Sudden resignation stirs UTOPIA intrigue in Brigham

Saturday , July 26, 2014 - 9:09 AM

Tim Gurrister

BRIGHAM CITY -- The sudden resignation of a city councilman has drawn 14 applicants hoping to replace him and raised the possibility of a swing vote affecting the city's future with the fiber-optic network UTOPIA.

Brian Rex stepped down from the city council effective with his resignation letter of July 2. The procedure for filling the non-partisan slot is left to the council, by state law, officials said, which mandates an Aug. 4 deadline to fill the vacancy.

The council has scheduled a special session for Monday beginning at 5 p.m. to interview all 14 of the hopefuls who applied before the Wednesday 5 p.m.deadline. The marathon council meeting is scheduled to run five hours or more with 20 minutes alloted for interviewing each applicant.

The roster includes two former city councilmen, Alden Farr and Reese Jensen, plus former long-term Box Elder County Attorney Jon Bunderson, who held the top prosecutor post 1983-2002.

The 14 hopefuls, listed in order of their scheduled interviews Monday, are Paul Roberts, George Knavel, Bunderson, Farr, Lee Johnson, Becky Maddox, Michelle Forsgren, Jeremy Hunsaker, Stephen Child, Dave Jeffries, Jensen, Eve Jones, Shane Richards and Kenny Kawa.

Rex's short resignation letter simply listed time constraints from work -- he's an engineer at ATK -- family and church obligations as his reasons. His term to be filled runs through December 2015.

"It caught everybody by surprise," Councilman Tom Peterson said of Rex's abrupt departure. Although in a non-partisan post on the Brigham council, Peterson is known as a political person, since he is also the county Republican Party chairman.

The council has recently split on the city's continuing participation in the municipally owned UTOPIA high-speed Internet access network. The network has been controversial, plagued by delays for years in providing service while the 11 Utah cities that own it continue to pay millions in UTOPIA bond payments, Brigham to the tune of $435,000 a year. Layton pays $2 million.

The council voted 3-2 at its June 19 meeting to buy into a global investor's $300 million proposal to finish building UTOPIA. The pitch from the Australian financier Macquarie Capital requires an $18-20 monthly utility fee from all citizens, likely not until 2016, whether they subscribe to UTOPIA or not. The prospect of the fee was the major cause for five of the 11 UTOPIA towns to reject Macquarie's plan last month. Perry, Tremonton and Brigham voted to accept Macquarie's plan.

The 3-2 vote, made twice, featured Rex, Peterson and Councilman J.D. Bott voting with Macquarie, and council members Ruth Jensen and Mark Thompson voting against. The votes were the same on the motion to bail on Macquarie and the subsequent motion to accept the second phase of four in Macquarie's plan.

With Rex gone -- the June 19 council meeting was his last -- it's open to speculation how the new member on the council will affect future UTOPIA votes as Macquarie's unfolding proposal is floated before the cities in coming months.

"It's hard to say," Peterson said. "Mark Thompson voted with UTOPIA in the past."

Peterson said he can't speak for the other council members but for him Monday's interviews to determine the new council member won't focus on UTOPIA. "That won't be what I'm looking for. I just want someone who cares about Brigham City."

Contact reporter Tim Gurrister at 801-625-4238, Follow him on Twitter at @tgurrister

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