Stevens, Harte spar at Summit County Council debate
The two candidates in the only contested race for the Summit County Council debated Thursday evening, each touting their records and experience while avoiding drawing sharp contrasts with their opponent.
Malena Stevens and Canice Harte, both Snyderville Basin planning commissioners, are facing off in the June 30 primary to earn the Democratic party’s nomination for the seat. Since there is no Republican running in the race, whoever wins the primary would only have to fend off a potential write-in campaign to win a four-year term on the council.
The seat’s current holder, Kim Carson, is retiring at the end of the year. Carson is the only woman on the five-person council and is nearing the end of her second term.
The debate was held Thursday evening at the Park City Television studios and was livestreamed online.
Stevens’ message was that voters should elect her to maintain a diversity of skillsets on the county’s highest electoral body and that the council already has four businessmen and does not need another.
Harte, meanwhile, pushed back against her portrayal of the council as business-heavy and leaned into his business experience, saying that is exactly what is needed to help the county emerge from the pandemic economically healthy.
Stevens said with Carson’s retirement, the council loses experience focusing on social services and education, which she touted as her strengths.
“We are not running for CEO of the county, we are running to be a member of a decision-making body that is focused on making decisions that will impact and help everyone. And as we look at the current county council, the skillsets that I have are not represented,” Stevens said.
Though she did not mention it explicitly at Thursday’s debate, she has pointed out that, other than Carson, the council is made up entirely of men.
Stevens returned multiple times to the theme that business acumen was not sufficient grounding for a councilor and that governments function differently than businesses.
“Government budgeting and business budgeting are not the same thing,” she said. “With government, we have more people during downturns that need additional services that our social services in particular become even more important as we have businesses suffering and families that can’t pay their bills.”
Harte said that not only will his business experience help lift the burden on the area’s economy, the fundamentals of running a budget are the same in both the private and public sectors.
“I think to say that government budgets and business budgets are different shows a lack of understanding of what our business community goes through. I respect understanding and experience with government budgets, having been around them as well, but truthfully, to say that they’re different than a business budget is fundamentally flawed logic,” Harte said. “You essentially have money coming in and you have money going out and you assign where the critical priorities are, where the budget needs to go. I think it’s important that we have leaders that understand both the business community and the government.”
Perhaps the most interesting distinction between the two came during a discussion of the neighborhood-sized mixed-use development proposed for the site of the Park City Tech Center at Kimball Junction.
Since both candidates are sitting planning commissioners and the application is pending before that body, neither offered a personal opinion about its merits.
Harte, though, implied that the project didn’t do enough to warrant its approval, saying that his opponent might think otherwise.
“For me, this is simply, we don’t have to do this. Someone’s going to have to show us a really good reason why we want to have a project if we were inclined to do so,” he said. “They’re proposing 308 affordable housing units — 100 of those are between 40% and 60% of the (area median income) and that will … generate that much need just in the hotel project alone. So it’s not a net gain for the community. If anything it’s just going to break even.”
The candidates also both touted their relationships around the county, with Harte mentioning his connection to the East Side working with Summit County Search and Rescue and Stevens citing her endorsement by an East Side mayor.
Both indicated support for bus rapid transit, regional cooperation, the county’s coronavirus response and increased mental health services and support for seniors.
Stevens offered some specific solutions like creating a regional housing authority and starting a nonprofit to help the area’s seniors, while Harte suggested that he would champion the cause of senior citizen programming if he were to be elected.
Ballots for the June 30 primary should start arriving in mailboxes in the coming days. To vote in the Democratic party, voters must either be registered Democrats or request a ballot from the Summit County Clerk’s office by June 19. To vote in the Republican primary, which features the race that will likely decide the next governor, voters must be registered Republicans and request a ballot from the clerk, both of which have a June 19 deadline.
The debate was hosted by the Park City Rotary Club in partnership with Park City Television, KPCW Radio and The Park Record. Park Record Editor Bubba Brown moderated.
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