IVINS — After a primary in September whittled eight candidates down to six, residents in Ivins now face a final decision about the three people they will choose to help determine the shape of a young city at a growth crossroads.
Among the six are a longtime resident seeking her third term, advocates against short-term rentals, a former police detective, the head of Tuacahn and a longtime public figure who helps lead the county’s trash collection efforts.
Ivins voters will pick three to fill spots on the five-person Ivins City Council in the Nov. 21 general election, with mail-in ballots arriving at homes starting this week.
A forum was held at the Kayenta Center for the Arts on Oct. 25 featuring all six candidates. St. George News also asked additional questions of the candidates separately.
To help inform voters, all of their responses are below after a summary and biography of each candidate.
Paul Bryson: Bryson has had two lives as a 39-year veteran and homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department who also helped train Delta Force members in Iraq and a 17-year career as a realtor, architect and resident of Ivins.
This is his fourth time seeking a spot on the Ivins City Council and his second election.
The first time was in October 2020 when Bryson was one of seven candidates seeking a council appointment to fill a seat vacated by Miriah Elliot. At the time, council members heaped praise on Bryson and his resume with current member and candidate Johnson making a motion to select Bryson that failed. Derek Lawson was ultimately appointed.
Bryson next missed the ballot box, when he ran in the 2021 council primary but failed to make the general election after placing last.
Last February, Bryson was one of the eight candidates for an open council position that included current candidates Gillespie and McDonald, but ultimately the council went with Murphy.
Cheyne McDonald: McDonald is seeking a return trip to the Ivins City Council after he was voted out by 47 votes in November 2021 after serving since January 2010 on the council.
The owner and operator of the Speed Lube automotive service business, which has two stores in St. George, spent much of his childhood and all of his adult life in Ivins. Before the City Council, he was part of the city’s Planning Commission.
McDonald is Ivins’ representative and chair of the Washington County Solid Waste Board. Because of that status, the council voted in February 2022 to allow McDonald to still represent the city on the Washington County Solid Waste District Board and he has continued to serve as its chairman.
McDonald made a previous attempt to return to the council last February when he was one of the eight candidates for an open council position that included current candidates Gillespie and Bryson but ultimately went to the outgoing Murphy.
Jenny Johnson: Johnson holds the distinction of being the only incumbent running in this year’s council election and also the council member with the longest residency. After living there for more than 50 years and seeing growth, from a town of a few hundred to a city of thousands, she is seeking her third term after being first elected in 2015.
Johnson spoke of her Ivins roots at a council meeting in March, holding back tears as she described what she said was people growing too worried about what other people are doing and the city imposing restrictions like the color of housing on them.
She also has expressed her Ivins origins by being a main organizer of Heritage Days since its inception. For more than 25 years, she was a volunteer certified firefighter in Ivins and is also the director of the Ivins Mini Miss pageant.
Sharon Gillespie: Gillespie is the president of the home association board at The Palisades residences. Before that, she worked in the corporate world with positions in such companies as Johnson & Johnson and Bausch & Lomb.
She has been a fixture at City Council meetings as an advocate against short-term housing and was one of the primary founders of the advocacy group Defenders of Greater Ivins. Along with Barton, she was at the plaintiff’s desk during the court hearing on the unsuccessful attempt to overturn a rezoning for The Retreat residential and commercial development in Southeast Ivins that includes short-term rentals.
She has had other local leadership roles as a co-chair for Ivins Wreaths Across America and also helped with the gathering of the Ivins General Plan Survey of residents. She is the advertising coordinator for this year’s Heritage Days and is also part of the group trying to create an Ivins Veterans Memorial.
While Gillespie has never run for public office, she did apply for the open position that was to be chosen by the City Council when Sue Gordhammer left the council in February 2022. After a hearing of eight candidates that also included current City Council candidates McDonald and Bryson, Murphy was selected to take the seat but is not running for re-election.
Kevin M. Smith: Following in the footsteps of his uncle Hyrum W. Smith, Smith is the CEO and executive producer of the Tuachan Center of the Arts. He also serves on the Utah State Board of Tourism Development, Greater Zion Tourism Advisory Board and Zions Bank Regional Advisory Board.
In 2020, Smith secured $1.9 million in CARES Act funding after appealing before the Washington County Commission and secured additional funding for the center that kept it operating while the Tuacahn Amphitheater was shuttered during the pandemic.
In 2021, the fired principal of Tuacahn High School and other officials with both the school and the Tuacahn Center of the Arts accused Smith of wrongfully terminating them – accusations that were denied by a spokesperson for the center. Tuacahn severed ties with the school and it moved to a new location in St. George as Utah Arts Academy.
The grand marshall of the 2019 Heritage Day Parade also serves on the Ivins Economic Development Committee. This is his first time running for political office.
Sharon Barton: Currently retired, Barton was previously a manager in the staffing industry for more than 20 years. She also ran an independent consultant business for 12 years.
Barton has been a co-leader of the advocacy group Defenders of Greater Ivins and her husband Michael was one of the plaintiffs in a failed lawsuit to overturn a zoning approval for The Retreat residential and commercial development in Southeast Ivins.
Along with Defenders of Greater Ivins, she has also held advocacy positions with Ivins No-Kill Animal Supporters, Ivins Night Sky Initiative, Wreaths Across America, Heritage Days and several local election campaigns. She was also a volunteer in the gathering of the Ivins General Plan Survey of residents.
Barton has resided in Ivins since 2015. This is her first time running for political office.
What follows are direct responses to questions asked during the candidate forum.
How would you suggest that we manage our water supply for current needs and also provide for substantial future development?
McDonald: I think we need to make sure we strike a balance as we do this. Sorry. I think it’s important that young families have some lawn area that they can play games on and spend time in. One of the most important things is family.
Johnson: I think it’s important to note that Ivins has been one of the top cities in the state of Utah for water conservation. And we have received awards for that. And so we have been doing a really good job of conserving what we do have. And I hope that we continue to do that.
What water conservation measures do you support and what ways would you enhance those measures?
Gillespie: We need to look at reuse water that is going to require some capital expenditures. Those are big projects that are coming down the pipe for this City Council that are going to require some very strong investigation and understanding of what’s involved. But I think reuse water is a must at some point down the road for our conservation.
Bryson: Not all homes have secondary water plumbing to them. I would like to see that to every home in the city of Ivins. Fifty percent goes to your lawns and your trees and all of the landscaping you have. We can recapture that first 50% that goes into your home if the plumbing is there.
What ways should city strategies reflect ways to reduce water consumption and discourage wasteful heavy usage?
Smith: I’m fine with having those who use more water than they should pay more. Number two, I think we need to continue those kinds of requirements that if you build a home in Ivins, you have to put that circulator pump on there so that you’re not wasting water waiting for it to get warm.
Barton: Ivins has done a wonderful job, but Ivins is just one of the cities that water is provided for by the Washington County Water Conservancy District. Recently, they put out their 20-year plan, which then we fall under. So I think that’s just a great way for us as a city to continue forward doing a good job.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Ivins in the next five to 10 years?
Smith: I think it’s growth. But I think I’m a believer in responsible growth. There’s an issue of attainable housing and if government gets in the way of growth unnecessarily, then we’re going to affect the cost of housing. I think part of that is being deliberative, being transparent, allowing citizens to come in and make comments.
Gillespie: I’m not anti-growth, but I do think we need to take a breath. We’re at a tipping point here in Ivins and it could go south very easily. As (state Rep.) Neil Walter put it, we really don’t need affordable housing, we need housing affordability.
The recent Ivins city survey showed that a majority of residents were not especially satisfied with how the city managed growth in the past five years. What policy-making changes are needed to align with residents’ interests?
Barton: I am not anti-growth, but I believe we have reached our tipping point when it comes to resort commercial business. So a policy I would like to have written is that we are not going to permit any more short-term rentals.
Johnson: I think that we — our City Council — has done a really good job about listening to the people and taking away the ability to have short-term rentals. We do have to get creative and that is something that we are going to have to really be careful of because not only do we not have the ability to bring commercial businesses in, but we don’t have a lot of commercial space.
McDonald: You still have to consider all residents of Ivins. You’re a representative for all residents. So you still have to consider that many people didn’t have an opportunity to respond to the survey. I know somebody that commented to me that the survey was biased.
Bryson: Irresponsible growth is what you’re seeing over by Harmons. Every one of those particular homes all look the same. I’d hate to be tired one night and come home and go into the wrong home. We need to have a community that is attractive as well as having responsible growth.
Smith: Three things stood out to me. We all want diversity of housing but then we’re also not for high density, so we’ve got to figure out what we really want. Secondly, we need to not have any more of the short-term rentals. That seems to be something that everybody agrees on. And the third thing is the night sky. I love to watch the stars like anyone. I will tell you though, in order for us to be successful over the long term, I think there are some areas that maybe would like a little bit more light.
For Gillespie and Barton: Would there be a conflict of interest as a councilperson if the issue of The Retreat development comes up when you have been part of a lawsuit against the city and developer?
In a file photo, (L-R) resident group leaders Sharon Gillespie and Sharon Barton listen in during a hearing on a resident lawsuit against the city of Ivins and a developer at the 5th Judicial District Courthouse, St. George, Utah, July 25, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News
Barton: Per state law, a city council or the mayor has a conflict of interest when he or she has a substantial financial interest in official action. There is no financial interest in the appeal that was filed against the city. So I don’t think it affects anyone’s ability to make good decisions.
Gillespie: Knowing that I’m running for City Council, I have backed away from my involvement so that I can represent all the residents of Ivins. If I’m elected to your City Council, regardless of what the issue is, I will follow chapter 13 of the Utah Code State of Ethics for any municipal employee, and I will recuse myself whenever it’s appropriate.
For Smith: As CEO of the Tuachan Center of the Arts, how can you convince people that you aren’t just representing the interests of Tuacahn on the council?
Smith: There’s going to be very few votes that are going to come up that are going to be in conflict. So like if Tuacahn is asking for RAP Tax (Recreation, Arts and Parks) funding, then yeah, I’d have to recuse myself. But I don’t think that’s gonna be an issue. And I actually think the same things that we would want at Tuacahn are not different than what the city of Ivins would want.
For Johnson: Some have criticized the current council for approving upzoning of residential areas to resort and commercial areas. Is there a concern that this eliminates the potential for moderate-income housing?
Johnson: That is not my decision to completely make. I’m one vote on a council of five. So just because I’m for it or just because I’m against it doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen. You have to balance the rights of the property owner and what they want to do with their property. Just because we need something doesn’t mean that they are willing to build that.
For Bryson: As a former police detective, what can be done to improve local law enforcement?
Bryson: I would look at expanding the Police Department in a non-monetary way. Most police agencies actually have reserve officers who come in and work part-time. I know that there are at least 80 retired law enforcement officers who can work as reserve officers. And some of those officers actually work part-time for some other agencies, while we here in Ivins don’t have reserve officers.
For McDonald: There hasn’t been a property tax increase in 20 years. Is it possible to meet the growing fiscal needs of the city without one?
McDonald: I think that one of the things that’s going to help save our budget is our secondary water system that’s slated to eventually come online. The other thing is that we need to be careful of raising property taxes. With Washington County Solid Waste, I was actually quite surprised at how much backlash we received about that $2.35. So I think that the city needs to make sure that it cuts out any of the fluff before even entertaining the idea of raising property taxes because no matter what, it won’t be popular. It’s not gonna be popular if you remove something; it’s not gonna be popular if you add taxes.
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