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Park City Council candidates trade barbs, explain their visions, during debate

Park City Council candidates met at the Jim Santy Auditorium Monday October 11.
Renai Bodley Miller
Park City Council candidates met at the Jim Santy Auditorium Monday October 11.

Park City Council candidates traded barbs and explained their visions for municipal government and the city’s future during a debate Monday at the Jim Santy Auditorium.

Park City Council incumbent Tim Henny painted his election opponents as political neophytes Monday evening, whose lack of experience is not what the city needs. He said knowledge gleaned from his 29 years of public service in Park City, including the last eight on city council, positioned him to be more effective.

“I don't think either of the other candidates understands the importance of the community values as the building blocks the fundamental foundational building blocks of the general plan,” Henney said. “The general plan is the visioning document for the land management code and for policy. Council is a policy deciding role. I don't think they understand that. I'm the only one who understands those roles and responsibilities.”

In response, challengers Jeremy Rubell and Tana Toly said the city will benefit from fresh perspectives and a more diverse council – and that Henney’s record reflected in part an inability to work productively with community and regional entities.

During a 90-minute debate at the Jim Santy Auditorium, Henney also repeatedly told Toly she did not understand how government works. She responded that she understands government, is well-versed in the general plan and wants to embrace tourism as a driver of social equity.

“It is naive and it is very convenient for people who don't have jobs or retired or independently wealthy to say that we should not prioritize the tourism economy,” Toly said. “Where's the social equity for the 14,000 workers in hospitality? Where's the social equity for those who commute in our insane traffic every day? Where's the social equity for those who are going to be forced to park out of town and take a bus where's the social equity for those who spent their entire lives fighting to start and maintain a small business that is successful because of our economy. The economy is the community and the community is our economy. We are woven together.”

As is the case with Park City’s mayoral race, the candidates for city council don’t differ dramatically on many policy issues. All acknowledge their differences lay in leadership style and approach to the job.

Candidates fielded questions from the Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, the Park City Community Foundation, community members and media. Questions addressed leadership styles, the area’s dependence on tourism and climate-dependent recreation, the effects of population growth, and three local crises: traffic, lack of housing and the employee shortage.

Rubell said the city is on the wrong trajectory and said its general plan is out of date.

“Right now our general plan was completed in 2014,” Rubell said. “Our priorities have tweaked since then - they really have - and we need to update the general plan to reflect that and I know it's coming, but everything's coming. That's always the answer. It's coming next year. It's coming in two years. It's coming in three years. That's not good enough.”

All the candidates acknowledged that getting people out of cars is extremely difficult, whether those motorists are tourists coming the Salt Lake airport, locals going to Kimball or employees trying to get to work. Car-free options that are safe, affordable and that people will actually use have so far been elusive, a situation candidates said will only worsen with the major developments in progress around the city county and region.

Henney differed from Rubell and Toly in stating that buses are a good option for the near term, while Toly said people just don’t like buses and Rubell expressing belief that better options can be found.

The candidates also highlighted and agreed on the twin crises of escalating housing costs, scarcity and quality, with Henny called the situation unacceptable.

“We have people living in our Latinx community in housing that is 30 years old. In situations of squalor; that is unacceptable,” he said. “We have a council member who sits with the Summit County Health Board on their monthly meetings. And that is the organization that is responsible for addressing those types of issues. We talk about childcare and why people have to have two jobs and they can't take care of their kids and they can't afford childcare. Well, they also live in squalor and to allow this living condition to persist is absolutely unacceptable.”

All spoke of varying forms of deed restrictions to protect more properties from turning into nightly rentals, considering accessory dwelling units on properties, and working with regional entities on housing solutions.

At one point Rubell said the current government has not built enough affordable housing, and a visibly irritated Henny called that assertion “astounding” and “offensive.”

Rubell said his even-keeled demeanor should not lead people to believe he can’t get things done. Henny said he doesn’t need to be liked to be effective. And Toly urged cooperation and collaboration to solve unprecedented problems.

Listen to the entire debate here.