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WSU hosts Ogden’s mayoral debate

AJ Handley / The Signpost
Both mayoral candidates shake hands at the end of the Oct. 19 debate.

The Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service at Weber State University hosted the Ogden mayoral debate between Taylor Knuth and Ben Nadolski on Oct. 19 in Lindquist Hall.

Nadolski, an Ogden City Council member with experience working in the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and Knuth, deputy director of the Salt Lake City Arts Council, answered questions asked by journalists, students and Caroline Ballard, the moderator.

The candidates were allowed 90-second responses to each question and were allowed 30-second rebuttals limited to one per question. Knuth and Nadolski were also fact-checked during the debate.

When questioned about how the Ogden Diversity Commission can be used to reach underrepresented groups of people, Knuth described how he wrote a recommendation to the city council on how to better serve the commission.

“We have a roadmap on how Ogden can be more inclusive, and we are still waiting for these recommendations to be acted upon,” Knuth said.

Knuth then spoke on getting back to the basics of good government and how a responsive local government that listens to its residents and acts upon issues can do that.

Nadolski also encouraged engaging with the commission to reach underrepresented residents.

“As a council, we value that body and want to appoint members who are active in every part of our community so we can reach anyone who wants to participate in our programs,” Nadolski said.

Nadolski said that without access to programs available, there are children falling through the cracks.

“I want to find those kids desperately, and a diversity commission is there to help us where we are falling short,” Nadolski said.

The candidates were then asked about their plans for West Ogden. Nadolski began by focusing on how the downtown of a city is where the energy and momentum are built, but how the west side of town needs attention.

“We can’t forget about West Ogden,” Nadolski said. “The people out there feel like they are separated from the rest of the city and don’t have access to many programs.”

Nadolski suggested making sure people in those areas have access to recreational programs and infrastructure that gives those neighborhoods opportunities to develop like the rest of the city. He said North Ogden should be included in this plan.

Knuth spoke on the need for enhancement of West Ogden as well.

“West Ogden is the gateway to our city, and people drive right through it,” Knuth said. “I want people to be able to stop and enjoy their time on our front porch.”

When asked about housing in Ogden, both candidates agreed that more affordable housing could be implemented in the city, even though their ways of achieving that may have differed.

A WSU student studying political science asked what the candidates would do to prevent Ogden rent rates from going up further, saying it is becoming increasingly difficult to pay for both rent and college. Both candidates, who are WSU graduates, claimed to have experienced the same difficulties while attending school.

In order to address housing affordability, Knuth intends to establish a housing stability division within the local government. Along with other homebuyer assistance programs, he advocated for the expansion of the Own in Ogden program, which Knuth and his husband allegedly used to purchase their first house. Own in Ogden is a program that helps home ownership in Ogden.

Nadolski claimed that the city might strengthen its zoning regulations and approval procedures to prevent developers from bearing excessive expenses that are then passed on to tenants and spoke of his desire for more dense housing in Ogden.

Ballard asked the candidates about their views on the Ogden Police Department’s points system for tickets.

According to a Fox 13 investigation from May, Ogden’s police performance reviews include points based on how many tickets they issue. Some have defended the method, while others have questioned it. State officials have claimed that the system resembles a quota and is therefore illegal under Utah law.

The points system, according to Nadolski and Knuth, undermined public confidence in local law enforcement. Although they agreed on that aspect, each has a unique solution.

Kunth said clarification of the state law is necessary, and he endorses Ogden Police Chief Eric Young’s view that the points system complies with the letter of the law.

To eliminate the incentive for writing more tickets, Nadolski proposed modifying the system so an officer receives the same amount of points for writing a ticket and issuing a warning.

Knuth rebutted a suggestion of Nadolski’s that included officer involvement in youth sports.

“We need leadership that goes beyond the youth sports my opponent keeps bringing up,” Knuth said. “He also touches on the high call volume, and how is an officer supposed to reduce that if our mayor is asking them to coach youth sports?”

Nadolski said our youth is our future and first priority.

“There was a time where we supported our officers to be on boards of local community organizations,” Nadolski said. “Why can’t that be included in coaching and anything that mentors youth?”

Knuth was then asked how he would accomplish creating Ogden’s first 411 line to address non-violent crime, which he said is a basic function of local government currently missing in Ogden.

Nadolski said WSU conducts a customer service survey for the city council that shows the Ogden Police Department has a hard time with low-priority calls. He intends to increase the staff, especially on the patrol bureau, and said we do not have enough officers for a city our size.

“We don’t need to bloat our force, but we do need to make sure we are not overburdening our officers and firefighters, and we can do this with a bigger staff to fulfill those service needs,” Nadolski said.

Ballard asked the candidates what their plans are to make Ogden’s streets safer. Nadolski started, saying public safety is everyone’s responsibility, and the engineering division in public works can be given resources to fix issues in vehicular accident hotspots throughout the city.

Knuth said Ogden City has been reactive in designing streets and sidewalks that are safe for our community. He exemplified when the first mid-block crosswalk in Ogden was built as result of when an unsheltered individual was struck and killed by a vehicle on Wall Avenue.

In regards to clean air in Ogden, the candidates were asked where they stand with committing to 100% renewable energy by 2030. This is an issue on which the two have a minor difference of opinion.

The Utah Community Renewable Energy Agency was established by the Legislature to encourage Utah cities and counties to commit to renewable energy usage. Ogden is currently involved with the agency, but earlier this year, Mayor Mike Caldwell said the city would back out.

According to Nadolski, Ogden still has no idea what the contract entails or how much it costs to participate in the program, despite repeated requests for information. Nadolski compared the agreement to a sales pitch, but declined to comment on specifics.

Nadolsky said Ogden’s participation in the program is still valid due to his involvement in the city council election, but he is still seeking answers before making a long-term commitment to the project.

Knuth said the issue of transitioning to renewable energy sources was a key topic for the candidates to discuss, as it has implications for future generations.

“This is why I’ve been in support of the Community Renewable Energy program from day one,” Knuth said. “I understand the risks of not doing anything to transition our residents into renewable spaces.”

The debate then moved into its final part where the candidates were asked a series of rapid-fire yes/no questions. Topics included funding zero-fare public transit, increasing water rates to incentivize water conservation and increasing property taxes to pay for various city initiatives. The candidates agreed on all of these questions.

As closing statements ensued, Nadolski said he is different than his opponent but wants people to understand that experience matters.

“I am asking for your vote because I want to serve,” Nadolski said. “I don’t need this job, but I want it because I love this town, and I feel it is important to have people who know how to make decisions and act with solutions.”

Knuth closed the night with a thank you to everyone who came and explained how much the city means to him.

“Ogden is the city that built me,” Knuth said. “I’ve learned from some of the hardest working people in this town, and making sure that we get to the basics of good government can benefit our fellow Ogdenites greatly.”

The election for Ogden mayor will take place on Nov. 21. Mail-in ballots will go out the week of Oct. 31. People interested in voting can also participate in person on election day. Any questions regarding voter registration or ballots can be handled by the Weber County Clerk’s office.

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