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North Ogden City Council primary features seven vying for three spots

By Tim Vandenack - | Aug 10, 2023

Photos supplied

Seven candidates are vying in the primary for three spots on the North Ogden City Council. They are, clockwise from the upper left-hand corner, Tim Billings, incumbents Ryan Barker and Phil Swanson, Merrill Sunderland, Reed Miller and Chris Pulver. Christina Watson is in the photo in the middle. The primary will serve to narrow the list of hopefuls to six.

NORTH OGDEN — Seven hopefuls are vying for three spots on the North Ogden City Council this election cycle, with one of them to be eliminated during primary voting, which culminates on Sept. 5.

Two incumbents are among the hopefuls — Ryan Barker and Phil Swanson. Five others are seeking election for the first time to public office — Chris Pulver, Christina Watson, Tim Billings, Reed Miller and Merrill Sunderland. Incumbent City Councilperson Charlotte Ekstrom, finishing her first term, holds the third post up for grabs but she’s not running again.

Primary balloting will serve to narrow the list of hopefuls from seven to six, with the six finalists facing off in general election voting that culminates Nov. 21. The top three vote-getters in November win.

Here’s a look at the hopefuls:

Ryan Barker: Barker was first appointed to the body in 2018 to fill out the last two years of a vacant post. He was elected to his first full term in 2019 and seeks his second full term in office.

He’s deputy chief and fire marshal for the North View Fire District and, as a public employee answerable to an elected board, sees himself as a voice for North Ogden city workers, which spurred his bid. “I feel I’m a great support for them,” he said.

Keeping a watch on city spending is a big priority.

His key focus is “still going to be how to maintain a fiscally smart budget,” he said. Sales tax entering city coffers has dipped, he said, so his focus becomes keeping the city budget in line without a property tax hike or, at least, keeping property taxes “reasonable.”

Chris Pulver: Pulver, a rocket engineer, has been heavily involved in city matters, regularly attending North Ogden City Council and North Ogden Planning Commission meetings. He has also served as a citizen representative on a committee organized by city leaders to advise the City Council on budget questions.

He’s worked on large government projects, giving him an understanding of the “government mentality,” he said, while his role on the budget committee has given him insight into city spending.

One of the issues that pushed him into the race is a concern that planning and zoning guidelines aren’t properly followed in development projects, in some cases. As a newcomer to the City Council if he wins, he thinks he could provide an “outside the box” outlook in addressing such issues.

A big issue in North Ogden will be educating the public on requirements handed down by the state governing development of high-density housing, a sore point for some who prefer single-family dwelling development. He’d also like to see more parks in Ogden, particularly in neighborhoods higher up the mountain in the city.

Christina Watson: Watson is a stay-at-home mom who has served on several community bodies including a committee that advised city leaders on updating its general plan, which guides development in North Ogden, and a parks and trail committee.

“I really enjoy being involved in the community. I love our city,” she said.

She’d put a focus on thinking about long-term city development, particularly economic growth and improving the city’s parks and trails. “We can’t just worry about staying afloat in the moment,” she said.

She also thinks bringing the community together is a priority. “I love being around people and getting to know people,” she said.

Reed Miller: Miller, a retired U.S. Postal Service worker, is vice chair and prior chair of the Utah Constitution Party, as well as the Weber County Constitution Party.

“We believe in following the Constitution… and the moral values found in the scriptures,” he said.

He got into the race due to concern over what he views as excessive taxes brought on by too much government spending that seems to benefit only a few. Taxes are “just way too high,” he said.

His focus on the City Council would be protecting individual freedoms and privacy from the intrusion of technology and the government.

Merrill Sunderland: Sunderland, a retired aerospace engineer, unsuccessfully vied for the North Ogden City Council two years ago and is trying again.

Concern over increases in property taxes approved by North Ogden officials in recent years drew him into the race. Indeed, he thinks bonding to build the new North Ogden public safety building should have been put to a vote of the people. The City Council tapped a mechanism that put bonding to cover part of the cost of the multi-million project, still being completed, in their hands.

“As a City Council member, I will not vote for bonding without a vote of the citizens. I will vote against tax increases,” he said. Instead of tax hikes, the city should seek out ways to trim spending on non-essential things.

Outside of taxes, promoting “controlled growth” with citizen input, putting the North Shore Aquatic Center on the path to self-sustainability and augmenting recycling options in North Ogden are big issues for him.

Phil Swanson: Swanson, seeking his third term on the City Council, pointed to accomplishments during his years in office in his reelection bid.

He helped shepherd infrastructure upgrades like improved lighting on Washington Boulevard, installation of lining in the city’s sewers to make them last longer and construction, still ongoing, of the new public safety building, he said. He’s put a focus on bolstering morale of city workers, notably in the police department, and aims to simplify city ordinances and reduce government red tape.

“No one is more engaged in continuous discussion with, and seeking the opinions of, residents than me,” he said. “‘Keep Moving Forward’ is my campaign motto. It encapsulates what I’ve done and what I will continue to do,” he said.

Tim Billings: Billings, sales manager for a manufacturer, got into the race over concern about what he sees as a growing sense of disconnect among residents in North Ogden, where he grew up.

“My goal is to reengage that sense of community we had,” he said, and bring people in the city together.

He’d put a focus on better maintaining parks and augmenting recreation programming. He’d also prioritize the concerns of those on fixed incomes, aiming to minimize tax increases, which can impact them more than others.

He can’t promise he wouldn’t increase taxes, he said, but that “will always be a very, very last resort.”

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