Ogden mayor candidates debate policing, infrastructure

Thursday , October 29, 2015 - 10:38 AM9 comments

Standard-Examiner staff

OGDEN — Crumbling city infrastructure, e-cigarettes, schools and police issues dominated the Ogden mayoral debate between incumbent Mike Caldwell and challenger Sebastian Benitez Wednesday, Oct. 28.

The debate, hosted by Ogden High School's Advanced Placement students, was moderated by student Garrett Alsup. 

The first question addressed students' concerns about parks and sidewalks.

“What are you doing, or will you do, to make sure that Ogden City is maintained properly? Alsup asked.

“Ogden City is the oldest city in the state of Utah, and that brings its own set of challenges in terms of infrastructure,” Caldwell said

The city has a significant backlog of projects needing to be done, he said, and then spoke of Proposition 1. If voters pass the initiative, it would increase funding for transportation. Caldwell also spoke of the predicted population growth along the Wasatch Front, and the need to find a way to get ahead of transportation needs. If not, he said. “We’re going to find that a lot of that really unique quality of life that we really enjoy here will be gone, because we could not think proactively enough.”

Benitez said city parks need to be fixed. There's more to a park that putting in a playground, he said, “You stay there with family, enjoy there.”

He referred teens in the audience to his campaign website, on which he has posted photos of cracked cement and walkways, as well as dirty restrooms in parks. He promised to take care of such things.

The next question noted the high usage of e-cigarettes by teens.

• RELATED: Doctors: Raise smoking age to 21, crack down on e-cigarettes

“I think people don't understand the dangers of the chemicals that go into making e-cigarettes,” said Caldwell.

He talked about an ordinance that was passed against using e-cigarettes in parks and buildings.

“Our police department spot-checks on retailers that sell those frequently, to make sure they aren't getting into the wrong hands, and if they are there are consequences for that,” he said.

Benitez said he thinks more needs to be done to promote the idea that youths shouldn't use e-cigarettes, and wants to work with the health department to educate teens.

“Promotion costs money,” he said, but helps avoid many problems.

“About 100 years ago, doctors said tobacco makes cancer — nobody listened. Today doctors say these e-cigarettes are worse. How can you put that in your body?” he asked students in the audience.

Alsup brought up the topic of anti-police riots and demonstrations, then asked the candidates how they view the role of Ogden police officers, and how they would improve the reputation of police.

• RELATED: Ogden police cite pay in struggle to retain, recruit officers

“We're working hard on that,” said Caldwell, recalling that he received a call from an assistant on his first day as mayor. “She said we've got five officers shot, and one's probably not going to make it,” referring to the Matthew David Stewart shootout Jan. 4, 2012.

“Our police officers do a very difficult, and very sensitive job,” Caldwell said, noting that because of the national attention to police abuses, not as many people are willing to become officers.

The city is working on recruiting, and making sure wages are competitive, Caldwell said, adding that he's meeting with officers to determine how best to support them in their work.

“We want to make it an honorable position, an honorable career choice,” he said.

Benitez said he's been saddened to see fundraisers for the families of officers who are killed or injured, because they should be safe in every way — including financially. He said his administration would include more officer training.

“I would hire more Hispanic police officers,” he said, adding that the department should mirror the community.

The questions also focused on improving the job market for teens and those just out of school.

“How do you believe Ogden City schools could be improved, and how would you support them? Alsup asked.

Caldwell said it's hard to make a connection and steady progress when so many students are moving in and out that the class population changes four times a year. Ogden's Quality Neighborhoods and Community program is working to create places people want to stay, he said. Increasing local preschool programs will also help, by ensuring that children enter kindergarten ready to learn.

Benitez told his teen audience education is the only way to get out of a poor situation.

“Have fun in school, but don't forget to get ready for university,” he said.

The debate received mixed reviews from the students.

“I think it went pretty good. I heard about some issues I hadn't thought about,” said Renald Lore.

Makayla Geddes, who asked a question about water conservation, was disappointed.

“They skirted the issue,” she said. “I would like to know a little of how you're going to go about doing it, so I have more confidence in your ability to take action.”

Geddes isn't old enough to vote yet, but wasn't sure she'd bother if she could.

“They agreed so much that they didn't really stand out,” she said. “They didn't really say anything that would make me want to vote for them.”

You can reach reporter Becky Wright at bwright@standard.net or at 801-625-4274. Follow her on Twitter at @ReporterBWright or like her on Facebook.

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