Ogden mayoral primary: 7 candidates vying to replace outgoing Mayor Caldwell

Candidates discussed their thoughts on affordable housing, public safety and updating infrastructure, among other issues.

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ogden City Mayor Mike Caldwell isn't running for reelection, leaving the race to replace him wide open.

The Junction City will soon have a new mayor, with the three-term incumbent, Mike Caldwell, announcing earlier this year he wouldn’t be seeking reelection.

Ogden voters will soon be receiving their ballots, if they haven’t already, for the city’s primary elections. Registered voters will have until Sept. 5 to pick their preferred candidate. The two candidates with the most votes will head to the general election, set to take place Nov. 21.

In total, Ogden voters have seven candidates to choose from. Some already serve in elected office or have previously been in city leadership — and others are running for office for the very first time.

The Salt Lake Tribune and Utah Public Radio talked with each of the candidates, with all seven outlining what they think are the three biggest issues the city faces, and what they’d plan to do about them.

Ben Nadolski

Ben Nadolski currently serves on the Ogden City Council for District 4, an office he’s held for seven years. Nadolski grew up in Phoenix before coming to Utah to play football at Weber State. He’s currently the regional operations supervisor over northern Utah at the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Nadolski said the top three issues Ogden faces are crumbling infrastructure, a lack of affordable housing and the need for responsible development.

“Infrastructure is like the lifeblood of every community,” Nadolski said. “It is one of the most basic things that we have to provide, and if we’re not providing it at the level of service that our people need, then we’re not meeting their expectations.”

Nadolski said if elected mayor, he’d use money from Ogden’s general fund and state grant money to make the needed repairs, adding there’s a lengthy backlog of roads and sidewalks in need of upgrades.

For affordable housing, he said the city needs to first revise its general plan. The City Council has already started updating the plan but it will require many hours of public input to complete. He said the city can also update zoning ordinances to ensure the developments are sufficient on space, but also an efficient way to house Ogden’s growing population.

“We need to make sure that developers have an opportunity to build a kind of housing stock that we need — and when I say what we need, it’s what our people need — that they can afford. So it probably can’t have as big a yard as the house that I started in. (They) probably can’t have the same square footage. It might even be a condo, or (duplexes), but they’ve got to be something that people can purchase, begin to build wealth through equity.”

As a growing city, Nadolski said responsible development is another issue he’s heard from voters as a growing concern. He said dense housing needs to be close to transportation hubs, so people can get around without congestion.

Projects like the WonderBlock — a massive potential redevelopment in downtown Ogden that would create over 350 housing units and thousands of square feet of office and retail space — are important for the city moving forward, he said. Though Nadolski had his qualms with the project and voted against the plan while on the city council, he says the WonderBlock is the kind of plan that needs to be carefully considered.

“Moving forward. I want to make sure that we’re putting them in place in a way that doesn’t create too much tax burden on us in terms of tax increment,” he said. “We need that increment to provide for the infrastructure, and if we’re bringing more people downtown, we need to be able to provide for the services those people need.”

Angel Castillo

Angel Castillo may not have served in elected office, but she’s no stranger to Ogden elections. She ran against Caldwell, the outgoing Ogden mayor, during the previous election cycle in 2019. She earned 42% of the vote compared to Caldwell’s 57%. But Castillo is back again, and if elected, she’d be the first woman to be Ogden mayor.

Born and raised in Chicago, Castillo moved to Ogden after first visiting the city in 2014. She said the biggest problems that face Ogden are the lack of affordable housing, accountability in the city’s government and the city’s inflated budget.

“I bring to the table as mayor a history of showing up continuously for the community and holding administration and city council accountable,” Castillo said.

If elected, Castillo said she plans to utilize public/private partnerships to build housing on city land using a land trust model, which allows homeowners to own their house but not the land underneath it. It’s one of the different plans she would hope to implement if elected.

“The challenge with housing is everyone is looking for the one thing that’s going to change it and there is no one solution,” she said. “It is a stack of solutions that look different for different communities and for different people.”

However, projects like the Ogden WonderBlock are not what Castillo has in mind, as she calls the project corporate welfare.

Castillo says she wants to cut redundancies in city government that don’t impact how it serves the people. She said during the Coronavirus outbreak, the city reduced its budget by $7 million without cutting jobs or reducing services.

“That’s a huge red flag that tells you that we’re not being as efficient as we can be,” she said. “And government has a responsibility — a covenant — with taxpayers. It is not the government’s money, it belongs to the people, and it needs to be accountable, transparent and efficient.”

Castillo is a regular at Ogden City Council meetings, and she’s been an outspoken supporter of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah (WRCNU), a nonprofit that’s currently being evicted by Ogden City, a move that was decided by the mayor’s office and not the City Council. She points to the WRCNU situation as one of the examples of a lack of accountability coming from city leadership.

“The city should be an open book, you should be able to look at absolutely everything,” Castillo said. “I’ve stated it multiple times, there is a severe power imbalance right now between the administration and the City Council.”

Oscar Mata

Oscar Mata is a born and raised Ogdenite. He graduated from Weber State and he’s a small business owner. Mata is also the dean of students at DaVinci Academy in Ogden, the same place he graduated high school. Though the Ogden primary election is not partisan, it should be noted that Mata is currently the vice chair of the Utah Democratic Party.

Mata says the three biggest issues facing Ogden are public safety, a lack of transparency from the mayor’s office and ensuring a livable future in the city. Mata brings a different take on public safety, as his business focuses on substance abuse treatment, which he started in college.

“I think that I bring a unique aspect in someone who works with those that have gone through the criminal justice system, but also at the same time building a reputation and respect, mutual respect with our police officers, our probation officers, our court systems,” Mata said. “I work with them every single day, while also advocating for these individuals that are going through the system.”

With projects like the WonderBlock, or completed projects like The Junction, Mata says it’s crucial for the city to reach out to residents and be transparent about the types of projects going on. The WonderBlock is not a perfect project and there’s no turning back now, he said, but the public needs to be more aware of the type of development planned by the city.

“We need to be having these open houses at the schools during parent-teacher conferences, where people are at,” Mata said. “Again, it comes down to a lack of transparency, and the reality is that the council and the mayor have failed when it comes to transparency on this project. So that’s one of my bigger concerns about it.”

Mata and Castillo both mentioned the need to have city open houses where residents can voice their concerns to leaders.

With housing, Mata said there’s a need to work with developers to create housing, but incentives given to builders in recent decades has to stop. He said the current mayor and council have continued to give deals to developers while homeowners continue to see property taxes rise.

“I haven’t met a single person that is renting in Ogden, that, one, says it’s affordable and, two, that they want to be a renter for the rest of their life,” Mata said. “That is just not what people are wanting. So we need to work with developers, and we need to work with those leaders in the community to find a pathway from renting to homeownership. I love that there’s these condos being built. But if they’re all rentals, what is the point?”

Bart Blair

A member of the Ogden City Council, Bart Blair is a lifelong Ogden resident who has been on the council since 2010. He’s a graduate of Ogden High and Weber State, and his family owns Blair Service, a Sinclair gas station and auto shop on 30th Street.

For Blair, the three most important issues Ogden faces is its aging infrastructure, maintaining public safety and making the Ogden Airport profitable.

Blair said before he was elected to city leadership, critical infrastructure like roads and water pipes were neglected for years. The city has done a better job improving infrastructure since, but there’s still plenty of work to do. With water specifically, Blair said the city is in the process of replacing its 125-year-old pipes. He said when the city started replacing part of the water infrastructure, it revealed a huge issue that’s since been addressed.

“We were losing 5 million gallons of treated water a day,” Blair said. “We had no idea we were losing that until we dug that out. That in and of itself is a huge savings. I know that when we tear out the other half there’s going to be we’re going to learn things that we didn’t know.”

Blair notes that Ogden does a great job training new police officers, but officers also often leave for better-paying jobs. This isn’t a new issue for the OPD, but Blair said there’s more the city can be doing to help keep officers.

OPD has been scrutinized in recent months after a report from Fox 13 that revealed a point system for officers based on the number of tickets they write. Some state officials have said it’s close to a police quota system, which was banned in Utah in 2018. Blair said he was taken aback when he heard the news. He said he doesn’t believe the system was implemented for ticket quotas, rather as one of criteria used for an officer’s evaluation.

“I support it, in that context. I support it in one of 13 criteria for employee evaluation. I don’t support it … if that’s the sole way that we’re going to evaluate our police officers,” Blair said.

He said he believes there’s opportunity for the city to boost its general fund by upgrading the Ogden airport. He pointed to the success of the Provo airport as evidence of what happens when the city takes the time to invest.

“I think we have the opportunity to mesh multiple business opportunities out there,” Blair said. “But like I said, I believe in the airport. The Ogden airport could be a great hub.”

Jon Greiner

Jon Greiner is another born and raised Ogdenite who’s been in city and state government in previous years, including most recently running the Ogden airport for five years. But he’s also no stranger to controversy.

He served as both Ogden police chief and as a state senator, but a federal Merit System Protection Board found Greiner violated federal law by running for a state senate seat while also holding a city job that applies for and oversees federal grant money. Ogden fired Greiner as police chief in 2011 and he did not run for reelection in the state senate.

“The opposing party didn’t like the idea of a police chief and senator being the same person,” Greiner said. “So they filed a complaint against me and ultimately, it caused the removal of me to run for Senator again, and remove me as being the police chief.”

For Greiner, the biggest issues facing Ogden are elevating the city’s status within Utah, the need to improve infrastructure and community service.

Greiner said he wants to make sure the city’s redevelopment is done with care and to ensure developments don’t fall by the wayside. He said prospects like rent-to-own housing are something the city could promote to keep people in Ogden for years to come.

“Instead of traditional condo ownership, why don’t we think about an apartment ownership,” Greiner said. “If somebody wants to live in that apartment for a while, there (can be) some incentive for them to stay there, and live in the apartment. Maybe the rent’s cheaper and they become an owner.”

Fixing infrastructure is a big issue Greiner has heard from voters, and he would look for different ways to fund improvements to the city, whether it would be from city funds or outside money.

“We need to go back to the basics of providing what we’re supposed to be providing as city government, and one of those is infrastructure and roads,” Greiner said.

As a former Ogden police chief, Greiner said the ticket count is just one aspect in how the department evaluates officers. He downplayed it as an issue, but said it will likely be an ongoing topic of discussion.

“I don’t think we’re done with this,” he said. “I think this is a perceived problem, it’s not a reality.”

For Greiner, he touts his city experience as an advantage over other candidates. He’s been away from city government for four years, and he believes he still has plenty to offer.

“I just think that I owe the city of Ogden that I love one more, more opportunity to help move it forward and not regress,” he said.

Taylor Knuth

Another familiar face to Ogden voters is Taylor Knuth. A lifelong Utah resident, Knuth grew up in Clearfield and visited Ogden regularly before he graduated from Weber State. He worked for the United Way of Northern Utah and Weber State before landing his current job with the Salt Lake City Department of Economic Development.

Knuth ran for city office back in 2017, when he challenged then-councilmember Doug Stephens. Stephens retained his seat after receiving 57% of the vote to Knuth’s 42%. Knuth was the first candidate to throw his hat in the ring, announcing his candidacy in January.

He said the three biggest issues facing Ogden are growth, a lack of city engagement and preserving Ogden’s character. He wants to keep the city’s character while Ogden grows substantially in the next few decades.

“Ogden City’s population could double by 2060, and the proposition that Ogden could be nearly as large as our capital city, Salt Lake City within the next 40 years, it’s pretty daunting,” Knuth said. “But it also makes the job of Mayor especially our next elected mayor who will take office in ‘24, it makes that role critical.”

Knuth and his husband were able to buy their first home using programs specific to Ogden, and those programs are the kind of things the city can expand to expand housing accessibility.

“I want to see Ogden City doubling down on programs like the Home Sweet Ogden program or the Own in Ogden program that provides down payment assistance,” Knuth said. “Especially to first-time homebuyers, first responders, essential workers, if you will, such as teachers and health workers.”

He said there are numerous places or organizations in Ogden that people are trying to save, like Union Station downtown or the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah, and he wants city residents to have a hand in deciding the city’s future. He doesn’t believe that’s been happening with the current city government.

“It’s a lack of engagement with meaningful and consistent engagement with our community by every member of the elected body of Ogden city, not just the mayor,” Knuth said. “We have to understand that city council members hold the purse strings to our city. So if people have a goal to invest in our community, and they are on council and they have not been doing that they are a part of the problem, not a part of the solution.”

In addition to touting his resume of working in economic development, Knuth also boasts endorsements by notable Weber County leaders, like Ogden City Council chair Angela Choberka and Utah state House Rep. Rosemary Lesser.

Chris Barragan

Chris Barragan came to Ogden around 10 years ago after he and his wife moved their family to Utah from California. Since then he’s worked in development roles for Weber State, the University of Utah and the Hogle Zoo. He and his wife own Brookey Bakes, a bakery on Historic 25th Street.

Barragan some of the biggest issues he hears from voters is the desire for leadership, wanting a sense of inclusivity and the need for the next mayor to be present in the community. Voters want a change in leadership, he said, adding Ogden residents want a leader who is engaged in every facet of the city.

“They want somebody that’s going to take the torch and be the spokesperson for Ogden, representing Ogden, in the county in the state, and, you know, wherever else nationally for that matter,” Barragan said.

On housing and development, Barragan says there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. He supports projects like the WonderBlock, but he doesn’t think building apartments as far as the eye can see is the solution to housing problems.

“I do support the efforts that are taking place with a WonderBlock, and I support the efforts of the other growth that’s happening in Ogden,” Barragan said. “I want to be as vocal as I can and encourage my friends to say ‘when you’re developing it make it Ogden, make it look Ogden, make it feel Ogden.’”

As a small business owner, Barragan says the city puts a large emphasis on 25th Street, especially with projects like the WonderBlock. With inflation putting a squeeze on businesses, expenses going up and an increased tax burden, he says it’s not sustainable to be a small business. Small business owners often look after each other, but he thinks the city can do a better job of helping out.

“I think we need to be more concerned with the entirety of Ogden city with small businesses,” he said. “I think we need to have mentorship programs with longer-term business owners and newer business owners to help them navigate through things.”

He hopes the bakery stays open until projects like the WonderBlock come to fruition, but that’s not a guarantee. Either way, he says the future of Ogden will extend well past 25th Street, and it’s up to the next mayor to make that happen.

“I really think that there’s a future with Ogden small businesses,” Barragan said. “That will be amazing and it won’t just be WonderBlock and 25th Street and in that area it’ll go all different directions.”.