Mayor Mike Caldwell decided he didn’t need the public’s involvement, or want it.
He intended to make a play for a new jobs, even if he had to strike a deal changing the character of the Ogden Nature Center. Even if he had to do it alone.
And the scary part is, he almost got away with it.
- RELATED: “Attempt to change land status of Ogden Nature Center, Fairgrounds rouses ire”
Caldwell’s misguided attempt to recruit Stadler Rail AG shows why we must insist on open, representative government.
Stadler builds rail cars. Caldwell said the company approached him around June 6 to see if Ogden wished to compete for a light manufacturing plant in Northern Utah.
- RELATED: “Stadler eyeing Clearfield and other Utah sites for train manufacturing plant”
He considered it a perfect extension of Business Depot Ogden. Just one catch — federal restrictions protected the city land he wanted to use west of the BDO.
When the city obtained the depot, the federal government specified that the land now occupied by the Ogden Nature Center must be preserved as a public park for recreation, and Ogden zoned the property as open space.
No problem. Caldwell simply asked a lobbyist to meet with U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-1st District, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. Bishop, at Caldwell’s behest, added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act removing the deed restrictions on land west of the BDO.
The House approved the $696 billion bill Friday, sending it to the Senate for approval.
Within hours, Caldwell’s plan blew up on social media. People worried Caldwell and Bishop intended to displace the Nature Center, as well as the nearby Golden Spike Events Center.
“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” he blithley told Cathy McKitrick, a reporter for the Standard-Examiner, in a Monday interview.
In a statement Sunday night, the Ogden City Council said it wasn’t “consulted or involved” when Caldwell asked Bishop for help on the deed restrictions.
“We are continuing to develop information regarding how this issue developed, the council said on its Facebook page.
The Weber County Commission issued a statement Monday that the Golden Spike Event Center “is NOT closing!” But the clincher came when Bishop, suggesting he’d been misled, pulled his amendment from the defense bill.
Ogden’s lobbyist approached Bishop “with an opportunity, they said, of bringing a significant number of jobs into the BDO. To do that would require some land expansions . . . so we agreed to assist them,” Bishop told McKitrick.
Bishop said he assumed the initiative had been vetted and the community approved — including the Nature Center. When he found out otherwise, he withdrew his amendment.
“We thought it was a unique opportunity for underutilized land,” Caldwell said. “So we contacted Rob Bishop’s office and were kicking the tires to see what it meant. We had no intent to do anything with the Nature Center.”
Let’s be clear — a six-week plan that includes lobbying a U.S. representative to amend a massive defense spending bill while carefully hiding it from the city council, the county commission and the public isn’t kicking the tires; it’s taking government into your own hands.
Ogden became one of the hottest small cities in the United States because its leaders not only showed vision, but because they understood the value of community. No single politician, no single philanthropist, no single entrepreneur built Ogden. The people who live here built it. All of them. They decided what kind of community they wanted to be, and they created it.
Pushing light manufacturing out to the edges of the Ogden Nature Center would change its character, as the public immediately understood. Caldwell didn’t care.
As a result, he marginalized the city council. He embarrassed a valuable ally in the House. And worst of all, he alienated the community.
Now the community needs to hold him accountable.