The soon-to-incorporate town of Brighton at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon has a population of just 260. But 12 are running either for mayor or the new Town Council — one of every 22 residents.
If a similar ratio of Salt Lake City residents ran for office this year, more than 9,200 candidates would make for one jampacked ballot.
In Brighton, aspiring town leaders required an extra measure of dedication just to file for office. They couldn’t do it locally, because the town won’t launch until Jan. 1. They had to drive 45 minutes to the Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office to file as candidates.
Why is there so much excitement about local politics in Brighton?
“Everybody just wants to make sure we get started on the right foot. It’s a big job,” says Dan Knopp, a candidate for mayor. He also owns the Silver Fork Lodge and Restaurant.
Another mayoral hopeful, Don Despain, former owner of the Brighton Village Store and manager of a sewer district there, adds, “People are excited about the new prospects and going forward in the world to take our own place in the pantheon of governance.”
As of Friday’s deadline, three people had filed for mayor: Knopp, Despain and R. Wade Lambert (and a fourth candidate withdrew). Meanwhile, nine candidates were running for four spots on the new Town Council (and two others withdrew).
Knopp and Despain say most residents have already been attending monthly meetings to help the community transition into a town. They voted 105-63 last year to incorporate to take more control of their destiny.
“For years, we’ve been wanting more representation,” Despain says. “We have a lot of governing bodies controlling our future, like the Forest Service, Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City watershed” — and incorporation will let them have automatic seats on many regional boards affecting the canyons, and allow control of much of their own zoning.
“There’s going to be a lot of push to improve transportation, which really is our chief problem,” he says.
Knopp adds that like many Brighton residents, he was less than thrilled about Salt Lake County’s governance of the area. So when incorporation became a real possibility, “I figured if it’s going to happen, I’m going to get in the middle of it, try to make sure that it happens properly and do my share.”
Despain and Knopp say plenty of challenges loom, and residents care deeply. The new town will be 17 square miles in size, and only 3.5 square miles of that is private land. Many homes are cabins used by part-time residents. Most revenue will come from two ski resorts there: Brighton and Solitude. The town must figure out how to provide basic services.
“There’s plenty to do,” Despain says.