David Olsen's first impression of Moab was shock, which would seem appropriate for the person eventually hired by the mayor to get Moab in shape.
Olsen, 29, recently returned to Moab, as many visitors do, after a first visit. But he came back a the wheel of a moving van, with an official roleand authority to wield transformative powers.The Sandy native, right out of college with a master's degree, was snapped up this spring by Moab Mayor Tom Stocks - bringing to an end a lengthy search by the city for a professional to head planning and economic development programs.
Last fall Olsen went through Moab for the first time, on a hunting trip to the LaSal Mountains. He recalls a brief side trip off the main drag and how shocked he was to find Moab wasn't the ritzy resort tourist-type place he'd expected - something along the lines of Park City or Aspen.
The beauty was there all right, in the scenery. But that was nature's doing. The town itself could use improvements, some beautification projects, Olsen remembers thinking. A little work on its appearance.
Officially, Olsen's title is planning coordinator, but the job description reads much like that of a full-fledged city planner elsewhere. In Moab, though, the Planning and Zoning Commission established early on that planning decisions were to remain their domain, while the planning coordinator would act in more of an advisory capacity.
Olsen said that's fine with him - they've done a great job so far. He said his role is to help the board maintain their expertise and to coordinate with everyone in the system so plans can get off the ground.
"My vision is about the same as the people who've set the goals," Olsen said. "I just give them something to bite into."
Besides an advanced degree in public administration from the University of Utah, Olsen has a bachelor's degree in political science from Brigham Young University. He received on-the-job training in management and planning while an intern for Draper and Sandy cities, and his resume is replete with sports and recreation-oriented accomplishments.
His portrait is one of a highly energetic and gregarious young man, with the kind of communications and leadership skills the mayor felt Moab needed in its transformation from a mining town to a major tourist destination.
Shortly after he arrived in March, Olsen's office was bustling, his word processor was whirring and his desktop was awash in paperwork. He immediately developed a list of 11 goals and objectives, ranging from researching land-use information and eliminating contradictions among ordinances to finalizing the city's master plan and rallying community support for planning projects.
He said the most challenging objective on his list is bringing city and county government together on projects., and the most critical project is developing the proposed Mill Creek pathway.
In get-acquainted meetings with employees and policy-making policymaking boards, Olsen said he found everyone receptive and cooperative.
Some adjustments may be made in salary, however. At $24,000 annually, Olsen was hired at the upper wage limit and outstrips most other administrative salaries. That stirred up critics within and outside City Hall.
The city pondered from the start how Moab could get its money's worth out of a professional planner without offering fat pay. The City Council concluded salary should be of secondary importance to applicants for the job. The No. 1 priority was that they love Moab.
"Of all the cities I would've liked to have gone to, it was Moab and Kanab," said Olsen, an avid hiker, biker and runner. "It was great to know it was Moab. I wanted to go to southern Utah."