2 women vying for West Jordan's mayor seat

Published October 19, 2009 5:55 am
Election » Both candidates support placing form-of-government change on ballot.
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Voters in Utah's fourth-largest city will pick a new mayor Nov. 3. The question is: Who is the right woman for the job?

Councilwoman Melissa Johnson and businesswoman Irene Casper are the two contenders vying to replace retiring Mayor David Newton.

There are open seats for mayor not only in West Jordan, but also in West Valley City and Provo -- Utah's three biggest cities after Salt Lake City, where the top slot is not on the ballot.

In West Jordan, the election comes at a time when some residents are pushing to strengthen the mayor's office. They want to place a form-of-government change on the 2010 ballot that would give the city of 105,000 people an executive-style mayor. Currently, the city has a council-manager form in which the mayor votes with the City Council and is paid a part-time salary.

Johnson and Casper both support placing a form-of-government change before voters. For now, both plan to dedicate full-time hours to the part-time job, which carries a salary of $18,000.

"There is no way it can be done in part-time hours," says Casper, who owns a MotoPhoto franchise in Draper.

Casper wants to spend more time lobbying the Legislature and pressing the federal government for transportation and other funding for West Jordan.

Johnson, too, says the city needs a louder voice on Capitol Hill. She would like to see roads funds distributed more evenly. Six-lane roads in West Jordan get the same maintenance dollars per mile as rural two-lane highways, she notes. The one-term councilwoman supports a gas-tax increase if the tax is not generating enough funds for its purpose: roads.

A member of the transition team that handled the Jordan School District split, Johnson also would like to see the state spread the cost of building new schools statewide, instead of countywide as it did with an equalization bill last year.

"I don't think it's good for the region or the community as a whole to pit one school district against another," she says. "You can't choose winners and losers, which is what the legislation that allowed Jordan to split ended up doing."

Johnson helped persuade the City Council to change its meeting nights to Wednesdays so city officials can attend Jordan School Board meetings. She's interested in finding ways to help Jordan cut more costs to avoid further tax hikes. (The board approved a 20 percent boost this year.)

"I'm not ready to take a back seat to this effort," Johnson says. "There's a problem with our school district."

Casper also would attend school board meetings to see if the mayor could lend a hand.

The entrepreneur wants to place a greater emphasis on economic development, possibly through hiring an economic-development director. She would like to attach more performance measures to incentives offered to lure businesses to West Jordan so the city can ensure promised tax revenues and jobs materialize.

She favors moving ahead with plans to renovate the city's historic sugar factory into a regional cultural center. She thinks the city could partner with other cities and Salt Lake County to get the roughly $10 million project done.

Johnson backs the project but is reluctant to devote any city cash. Originally, the overhaul was envisioned as privately funded, she says. If it takes public dollars, she would support placing a bond before voters so they could choose whether to bump up their property taxes. If other cities and the county wanted to join in, all the better.

Both candidates agree on one other topic dear to voters: They don't want to raise taxes.

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Where they stand

On a form-of-government change

Casper » Favors placing the issue before voters. "The size of our city does not warrant it being run by a part-time mayor."

Johnson » Favors putting the issue on the ballot. "The community deserves an opportunity to decide."

On education

Johnson » Would like to see whether city can help Jordan School District cut costs to avoid further tax increases. She thinks funds for building new schools should be shared equally across the state.

Casper » "A great mayor would show leadership there." She would attend Jordan School District board meetings.

On relationship with state government

Casper » Would boost the city's presence at the Legislature, pushing for transportation and public-safety funds.

Johnson » She wants to be the city's chief lobbyist on Capitol Hill. She plans to press for more equitable distribution of school and road funds.

-- - -

About the candidates

Irene Casper

Age » 49

Family » She and her husband, Trent, have three children and one grandchild.

Experience » She has owned several businesses and served as chairwoman of the Draper Chamber board of directors.

Fun fact » She plays the flute, piano and organ. She also sings.

Melissa Johnson

Age » 39

Family » She and her husband, Steve, have five children.

Experience » Four years on the West Jordan City Council, transition team member for Jordan School District split, volunteer court mediator.

Fun fact » She and her family are avid hikers, walking more than 100 miles in 2008 to see waterfalls in Utah, Kauai and Yellowstone.

Election info

City Council at-large » Councilwoman Kathy Hilton, Clive Killpack, Chad Nichols and Karen Shaeffer are jostling for two City Council seats.

Meet the candidates » Council and mayoral candidates will discuss their campaigns Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at West Hills Middle School, 8270 S. Grizzly Way (5400 West).



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