City council president and mayoral candidate August Christensen came out swinging at last Thursday’s Driggs candidate forum, bringing up her concerns about growth and transparency and tying them to the current mayor’s leadership.
The eight-year council member made the decision to use each question during the forum to express her disagreements with the incumbent mayor, Hyrum Johnson.
When forum moderator Jason Borbet asked Christensen what she was hearing while campaigning for office, she brought up her concern with the amount of control the mayor exerts over the city council meeting agendas, an issue that has caused years of conflict between Johnson and some council members, and was one reason that led to Ralph Mossman’s resignation from council this January.
“The mayor has not been very accommodating in letting the viewpoints from the residents be heard on the agenda,” she said.
She answered the question “What vital service does the city provide?” by pointing to the city’s small business incubator north of town, and calling out the mayor and city staff’s decision earlier this year to sell the building, apparently without a go-ahead from the tenants.
For the most part during the forum, Johnson steered clear of rising to Christensen’s attacks, although he did accuse her of making claims that were “simply not true, or half-truths.” However, in his final comments he claimed that Christensen had demonstrated conflicts of interest and shown a “lack of integrity” in past meetings, a claim that caused his opponent’s eyebrows to raise as high as they would go.
“I have no idea what that is in reference to,” Christensen responded.
When asked later to clarify the statement, Johnson declined to provide any specific examples, saying he’d rather “let the matter lie.”
The entire forum is available to view on the Teton Valley News Facebook page.
Despite the fisticuffs, the two still have to carry on with city business in council meetings. At the most recent meeting, during a public hearing on a rezone that would allow for denser residential uses on the north side of town, Christensen made her case for a pause or even a moratorium on development.
She said that the city needs to wrap its head around its growing pains and gather more information on the capacities of the wastewater treatment plant and water system, as well as seek policy solutions for affordable housing like mitigation requirements for developers. Some council members have expressed concern recently about the council’s inability to require affordable housing when approving land use applications.
The mayor noted at the Oct. 19 meeting that the city has over 20 applications coming through the planning department pipeline.
City attorney Sam Angell asked to review any language before the council considered a moratorium. Johnson said he wouldn’t allow the discussion of a moratorium as a future agenda item without support from a majority of council.
Community development director Doug Self suggested that the council instead hold a work session the other tools the city has at its disposal to manage growth.
“I think as soon as we put ‘discussion of a moratorium’ on the agenda, we’ve lost the ability to do anything else—we’re going to get pulled into a storm,” Self said.
The council was unanimously in favor of Self’s recommendation and will hold a work session in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, early voting for the city election goes through Friday at the courthouse. Tuesday is Election Day; residents within the Driggs city limits can vote (and register) day-of at the Driggs LDS church.