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West Valley foes seek to be stabilizing influences

Published October 23, 2013 8:31 pm

Election • Mayoral candidates think their experience will get city past police problems.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

With the announcement that incumbent West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder would not seek a second term, two longtime residents found themselves being encouraged by friends and acquaintances to seek the top job in the state's second-largest city.

The prompting worked. Ron Bigelow and Karen Lang both decided to give it a go. They were the top two vote-getters among seven candidates in an August primary — Bigelow earned 37 percent of the vote, Lang 17 percent — and will face-off in the Nov. 5 general election.

Both cited experience as a key reason to select them to lead the city of 133,000.

Bigelow, 64, is a certified public accountant who represented West Valley City in the Utah House from 1995 until he gave up the seat in late 2010 to become state budget director. He retired from that position in January. Before that, Bigelow was a finance manager with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 28 years.

Lang, 54, is in her first term as a City Council member after serving on the Planning Commission for a decade and the city's tree committee for 15 years. She and her husband have owned and operated Oakbridge Greenhouse in West Valley City for 30 years. If she wins, Lang would be the city's first female mayor.

The new mayor will take the helm after some tumultuous times.

Winder's term attracted unwanted publicity when he acknowledged writing positive stories about the city under a pseudonym. More important, West Valley City is also trying to get its police department back on track.

The department has been the center of controversy revolving around allegations of mishandled evidence in scores of narcotics cases and last year's fatal shooting by two detectives of 21-year-old Danielle Willard during an alleged drug bust.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced in August the use of deadly force against the unarmed woman was not justified. He is screening possible charges against the officers, who deny wrongdoing.

For Bigelow, restoring trust in the police is a priority. Picking a new police chief from the outside — Lee Russo, a former Kentucky police chief — was a good first step, he said. (Russo replaced longtime police chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen, who retired in March).

"When you have a problem, like the black eye we've gotten with the police department, it needs to be fixed," Bigelow said. "And if you fix it from within, you have a challenge because it doesn't have as much credibility."

He predicted it will take a few years to rebuild faith in law enforcement, adding it's essential to be "as open and transparent as you can be" about how such an effort is handled.

Lang attributed problems in the department to a few "bad apples" who have been dealt with. She also said that she "got what I wanted" when changes were made in the city's Professional Standards Review Board, which looks at complaints against officers. The police department no longer has a role appointing review board members. All are now civilians.

Among Bigelow's priorities are strengthening city finances and ordinances that govern how yards and private property must be maintained.

His expertise in budgeting would help make the city's financial footing even stronger, Bigelow said. He opposes a tax increase, pointing to the council's approval of an 18 percent hike in August 2011.

Instead of counting on taxes, Bigelow said he wants to cut inefficiencies and build the city's business base, in part by working closely with the state on economic development. His plan includes giving the public more information about the city's financial picture, including details on how projects are funded.

Bigelow also wants to address resident complaints that ordinances are too strict and enforced unfairly, with some blocks or individual homes being cited regularly for having unkempt lawns or peeling paint, while other areas are left alone.

"It's enough that it actually causes people to move from West Valley City," Bigelow said of ordinance enforcement.

Lang, who started her council term in January 2012, after the tax increase was approved, also opposes any more tax bumps and wants to boost economic development. Improving West Valley City's image is vital to that effort, she said.

Countering misconceptions about the city by publicizing its attributes — including good neighborhoods, neighbors who look after one another and residents with plenty of disposable income — would help attract businesses, Lang said.

She believes her background, which includes helping physically to build and expand her family's greenhouse business, has given her development expertise. Lang said she knows what a project should cost and what work is involved, as well as the frustrations sometimes faced by contractors.

Lang also said she wants to streamline city operations and for council members to work more with staff. Most important, she wants West Valley City to have a plan.

When her council term began, Lang said she learned the city did not have a long-term plan to maintain streets, parks and public buildings. At her request, Lang noted, council members have been given a breakdown of needs from each city department, information useful in allocating money.

"Without a plan, you don't get very far," said Lang, who will remain on the council if not elected mayor. "When you wake up in the morning, you need to be working toward something."

pmanson@sltrib.com

Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC —

Ron Bigelow

Age • 64

Residency • 36 years in West Valley City

Occupation • Retired certified public accountant

Education • Bachelor's degree in accounting, University of Utah.

Karen Lang

Age • 54

Residency • 30 years in West Valley City

Occupation • Owner/operator of Oakbridge Greenhouse

Education • Springville High