming back to the county with $31 million coming back to the Kane County School District, $9.6 million going towards affordable housing projects, $26.4 million for Kane County Local Government, $18.8 million for the new visitor’s center and $27 million for county projects. This is an incredible opportunity for the county, and she said she’s in favor of it.

The school board candidates introduced themselves and were asked what they hope to see education look like in our community in five Election Forum continued from A1 years. Grow went first and stated most of his experience comes from coaching at Kanab High School and seeing the kids go through more real-world experiences, as well as seeing them have more options before they go to college. He works to give them the skills on learning how to communicate better in the real world, and to expose them to opportunities to learn these skills.

Linton went next and stated he thinks it’s important to have safe schools. Some of his ideas include installing video cameras and working with law enforcement. He also feels we need to focus on mental illness and have counselors on hand to help with these issues. We also need to get parents involved and we need to keep our local control and keep the federal government out of our schools. He will continue to strive to do what’s best for our local children and schools.

Brinkerhoff answered the question that we need more vocational and real-life experiences for our kids. He stated that around 10 percent of kids drop out of school, and of those who graduate, 53 percent go to college, leaving 47 percent that don’t go to college, and 34 percent end of graduating college. He believes in giving the students vocational opportunities and teaching them what career options are out there where college may not be the right path for every student.

Goulding stated he feels it’s turned into a ‘Valley School District’ and a ‘Kanab School District’ instead of the Kane County School District; that it’s always been about trying to share equally, but he feels like if Kanab needs something, give it to them, and if Valley needs something, or Big Water needs something, give it to them. He wants to create it more on a needs-based system. The School Board is focused on teaching the kids to do what’s best for their life.

After a few more questions, the forum closed with Koontz thanking the Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Utah News for hosting the forum, and the participants for attending.

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