Rakele Palmer, Dave Avery, Dave Maggio, moderator John Serfustini, Lynn Archuleta and Barbara Robinett face the audience during the candidates' debate Wednesday.
With half of East Carbon's six city council seats up for grabs this year, six candidates came together last Wednesday evening to debate one another publicly while taking questions from local residents requesting transparency and change for local officials. Inter-city relations, economic development and the city budget were raised as vital issues, as the local voting base repeatedly voiced their want for candidates willing to address the public's needs.
"I have served on the local council before and it seems to me that local issues have not really changed that much," said candidate Rakele Palmer when asked why she as running for office. "I still see a need to unify our community, it seems that we used to be unified but no longer are. The children who are here now are going to be our future leaders and I would love to see this place unified."
The debate was moderated by Sun Advocate Associate Editor John Serfustini, who started the proceedings by allowing the candidates to introduce themselves and provide their reason for running. As the candidates addressed a small audience of approximately 25 concerned citizens, two major issues were brought forward; a need for economic development and fiscal responsibility along with a cry for unity and residential participation in city business and events.
"I would like to do something about the apathy I see in our community," said candidate Barbara Robinett. "I would like to see people involved and passionate about what is going on in this city."
As the candidates spoke it became apparent that all involved where disappointed in the amount of participation not only in the debate but in the city's primary election which saw only 142 voters show up to the polls earlier this year.
"This community is a coal camp," said candidate Dave Maggio, who has also served a prior term on the council. "Let me name you some other coal camps like Wattis and Hiawatha. Coal camps can dry up and die rather easily and if we don't come together as a community, work together and do what we need to do, we risk losing our community."
Most on the panel were in agreement that keeping the city viable included taking steps to further area economic development along and abiding by safe and responsible budget practices. Currently East Carbon City is running with a relatively substantial deficit of between $500,000 and $750,000. Panel members discussed possible ramification and solutions to this issue.
"What everyone needs to understand is that the city's budget is not just a piece of paper," explained incumbent candidate David Avery. "Our budget is a living, changing situation. A situation that one must understand to sit on the council. Right now it takes about $1 million a year to keep our city running and what I have learned during my term on the council is that when spending from the funds available you have to make sure the city is getting the most bang for their buck."
To demonstrate his point, Avery went over the city's decision to increase officer pay during a previous council session, stating that the $50,000 it takes to train an officer can be easily lost if the city does not pay that officer wages high enough to keep them in East Carbon.
Of those on the panel, most do have experience working with a budget. The only member who did not, Lynn Archuleta, was candid about what he needed to learn as well as his willingness to do so.
"I understand that there I a lot I have to learn when it comes to knowing the ins and outs of the city's budget system. However, I have attended many council sessions over the past year and I know the city deserves better communication between the council members. I think our council as a whole can work together in a better way to fix our budget problems in the light of day."
Archuleta's 'light of day' statement seemed to ring true with those in attendance, as many in the room, including local resident Robert Warren took issue with the city's use of closed door sessions. According to Warren, he has never been given a straight answer concerning the city's involvement with Utah American Energy in relationship to drilling and testing conducted toward a new city reservoir.
"You people have to wise up," said Warren. "What is going to happen now? Are we going to get stuck paying that bill? I want to know who allowed that process to go on up there and just who is responsible for the bill."
While none of the candidate's had an answer for Warren's questions, they did defend the city's right to meet behind closed doors when discussing land and personnel matters.
As the candidates moved away from issues which cannot be discussed in public, East Carbon's relationship with sister township Sunnyside was brought up as the participants were questioned concerning city networking.
"I have worked for both cityies for some time," said candidate Robinett, who manages the Sunnyside Ambulance Service. "When my pager goes off I don't think about whether the resident lives in Sunnyside or East Carbon. When it comes to the Community Impact Board and the county there are some serious dollars at stake concerning our public safety and we cannot lose out on that funding.
To this end, Robinett addressed the fact that East Carbon and Sunnyside where granted nearly $2 million recently to construct a state of the art public safety building and purchase a fully loaded ambulance. According to the longtime ambulance service director, a figure of that size is rarely given to communities as small as East Carbon and Sunnyside.
"The CIB and the county want to see us come together,' she continued and I believe we will have some funding problems until we do."
As the candidates addressed the issue of the cities coming together, it became apparent that most see a merger as something that will have to take place in the future, the devil appears to be in the details.
"We need to subsidize Sunnyside to a certain degree," said candidate Maggio. "The water for our communities is cleaned and maintained by employees from East Carbon, our transfer station is managed by employees from East Carbon. However, when a population as small as Sunnyside's is responsible for half the total water use is this community because they are selling it to the power plant, I have to take issue."
While there was little disagreement between the candidates concerning city beautification and economic development, the real issue - at least in the public's mind - seemed to be the council's respect for resident issues. Several local speakers reported being ignored or blatantly chastised by the current administration whenever they brought issues to the council. An problem the residents will look to address at the ballot box Nov. 8.