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Democratic delegates could select two county councilors Thursday

Canice Harte and Malena Stevens
Photos by Katy Wang | Chelsea No

At the Summit County Democratic Convention Thursday, around 100 delegates may decide who holds two of the five seats on the Summit County Council for the next four years.

There are three seats up for election and two contested races. With no Republicans having declared their candidacy, the only names on the ballot in November will be Democrats.

Any candidate that secures 60% of the vote from the delegates Thursday will win the party’s nomination, avoid a June 30 primary and have their name on the ballot in November.

If no candidate in the contested races reaches the 60% threshold, thousands of Summit County voters will be able to weigh in this summer.

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There are five people running for three County Council seats: Council Chair Doug Clyde is running unopposed and is virtually assured of his party’s nomination; Snyderville Basin Planning Commissioners Malena Stevens and Canice Harte are vying for the seat currently held by Kim Carson, who is retiring; and two-term incumbent County Councilor Roger Armstrong is running against newcomer Jill Fellow.

Barring a successful write-in campaign, the body will remain 100% Democratic for at least the next two years.

Ordinarily, the Democratic county convention takes place in a large gathering space like a school, with candidates given a few minutes to make their pitches to the assembled delegates. Because of the pandemic, the party has been forced to adjust.

On Tuesday, Summit County Democratic Party Chair Meredith Reed said the plan was to hold online voting with third-party software. That would enable delegates to vote anonymously, which Reed said is important in a small community like Summit County. She said that decision was still awaiting approval from the state party.

Roger Armstrong vs. Jill Fellow

Roger Armstrong and Jill Fellow
Photo courtesy Roger Armstrong | Tanzi Propst/Park Record

The contestants for seat A describe the race as one of experience versus fresh perspective.

Two-term incumbent County Councilor Roger Armstrong is an attorney working in film and television who has lived in Aspen Springs for two decades.

Pinebrook resident Jill Fellow works in higher education leadership and is the chair of the Utah Democractic Women’s Caucus. She has lived in Utah for most of the last 20 years and moved with her family to Pinebrook a year and a half ago.

Armstrong touts his record and what he says the County Council has accomplished during his seven years in office, and says with fellow two-term County Councilor Kim Carson choosing not to run again, experience and continuity are more important than ever.

“I think, having been on the council — there’s a learning curve that it takes to become, I think, an effective representative on council,” Armstrong said. “Drinking from a fire hose is an apt term. There’s a lot to learn about how county government works.”

Fellow says that, as someone who hasn’t been in Summit County for long, she brings a natural curiosity to issues that enables her to look at them anew.

She said her decision to run was born in part out of a project she was working on with residents of other counties around the state. When she reflected on the fact that Summit County was represented by four white men and one woman, and that it might become five men this fall, she decided she to run for elected office. This would be the first elected position Fellow has held.

“I think being an advocate for underserved voices in some of my past work prepares me to identify when we’re missing something,” Fellow said. “The more people we get to the table, the more data we collect. Using data to solve problems and to think critically, that’s my political approach.”

Fellow acknowledged the contributions Armstrong has made to the county in his time on the council, especially in the area of contract law, but said that county staff would continue to benefit from the knowledge he has shared.

She pointed to three core issues affecting the county — transportation, growth and affordable housing — and said those issues have been the priority for years.

The key to getting something done is to change those who are examining and trying to solve the persistent issues, she said.

“There’s problems that are sort of systemic in our community, they come up in every campaign,” Fellow said. “Those are going to be the issues that we continue to have in this county. We’re not going to solve them in one day, but we’re going to need creative solutions and we’re going to need more specific data and disaggregated data by gender and race in order to have more creative solutions in order to solve these problems.”

Armstrong described his political philosophy as one of pragmatism rather than ideology, and described the process of governing as complicated and time consuming.

When he assumed office in 2013, he said, he set out to tackle renewable energy solutions, organizing a trip to California to see some programs in place and achieving what he thought was consensus around the issue.

But soon after, progress slowed to a crawl, and he came to see pressure at the state level as one of the only ways to get the utility company on board. In 2019, the state Legislature passed H.B. 411, incorporating many aspects of the community choice aggregation program he had advocated six years previously.

“I think that that continuity, the understanding that there’s a process that you have to go through to make anything happen and understanding how to navigate that process, understanding how to get your own council members on board, how to work with staff, it’s a big puzzle,” Armstrong said. “I’ve characterized it before as a 3D chess board. If you move one piece on the third level, something else moves on the first level. And making sure you understand all of the intricacies is critical.”

He said some of that understanding comes by volunteering to serve on bodies like planning commissions.

Malena Stevens vs. Canice Harte

Canice Harte and Malena Stevens
Photos by Katy Wang | Chelsea No

The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission has two representatives vying for the County Council in Canice Harte and Chair Malena Stevens.

Both touted their experience serving in government, qualities that they would bring to the table to diversify the current council and the importance of addressing key issues like transportation, affordable housing and growth.

Harte pointed to his seven years on the Planning Commission and his experience shaping what’s known as provision 2.3, a part of the Snyderville Basin General Plan that essentially bans new development rights until the existing rights are exhausted, unless there is a countervailing public interest.

He said managing future growth, both in the Snyderville Basin and on the East Side of the county will be important going forward.

“If you took every development right that exists out there — commercial and residential — and say you flipped the light switch and just built it all at once, that would support a community of 100,000 people,” Harte said. “And nobody wants a community of 100,000 people.”

One possible remedy he has advocated is a sort of “density bank” that would allow developers to transfer density rights. The proposition was recommended by the Planning Commission but hasn’t been taken up by the County Council, something Harte said he would work to change.

“Fundamentally you need someone to champion the cause,” Harte said of accomplishing change at the council level. “You need a council member to make it their thing.”

Other issues he noted were programming for seniors, integrating growth into a transit network and supporting nonprofits.

Harte said that if elected, he would be the only councilor with kids currently in the school system and the only one with experience working at a nonprofit.

Stevens has also said her election would increase diversity on the council, as she would be the only woman, is the mother of a young child and has experience with mental health issues, having been employed as a victim’s advocate and having volunteered extensively in that area.

“We have a lot of really accomplished businessmen that are currently sitting on our council that have a wealth of knowledge and experience in those areas,” Stevens said. “What we will be losing with Kim (Carson) leaving is the social services experience and that is something that I have a very strong background in.”

Stevens noted that the impacts from the coronavirus outbreak will expand beyond the financial realm and will likely require increased mental health services.

She pointed to the same key issues that Harte did, namely growth and transportation, while saying it is important East Side communities receive support to mitigate the effects of growth and retain their identities.

If elected, she would prioritize revamping parts of the Snyderville Basin Development Code and said she would like to see initiatives like a sunset clause on certain development rights, like conditional use permits. She also said that establishing a transit authority and a housing authority would help the county tackle the larger systemic problems that will likely require regional solutions.

“As we look forward with traffic, affordable housing, growth, all of these things — it’s really a regional situation,” Stevens said.


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