Ogden • Jobs, education, immigration, mass transit and infrastructure these are the issues plaguing this northern Utah city along with most of the rest of the nation.
Wednesday night, Ogden's eight mayoral candidates fielded questions during a packed forum hosted by the Ogden Ethics Project at the city's historic Union Station.
On stage were contenders Jonny Ballard, Mike Caldwell, Jason Goddard, Neil Hansen, Brandon Stephenson, John Thompson, Susie Van Hooser and Steve Van Wagoner.
Professional facilitator Kim Wheatley moderated the 90-minute event aimed at helping voters narrow their choices in time for the Sept. 13 primary.
When asked how he planned to fix Ogden city schools, Caldwell responded without hesitation.
"I've spent the last two years with a parent group called Seeking Excellence in Education," Caldwell said, noting that the end result is the implementation of the International Baccalaureate program at Ogden High School to halt the problem of families exiting the city in search of better opportunities for their children.
However, Ogden's inner-city neighborhoods need more individualized attention for their non-English speaking households.
"We know that the ostrich approach does not work," Ballard said, adding that the city's residents are polarized over the growing demand for multilingual resources.
"As far as the Hispanic people, they're very hardworking," Ballard said. "I'd like them to be legal, I'd like them to be able to contribute to everything we know and love. If they don't have that attitude, something needs to be done."
Mayor Matthew Godfrey has been at the helm of the city for the past 12 years and has chosen not to run again. His tenure has often been characterized by a concerted drive toward tax-subsidized economic development.
While downtown Ogden sports a new movie megaplex, high-adventure recreation complex and more, empty storefronts also dot the landscape.
"We need to focus on bringing jobs into Ogden," Stephenson said, "and that requires some funding in order to make that happen as well as some incentives."
Thompson, however, would put the brakes on further tax subsidies due to the uncertain economy.
"In terms of giving anyone else tax breaks, I would be probably against," Thompson said. "I would defer that to the Council. If they think it's a good idea, I certainly wouldn't oppose it."
Van Hooser warned against further tax-increment financing for redevelopment projects "because it takes away from our schools," she said.
However, she favored further tax subsidies for the Ogden River Project, which has seen delays in recent years due to the stalled economy.
While some candidates favored pursuit of a streetcar system to connect downtown Ogden to Weber State University, several felt it was cost-prohibitive.
"I'm very much for it," Hansen said, "especially if that trailway would go up 25th Street. Those are the citizens that would probably need public transportation the most."
Van Wagoner said that he would proactively pursue a regional transportation plan that would not only serve Ogden city but also greater Weber County and northern Utah.
"What I would like to do is take a look at a comprehensive transportation plan to connect all of the dots of our community" including the Ogden-Weber Applied Technology College on the city's north end, Van Wagoner said.
Goddard, however, questioned whether the streetcar proposal properly addressed the need of students commuting to WSU.
"We've got students that live in Layton coming in, we've got students in North Ogden," Goddard said, "so to run a streetcar from downtown to campus doesn't address [the need]."
The crowd was abuzz after the intense Q&A session, but most had not zeroed in on their favorite pick.
"It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to say oh yes or I don't think so," said Ogden resident Luckey Heath.
Heath said that the forum had helped him narrow the field in his own mind. "I'm probably down to four," he said.
More debates are scheduled next week, including a 6 p.m. Sept. 1 event hosted by the city-sponsored Channel 17 in the city council chambers of the Municipal Building at 2540 Washington Blvd.
Videotaped coverage of Wednesday's session will be posted in the next few days on ogdenethics.org.
P A primary election is set for Sept. 13. More debates are scheduled next week, including a 6 p.m. Sept. 1 event.
Ogden's slate of eight
Jonny Ballard, 37, Ogden's community development manager, www.ogdenmayor.com
Mike Caldwell, 40, Weber County's public information officer, www.mikecaldwellformayor.com
Jason Goddard, 38, owns Access Communications, LLC, www.goddardformayor.com
Neil Hansen, 52, former state lawmaker, CEO of ReadyMadeWater, Facebook at Neil Hansen
Brandon Stephenson, 42, two-term city councilman, corporate control manager for JM Thomas Forest Products, www.brandon4ogden.com
John H. Thompson, 62, compliance agent for the state Department of Human Services
Susie Van Hooser, 68, at-large city council member, retired school teacher, susieformayor.com
Steven Van Wagoner, 34, commercial broker, former Marine, president of the Historic 25th Street Association, www.VoteVanWagoner.com.