NORTH OGDEN — The leader to guide North Ogden through 2019 — as the city wrestles with the future of its new amphitheater and the possible expansion of the Nordic Valley ski resort — could be picked next Tuesday.
North Ogden City Council members on Tuesday are to interview the five hopefuls who have applied to serve as the city's mayor following last November's death of Brent Taylor, who had held the post. The interviews take place at a public meeting at City Hall that starts at 6 p.m., and council members are tentatively scheduled to make a pick and swear-in the selection that evening.
Brent Chugg has been serving as interim mayor since Jan. 11, 2018, when Taylor temporarily stepped down for a year-long deployment with the Utah Army National Guard to Afghanistan. Following Taylor's death — killed in Afghanistan, reportedly after a member of the Afghani armed forces contingent he was helping train turned on him — state law requires selection of a new mayor to replace him.
Chugg has applied to continue in the post along with Sean Casey, Julie Anderson, Steven Huntsman and Janis Christensen. The official tabbed will serve through 2019 and voters in city elections next November will pick a replacement to serve out the final two years of Taylor's term, 2020 and 2021.
The city's new amphitheater, developed under Taylor's leadership at Barker Park at a cost of around $2 million so far, has been a hot topic of debate in North Ogden. So has the proposed expansion of Eden-based Nordic Valley to the eastern edge of North Ogden.
Here's what the hopefuls have to say about those issues, Taylor's legacy and more.
Anderson says she's "a people person" and that working cooperatively with locals to bring them together, despite any differences, would be a priority. "I think that's my biggest thing — that the citizens' voices are heard," she said.
She doesn't think the amphitheater, completed last July to replace a much-smaller facility, should have been as large as it is. "But let's finish it the best we can with the money we have," she said, without bankrupting the city.
Neighbors worried about noise and disruption brought about by the facility unsuccessfully sued last year to halt the project. More recently, city leaders have been debating some $750,000 in continued upgrades to the amphitheater, meant to bolster the artistic and cultural offerings in North Ogden.
Anderson is no fan of Nordic Valley's expansion plans, particularly proposed development on the western flank of Lewis Peak, the part of the mountain abutting North Ogden. Nordic Valley proposes building a mountain-crossing gondola that links North Ogden and the resort's existing operation near Eden and expanding the number of ski runs on both sides of Lewis Peak.
"I don't want it, but I don't have control because most of it is on Forest Service land," said Anderson, a substitute teacher. She's particularly opposed to the notion of a gondola on the North Ogden-facing side of the mountain and said even if city leaders' power in the matter is limited, she'll convey her concerns to U.S. Forest Service officials.
Taylor, she said, "did some great stuff and he did some stuff I didn't particularly agree with." Taylor was in his second term as mayor.
Casey, who runs a business that sells audio equipment, isn't necessarily expecting to get selected. His aim is to spur debate, to encourage discussion and public airing of the issues in North Ogden.
"I'm there to stir things up," said Casey, who lives near the amphitheater and was one of the plaintiffs in the unsuccessful lawsuit to halt the project. "There should be no censorship of ideas or thoughts. Criticism of the government should be encouraged, not discouraged."
Though the amphitheater lawsuit ultimately fizzled, he still has strong thoughts on the project, which he charges was developed without sufficient public input. He railed against public spending by city leaders on "hobby projects," citing the amphitheater, and said the city's focus should be on public safety and basic infrastructure, like sewers and roads. His main concern now with regard to the amphitheater is that the city not unduly control or censor the sort of events and performances that can be held there.
On Nordic Valley, he said the private sector, in general, should have leeway to do what it wants with its land. Even so, he'd like more information on how the resort operator would finance the project and questions the feasibility of the plan. Moreover, the city should push for further study on the potential impact of the expansion, on water resources, for instance.
He offered tough words for Taylor's tenure, particularly because of the amphitheater project. He also criticized Taylor's use of a Facebook page as mayor to communicate with the public, saying he unfairly "controlled the narrative" via the social media platform.
Christensen, a member of the Weber School District Board of Education, would aim to temper the bickering that she has seen in public discourse of late on things like the amphitheater. "I have been saddened by the divisiveness. I truly believe I can bring people together," she said.
Christensen has questioned development of the amphitheater so close to homes, and said now, with the facility in place, leaders need to be mindful of nearby residents' concerns. Her son, Aaron Christensen, lives near the amphitheater and was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the project.
"I would hope the city can figure out how to use the amphitheater in a manner that's non-intrusive to the neighbors where it's been placed and it can be used for a unifying community experience," she said.
As for Nordic Valley, the private sector has a right to develop on the land it owns. But public funds should not go toward the project, she continued, and she questions whether typical snowfall in the area is sufficient to make the project viable. She's also no fan of development in Coldwater Canyon on the North Ogden side of the mountain, much of it Forest Service land.
"It's a beautiful, pristine area. There aren't many of them left for us to preserve," she said. The zone should be left as is and "not be sacrificed for the financial benefit of some developer."
She praised Taylor for taking on public service, but didn't single out any particular initiatives. "I don't have any strong pros or adverse feelings. I'm grateful he was a citizen who was willing to serve," Christensen said.
In his bid to maintain the mayoral post, Chugg noted Taylor's decision before leaving for Afghanistan to ask him to serve as interim leader. He also cited prodding from constituents.
Taylor asked Chugg to serve as interim mayor based in part on Chugg's prior involvement years back as a citizen advisor on completion of a municipal public works building, Chugg said. Chugg further noted his year's worth of experience as mayor and his 50 or so years experience before that managing large organizations. Before retiring, Chugg served as manager for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Welfare Department, overseeing production, contracts, personnel and capital programs.
Chugg supports the amphitheater project and lauded it as a venue to promote the arts in North Ogden. Now it needs to be completed.
He held off on passing judgement on Nordic Valley's plans, subject to review by Forest Service officials. "They haven't come to the city with any program," he said. The city's "kind of in a waiting mode."
He offered praise for Taylor's tenure as mayor.
"He had the ability to take care of large projects. He had the ability to communicate with people," Chugg said. "He's just an all-round great statesman, not a politician.
Hunstman cited his business management skills in his bid to lead North Ogden. He's a consultant to airbag manufacturer Autoliv and owns industrial space in Weber County. "I've definitely got the most fiscal responsibility and best management skills," he said.
As mayor, he said, he'd put the focus on keeping property taxes in check and guarding against "out-of-control government." Roads and public safety would also be priorities.
On the amphitheater, Huntsman said project particulars could have been better publicized to the public by city leaders as they were being crafted.
"I was not for the amphitheater because I thought the way they did it was wrong," he said. The scope "just got so big and so grant so fast."
Now that it's been built, though, city leaders need to put the focus on properly managing it and making sure operating it doesn't drain city resources, Huntsman thinks.
If it's to proceed, the Nordic Valley project should be completed with private money, not the city's, Hunstman thinks. Generally, though, he likes the expansion proposal.
"It could be a really neat thing for the citizens of North Ogden. It would be an exciting thing in our city," he said.
Notwithstanding criticism that amphitheater details didn't get out to the public in a timely way, Huntsman praised Taylor's communication skills. "He was very good at communicating on Facebook and keeping the citizens informed," Huntsman said.