clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Mayor's race proves hockey's not only fight scene in W.V.

The E Center isn't the only place a few jabs are being thrown in West Valley City.

The two men vying for mayor - F. Kenneth Olafson and incumbent Gearld Wright - are beginning to get under each other's skin, trading barbs about integrity and mud-slinging.

Olafson says Wright deceived residents about financing of several city projects, accepted a bribe when he took a ring from the Utah Grizzlies and has been derelict in getting 5600 West improved.

Wright calls the charges nonsense, accusing Olafson of driving the campaign into the mud, throwing out courtesy and reasonable debate, and squawking about city projects without offering his own action plan for improving West Valley City's quality of life.

Hockey sticks, anyone?

The war of words aside, there are real differences in approach on specific issues between the two candidates (see chart). Olafson disapproves light rail, while Wright wants to make sure residents benefit from the system.

Wright thinks the city's most pressing problem is handling traffic, while Olafson says it's the need to adopt a form of government that makes the mayor more responsible for the city's management.

The candidates are aligned, however, in their views that the city needs to counter gang problems, which have marred the city's reputation more than anything else.

Olafson suggests a no-nonsense approach: "Gang violence will not be tolerated. If gang members want to be productive, law-abiding, great, I don't care if they're in a gang," he said. "But if they are going to be violent and socially destructive, we should consider them a threat to our city and target them for extinction."Wright said the city is trying "pre-emptive work" to give kids alternatives to gangs.

"We've strengthened our recreation areas, in getting new parks. We have gotten the West Valley Symphony, and have more youth involved in that than any other symphony in the state," Wright said. "We're trying to provide opportunities for a lot of young people in a lot of areas, whatever their interests are."

Both Olafson and Wright want to use the office as a bully pulpit.

Wright believes it takes a community to create a community: He wants to get more people, particularly ethnic groups, involved in local organizations, boards and advisory committees.

Overall, Wright thinks West Valley City, which now has about 105,000 residents, is doing a good job managing its growth.

"Growth has just about eaten many cities up, but we feel we've been able to maintain a pretty good balance between residential and commercial development. We've tried hard to keep that balance so we've become a more viable city," Wright said.

Olafson would use the mayor's office to advocate neighborhood watch programs, participating in citywide cleanup days, improving major thoroughfares and cracking down on violent offenders.

"I would like to encourage nonprofit sector organizations to build a family protection shelter in West Valley City. Salt Lake City has one, I believe there is one started in South Jordan and as the second-largest city, I believe there is a need for one in West Valley City," he said.

Olafson said he would preside over a lean, efficient city that provides quality programs for residents. "No tax increases, no fee increases, no wasteful city programs and projects," he said.


West Valley City mayor

What do you propose that West Valley City do to create a "center"?

GEARLD WRITER: We do have two parts of the city center, around the E Center and the mall. We have to put them together as a unit with transportation between them. That could be with buses, a train, walking paths or bicycles. It should be whatever provides the greatest ease. There is a possibility with buses, but I am concerned about the impact on air quality. Some sort of train might carry the most people the fastest and with less pollution, but I haven't figured out how to do either without interfering with traffic.

F. KENNETH OLAFSON: One reason people moved to West Valley City is because they didn't want to be part of a city center. Now they've made the transition that they want to have a center. If it involves light rail or tax money, I do not approve of it. I don't believe in imposing a city center with taxpayers' dollars. If the city does the planning and then lets the free market system develop the city center, I would endorse it.

How should the city finance a multipurpose recreation center at Centennial Park?

G.W.: One thing that I would like to see worked into it would be to sell memberships, maybe for a family at $300 or so a year. It would give us a jump start on getting it under way and would get people involved in and committed to the center. We also need some form of general obligation bonds.

F.K.O.: We really do need a facility like that, where kids can be doing these activities rather than being on the streets. The cheapest way to get it done is with a general obligation bond. It's a little late now to ask how to finance it. They should have taken it to the residents to start with. It's a deceitful way of doing a project.

What is the most critical growth-related problem and how would you address it?

G.W.: Transportation. You have to expand the main traffic corridors. By widening some of those main streets and giving them a greater capacity, you would relieve a lot of problems. One is 5600 West, which we have been working on for a long time to get to four lanes with a turning lane, and the Legacy Highway.

F.K.O.: We have reached the stage where to cope democratically with problems we need to go to a mayor/council form of government, where the mayor runs the city and is publicly and politically accountable to the voters. The current system, where the city manager handles all the management decisions, is inappropriate for a city of this size.

Are you for or against development of a light-rail spur to West Valley City?

G.W.: I prefer getting the studies done, seeing what the experts say and then making a decision. The light-rail system will be good if set up properly and we get the different spurs where the access will be much improved in the county. The hangup for most people is that it is going to be a backbone through the valley and people question how that is going to help us out here.

F.K.O.: I am against it. It is an antiquated, Third World transportation system. To implement the spurs they are looking at, including West Valley, they will have to increase the sales tax by 3 percent. I don't think that's feasible or that people will pay to subsidize this system to that extent.

The city's zoning administrator rejected an application for a drug rehabilitation center in the city. Is there room in the city for such social outreach programs, and where should they be located?

G.W.: I think there are places. Those programs are needed and they could be good, but the important thing is that they ought to be put more in a commercial area. Perhaps the poorest place they could put them is by a school. There is always the possibility of trading or selling property and using those funds to purchase property where this would be a perfectly good location with minimum dangers to people.

F.K.O.: I don't think they are appropriate in a school/residential area. We know we have to help people with dependencies. It is absolutely essential to bring them into the mainstream so they are productive citizens. We have room for them, and we need to have these programs ongoing. The community needs to provide an avenue for this group, by coming up with city land or some other location and work with them to find an appropriate area.

Olafson's question for Wright: Why did you not dare face the people for a vote on building and financing Centennial Park in the first place?

G.W.: A large number of people said in a Dan Jones survey the city commissioned they would pay $2 to $3 more a month for something that would increase the recreational opportunities for people. People also called city offices demanding these facilities. This was the approval that was given to go ahead with the project.

Wright's question for Olafson: Why can't campaigns be conducted on the issues and held to a high plane of courtesy and debate?

F.K.O.: Morality and integrity is an issue, and we cannot have a free, democratic government without high ideals and elected officials adhering to those ideals. Taking bribes (gifts) is unacceptable in my opinion, and that's why it's an issue. Just as Teddy Roosevelt rose up against corruption in the early 1900s, I consider it an issue today in the late 1900s.

Olafson's question for Wright: When the revenue stream for the E Center goes down due to economic conditions, where will you get the money to make up the balance?

G.W.: We have a 25-year contract with the Grizzlies, who will use 50 percent of the facility's available time. The city will receive $1.2 million on the Grizzly lease, plus $1 on each ticket sold to events, generating about $400,000 per year and parking revenues of about $400,000 per year. This should be more than adequate to cover payments.

We have had 12 other programs in the arena since it opened. As people come to value a medium-size arena where every seat has a good view of any performance you put on, scheduling events will be much easier.

Wright's question for Olafson: Since you've criticized the city for spending money on things like the E Center, the Hale Center and the Ice Sheet, how do you think the money could have been better spent to boost quality of life?

F.K.O.: I have no problem with them spending the money on these projects. I have problems with the manner in which they did it. They did not involve the people in scheduling this bonding indebtedness, which equates to future tax increases. I would have wanted a vote of the people. If they had involved the people in an election process, then it would have been an open and democratic way to proceed with the building. The current policy is a dictatorship.