Leadership, community support key in revival of Spring City Fire Department


The success of Spring City in building its fire department from the ground up is an example for other communities to emulate.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Messenger reported that the Spring City Fire Department was hurting severely for manpower and equipment. In fact, the department was practically on life support.

As is often the case, leadership became the linchpin, and it came from Spring City’s police chief, Clarke Christensen. The city asked him, in addition to his police duties, to take over as fire chief.

Although Christensen admits he was a little overwhelmed with the double duty, he brought three decades of experience as a firefighter, lawman and EMT in Orem to the task.

Christensen tackled the problems, one at a time. First, he and Spring City Councilman Cody Harmer, who was also a volunteer fire fighter started looking for people.

Asking “anyone and everyone they could,” they spread the word through local wards and social media that the city needed volunteer firefighters.

“Man or woman, we have a place for you,” they said.

Men and women will follow good leaders, and men, women, couples and whole families stepped up.

Sixteen volunteers enrolled for the first fire training certification course. The department now has 25 certified volunteer firefighters, seven of whom are women. In fact, some of the most dedicated volunteers are female.

Christensen and Harmer went a step further. They encouraged Don and Cassy Chambers to found Friends of Spring City Fire, now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

The Friends donated time and raised money to ensure that the volunteers had gear such as fire boots. They also supplied meals for the firefighters during their time at the fire academy.

With a dedicated group of volunteers, the department has faithfully and effectively served their city and its residents, fighting fires at home and lending its strength in fires that raged across Central Utah during 2018 such as Coal Hollow, Pole Creek and Hilltop wildfires.

Sometimes working 14 hours per day in the field, volunteers who helped fight these fires not only represented their city, but also earned income, which will go towards more resources and equipment.

The department continues to evolve as it matures. As chairman of the North Sanpete Ambulance Association, as well as police and fire chief in Spring City, Christensen is calling for his crew to get their EMT certifications to help improve emergency medical response times in Spring City. An EMT training course is scheduled to begin in January.

While other departments in the county struggle with lack of volunteers, lack of equipment, lack of resources and little or no budget, the growth of Spring City Fire Department, and the community support it has garnered, is proof that well-meaning people can rise to the occasion to improve and protect the lives of their entire town.

We applaud Spring City Fire for rising like the phoenix from the ashes. And we offer Spring City as an example to other struggling fire departments in the county.

Sentence of 45 days for taking $153K should be a wake-up call for Sanpete


The sentence of 45 days in jail for Tracy Kay Mellor, the former town clerk of Fayette, is hard to fathom.

Mellor was also ordered to pay restitution of $153,389.89, which was the total amount of money she was charged with stealing from Fayette, money she took by blatantly writing checks to herself out of town accounts.

But virtually everyone who had been involved with the case and who was in the courtroom at the time she was sentenced agreed the embezzlement, which went on for more than a decade, covered thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, more than was charged.

That’s because the thefts went back for many years, and the state could only charge as much as the statute of limitations would allow. Moreover, it wasn’t possible to retrieve all past records to determine how much, exactly, had been taken.

One might ask what would have happened to Mellor if she had been a garden-variety criminal who had stolen 15 cars worth an average of $10,000 apiece. Would she have avoided prison? How is theft of public funds any different?

On a week-by-week basis, the Messenger covers cases of addicts being arrested for drug possession and distribution, and for crimes that go along with drug abuse, ranging from burglary to domestic violence.             If money is involved in their crimes, the amount is nearly always far less than $153,389.89.

And as we said, in the Mellor case, $153,000 was undoubtedly the tip of the iceberg.

The majority of these addicts are poor, and many also have mental and emotional problems. Because of their addictions, which most people agree is a form of disease, many spend months in jail before their cases are even resolved in court because they don’t have money to bail out.

Once sentenced, these defendants may spend additional time in jail, be sentenced to what ends up being multiple years under intensive supervision in drug court, or go to prison.

While sentencing is an individual matter, the Mellor sentence is not consistent with other public funds cases in Sanpete County over the past 15 years. In 2007, a Snow College cashier who took what turned out to be $300,000 was sentenced to a year in jail.

And in 2004, Kimble Blackburn, the Snow College vice president who took somewhere between $150,000 and $300,000, was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay $424,000 in restitution. The restitution went beyond covering the amounts the college could prove he had taken to include the state’s costs of investigating the case.

Mellor was in a special position. She was entrusted with handling taxpayer money with little direct oversight. She abused that trust. That fact should lead to an enhanced sentenced, not a lenient one.

Patricia Murphy, a town board member who represented Fayette at Mellor’s sentencing, said as much. “I thought the judge was extremely gentle and nice,” she said. “Especially for someone who had defrauded Fayette over many years.”

“I had requested an apology letter to pull the town together, especially for those who think [Mellor] didn’t commit a serious crime. Tracy presents a very good image, but the crime occurred, intentionally, over many years.”

What’s done is done. But we would like to see the case serve as a wakeup call for Sanpete County. Public funds are sacrosanct. Our community should not tolerate, to any degree, the theft or misappropriation of public funds, regardless of how “upstanding” the thief is.



Gunnison Valley residents should calm down, allow appropriate officials to respond to abuse case


Time for everybody who is up in arms about the apparent sexual assault to calm down.

We’re in no way diminishing the seriousness of the sexual assault that came to light in early November.

We’re as alarmed as anybody about information suggesting assaults similar to the intrusion reported by a GVHS freshman, assaults law enforcement officials say were perpetrated by the same youth who is the central figure in the early October case, have occurred at the high school for possibly three years.

It’s sobering to hear that there may be upwards of 20 victims of such assaults and to wonder how such incidents have affected young men and young women who apparently were too confused or embarrassed at the time to tell anyone about them.

Now that the information is out, or as much as can be released publicly when juveniles are involved, we believe it’s time to turn a corner.

Nothing will be accomplished by continued attacks on the school district superintendent, school principal, athletic director or football coach (who resigned, undoubtedly in part because of hysteria directed at him)

A lawsuit has been filed aimed at determining if any of these officials fell down on the job, and if they did, making them accountable.

Nothing will be accomplished by calling in an independent investigative panel. The law enforcement officers investigating the recent incidents, and past incidents, are independent of the school system.

The lead investigator is Sgt. Carl Wimmer of the Gunnison Valley Police Department, who is the school resource officer and who has wide support from students, parents and the community. He is backed up by Wes Mangum, the able assistant county attorney. These people are no patsies.

Nothing is accomplished by posting unfounded allegations on social media, such as allegations the school district planned to fire Wimmer in order to shut off the investigation. If you see a wild charge related to this case on Facebook or other sites, whatever you do, don’t spread them.

The judicial, educational and therapeutic organizations charged with responding to such a case are on the job.

The juveniles involved in the attacks have all appeared in juvenile court before Judge Brody Keisel, who is widely respected in this county. Since juvenile court is closed, we will never know exactly what the court finds. We should keep in mind that the juveniles involved in the incidents probably did not understand the seriousness of what they were doing. But we are confident they will receive consequences commensurate with their actions.

Superintendent Kent Larsen has called a meeting Nov. 28 with officials from the Central Utah Counseling Center and the Utah State Office of Education suicide prevention team.

The thing that may help most is the “Stand up, speak out” program outlined at the last school board meeting. The students presented a flow chart of actions and activities to make sure students at GVHS have someone to go to when they need to talk about problems, that no student is harassed and that all students feel happy at school.

To sum things up, capable people across multiple organizations are responding to these sexual assaults and taking actions to be sure no such incidents occur in the future, or if they do, they can be reported and stopped immediately.

Now people in the Gunnison Valley need to calm down and support the people who have the expertise in doing their jobs.




Draper, Bigler resignations do not leave Mt. Pleasant better off

Even though the Sanpete Messenger has a reporter at nearly all Mt. Pleasant City Council meetings, we’re not quite sure what’s going on in the city.

That’s a big part of the problem. Too many things are going on, such as a department being created and, apparently a department director hired, without open public discussion.

Those kinds of actions, apparently at the behest of some members of the city council, have now led to the resignations of Mayor Sandra Bigler and Sam Draper, long-time public works director.

Our strong impression, based on years of interaction, is that Mt. Pleasant will not be better off without Bigler and Draper.

Bigler was on the city council from the 1990s until 2009, when she was appointed as mayor after Chesley Christensen died. She filled out Christensen’s term, and then was elected to a term as mayor.

When David Blackham resigned last year, after apparently also having problems with some of the city council members, Bigler was appointed to fill out his term, and then ran and was elected mayor a second time.

During her service, she has shown herself to be an excellent people person. She has had good relations with city employees.

But she has also proven to be a tight-fisted financial manager. During her first elected term, when the city started showing deficits, she cut the staff, cut expenses somehow, and led the city out of the mess.

Draper has many years of experience and knowledge of public works functions that Mt. Pleasant can ill afford to lose. He has also acted as volunteer fire chief.

The root problem appears to be ambiguity, if not open disagreement, about who is supposed to run the city.

In any operation the size of Mt. Pleasant, with dozens of employees, someone has to be in charge. In 11 of the 13 municipalities in Sanpete County, as will as in cities the size of Mt. Pleasant around the state, the mayor is the CEO.

Two local cities, Manti and Ephraim, have paid city managers. If the city council thinks Mt. Pleasant needs to move to a full-time city manager, that idea needs to be fully aired. The present mayor and citizens should have plenty of input. The job must be widely advertised.

In fact, Mt. Pleasant and other cities should have ordinances on their books defining the roles of the mayor, city council and city manager, if there is one.

Again, we don’t know precisely what’s going on. We expect to investigate further to try to find out. But it appears to us that Bigler has tried, as she should have, to act as the CEO in Mt. Pleasant.

But the city council, or some on the council, have gone beyond policy making and legislating, and stuck their noses into day-to-day management. That’s a place those noses don’t belong.

In some cities, elected officials make a point of working together harmoniously and that tradition continues for years. Other cities are continually plagued by conflict and back-biting. Mt. Pleasant is starting to look like the latter. And that’s sad.

[Read more…]

Case of Centerfield sewer line break

shows complexities of local government

Nearly all city councils in Sanpete County want to do what seems right and fair. But as a situation that came up at the Centerfield City Council a couple of weeks ago demonstrated, doing so can be complicated.

In 2004, the city council adopted an ordinance saying that the city was financially responsible for main sewer lines going down the middle of streets.

But if a leak or break occurred on a lateral line going from the sewer main to a private property on the side of the street, the property owner was financially responsible, even if the break was located on city property.

Centerfield is not unique, Ephraim City, for one, has the same policy regarding lateral lines.

Recently, a break occurred right at the joint where the lateral connects to the main. The lateral serviced property owned by Roger Marshall, a well-like resident who has cancer. The city billed him $2,200 for the repair.

There have been allegations that installation of the sewer laterals years ago was a slip-shod job. Marshall wasn’t able to attend the city council meeting where his predicament was discussed. A neighbor spoke in his behalf. But in an interview, Marshall reported, “When we dug up the broken pipe, we found that whoever installed it didn’t even glue it to create a seal.”

Marshall can ill afford the $2,200 repair. The community has been raising money to help him with medical bills. To tab him with the cost of repair of a problem he in no way created seems almost callous.

But as Mayor Thomas Sorensen pointed out, rightly or wrongly, the ordinance currently on Centerfield’s books says property owners are responsible for laterals, period.

If the city approved a refund for Marshall, it could open Pandora ’s Box. Other property owners who have paid for repairs to portions of lateral lines that were located on city property anytime after 2004 could start asking for refunds. Who know how much that would cost the city?

Going forward, when other breaks occurred on city property, property owners could insist that the city fix them, because the city had done so for other owners. If the city said “no,” the property owners would have good grounds for a lawsuit.

Some council members wanted to give Marshall the refund. Such an action could have been justified as a gesture of compassion. But the mayor called for consulting with the city attorney first. “Let’s make sure we do this the right way,” the mayor said. Ultimately, the motion to give Marshall a refund was tabled.

In dealing with day-to-day issues such as a potential refund to Marshall, a city council must always keep the big picture in mind. Based on the memory of one of the mayors involved in installing the sewer system, it went in in the 1980s. It’s a given that a system in place for that long is going to start breaking down.

It is probably time for Centerfield to call in Sunrise Engineering, its consulting engineering firm, have the company evaluate the whole sewer system, and ask Sunrise to make recommendations for preventive maintenance or, potentially, replacement of parts of the system.

While not a perfectly fair solution, it might make sense for Centerfield to keep its existing ordinance on laterals in place for now. Once the sewer system is upgraded, and the potential for leaks and breaks has been minimized, the city can change its ordinance and take responsibility for portions of laterals that are on city property.

Adopting a new ordinance, of course, requires public notice for at least two weeks, followed by a public hearing, followed by a council vote.

The only plausible course would be to make the ordinance applicable to cases following adoption. Making the ordinance retroactive would create an administrative and financial hornet’s nest.

As we said, running a municipal government can be complicated.

We could understand why the city might want to refund the repair cost on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.

Moroni City Council: Junk is serious,

so stick to your guns on cleanup enforcement



                Is junk serious?

                That is the fundamental question facing the Moroni mayor and city council as they try to decide how far to go to clean up the town.

                We believe junk is very serious. It is a threat to health and safety, harms people psychologically, erodes the quality of life in a community, and can undermine the whole concept of community.

                For starters, junk cars attract skunks and raccoons, which can lead to terrible odors and can even spread disease. They can also become traps for inquisitive children. Old cars and other accumulations of junk can get hot, cause spontaneous combustion of the inevitable nearby weeds and lead to fires.

                We believe junk is also negative for the people who create it. It can be a manifestation of low self-esteem and lack of initiative. When people clean up, they feel better about themselves. Correspondingly, when people start feeling better about themselves for whatever reason, they tend to tidy up their surroundings.

                 Cleanliness, tidiness, green lawns, flowers—yes, aesthetic qualities— are cornerstones of quality of life in a community. They are also the pillars of stable property values.

                On the other hand, neglected property undermines the whole concept of community. If someone doesn’t have pride in his or her property, sooner or later the person may lose a sense of pride and connection with the community itself.

                He or she may become more  isolated, less likely to help neighbors, less likely to play a role in community activities.

                People who have junky properties often argue that they have a right to keep what they want on their lots. We agree that property owners have fairly broad rights. But as courts down through the decades have ruled, no right, including our cherished  Constitutional rights, is unlimited. The question is where to draw the line.

                Many people don’t like the looks of chain link fences and very high sunflowers. But if a municipality tries to ban those things, we would say they are going too far.

                On the other hand, if people, through neglect of their properties and hoarding of junk, create an environment that makes others feel uncomfortable walking down the street, the people with the unsightly properties are infringing on the rights of everybody else.

                Another question the Moroni council is dealing with is whether people who violate ordinances, receive warnings, ignore the warnings, are ordered to clean up, then do not comply with the orders, should be called into court, and potentially, sent to jail.

                That’s the easy one. The answer is yes.

                If someone gets parking tickets, even one parking ticket, and refuses to pay it over an extended time, and if the person is ultimately called to court but doesn’t show up, a warrant will be issued.

                One day, as the person is blithely driving down the street, an officer may pull him or her over. What happens next? The person goes to jail and doesn’t get out until the tickets, and all late fees, processing fees, etc. are paid.

                The same applies to speeding and other traffic tickets. Even refusal to comply with a civil court order can land a person in jail.

                Should the punishment be any less for someone violating zoning or nuisance ordinances?

                In light of the serious consequences of rural blight for a whole community, the Moroni City Council should make such violations of zoning, nuisance and related ordinances a Class B misdemeanor, which is the required tool for the city to realistically enforce the ordinances.

Sanpete needs to step up and meet the needs of its fire departments


“We’re trying to maintain the same standards as Salt Lake City and other big towns,” says Sam Draper, Mt. Pleasant fire chief and chairman of the Sanpete County Fire District Board. “In small towns, it’s hard to abide by those standards.”

If that isn’t the truth.

The fire district and local volunteer fire departments are grappling with increased costs for fire trucks, breathing apparatus, firefighter coats and pants, and a dozen other essential items.

At the same time, they’re having trouble recruiting the volunteers required to meet National Fire Protection Association and insurance industry standards

We all need to understand what firefighting costs and be prepared to dig a little deeper into our pockets to support our local fire fighters.

There was a time when some Sanpete County fire departments were not equipped to protect their communities. Fire trucks overheated in the middle of fires and would not pump water.

More than 20 yeas ago, people around the county had the foresight to come together and set up the Sanpete County Fire District. The fire district purchases fire trucks and some other high-costs items. When the district buys a new truck for a larger community, it may reassign one of that city’s older trucks to a smaller town.

The district is funded by a fee on everybody’s city utility bill. The fee was $3 for more than 10 years. In 2017, it was raised to $4.

The fire district can boast of successes in getting the 13 municipal fire departments in the county decently equipped. In 2016, the district got a $600,000 grant from the Utah Community Impact Board (CIB). It added $644,000 its own accumulated funds and was able to spend $1.24 million on several new trucks.

Problem is, the CIB told Sanpete County the grant was the last it would make for local fire equipment.

The $4 fee brings in about $350,000 per year. But in most cases, that’s not enough to buy even one new truck. So the fire district has to save up to buy trucks.

That’s why the total fire district budget for 2018 is $922,000. The district has been saving up to buy Ephraim a new ladder truck, a truck Ephraim must have to be prepared to fight fires in multi-story dormitories and off-campus student housing structures, among other buildings.

Bids were opened a couple of months ago. The cost of the truck and ancillary equipment: More than $900,000.

Meanwhile, there is a lot of variation in city and town budgets for their fire departments. The proposed fire department budget in Ephraim for FY 2019 is $249,720. That averages out to about $125 per household.

In the Gunnison Valley, where one fire department serves six towns—Gunnison, Centerfield, Mayfield, Fayette and Axtell—the proposed FY 2019 budget is $76,000. That averages about $50 per household.

In Fountain Green, some fire fighters are using “turnouts” (coat and pant sets) that are 20 years old, even though the lifespan of such clothing is supposed to be 10 years.

The turnouts cost $1,700. The town has 13 fire fighters. And the town’s fire department budget only covers replacement of one turnout per year.

And because of difficulty of recruiting fire fighters, two departments in the county, Mt. Pleasant and Ephraim, have started paying fire fighters token amounts for coming to drills, attending out-of-town trainings required for special certifications, and responding to fires.

Fire fighting is public safety. It is one of the basic functions of local government. Costs have to be covered. We can never go back to the day when the only fire truck in a community breaks down in the middle of a fire.


Let’s hang on to tradition and keep up our yards

(including curb strips)



Sometimes it seems that shared community values are breaking down all around us, including in Sanpete County.

In times past, one of those customs was keeping up one’s yard, the area around one’s home, as well as possible, and ideally, as well as other homes in the neighborhood.

Everyone planted grass, watered their grass and mowed their grass. Most people also had well tended trees, flowers and usually vegetables on their home lots.

The expectation that people will have landscaping around their homes is reflected in our zoning ordinances, which almost universally require a defined setback from the street, side yards and back yards.

Yet on many, perhaps the majority, of blocks in Sanpete County, there is at least one home where the entire yard is being permitted to go to dirt and weeds, eroding the quality of life for surrounding neighbors, harming property values, and contributing to a general breakdown of community pride.

We’ve even heard people suggest that one of the “benefits” of living in a rural area is that you don’t have to keep up a yard if you don’t want to. We say, “Baloney.”

Typically, local ordinances do not require yard maintenance, only that weeds be trimmed below a defined height.

We believe the ordinances need to be reviewed. Unkempt yards, often with junk in the yards, are no more acceptable in a rural area than anywhere else.

Often, yard deterioration starts with the curb strip, sometimes called the “mow strip,” between the sidewalk and road. The strip is typically city property, but by longstanding mores, the abutting property owner maintains it.

The photo on the left was taken in Lehi, where 100 percent of curb strips on Main Street north and south of the downtown area are weed-free, irrigated and mowed. All yards in front of businesses and residences north and south of downtown are also nicely maintained.

In about five blocks of downtown, the city has installed pavers and planter boxes. So there is no grass on those blocks. The grass strips pick up again south of downtown.

The result is that a visitor is able to drive or walk along Main Street for about 20 blocks past nicely maintained properties.

We weren’t able to determine if Lehi City mandates yard care along Main Street, or if the city itself maintains the curb strips. If the city is taking care of the strips, we say, “The view is worth the expense.”

Contrast that with the photo on the left taken at the north end of Ephraim near the city entrance where the majority of curb strips, including in front of businesses and one federal agency, have gone to weed.

We’re not singling out Ephraim. It’s happening in almost every town. In Moroni and Fountain Green, where, in the past, virtually all curb strips along the main streets were maintained, weeds are cropping up on many of the strips.

We have to ask, “How long before mores change and weeds start spreading up to front doors?”

We hope it’s not too late to recover our traditions, gather up our pride, get off our rear ends and maintain our yards.


Mayors and councils should understand their roles and perform them with civility


In small towns that can’t afford to pay the mayor to work full time or pay a city manager, there can be some ambiguity about who is in charge of the city day to day. Is it the mayor? Or the city council?

If it’s the mayor, what actions can he or she take without approval and what actions does the mayor need to run by the city council?

Ambiguity about roles and authority was at the core of unfortunate exchange at the last Moroni City Council meeting. The low point in what nearly deteriorated into a shouting match came when Mayor Paul Bailey told Councilman Justin Morley he needed counseling, and Morley called Bailey an ass.

The conflict had been brewing for months, but came to a head when Bailey persuaded two businesses to contribute about $500 apiece for a new identification sign in the city cemetery. The mayor says the old sign was broken. In our view, the new sign is much more attractive than the old one.

The problem was that Bailey put in the new sign without telling Morley, the person Bailey had appointed a few months earlier as the council liaison with parks, the cemetery and other public facilities.

But back to the core question of who’s in charge. Under the mayor-council form of government outlined in Utah law, the mayor is the CEO of the city. That applies to Gunnison, Moroni, Mt. Pleasant and Fairview. It fact, it applies to all of our towns except Ephraim and Manti, both of which have a full city administrator or manager.

What does being CEO mean? It means all department heads report to the mayor. The mayor hires and fires. Whether it’s police, fire, parks or roads, the mayor is the primary person formulating and approving work plans, and overseeing implementation of those plans.

What about new initiatives, such as rebuilding a water system or putting in a new park? Typically, those, too, start with the mayor. If it’s a major project, the mayor frequently brings in engineers or planners from the city’s consulting engineering firm.

What if a council member wants to push a project or initiative? The sensible approach is for the council member to talk about the idea with the mayor, who may put it on the council agenda for further discussion and input. In most cases, the mayor will need to drive the project because he or she will be the person coordinating implementation.

So what does the council do? The council is the legislative arm of city government. It approves or rejects the budget, taxes, utility rates, zoning changes, subdivisions, conditional use permits, policies, resolutions and ordinances. The mayor must see that all of those directives are faithfully executed.

In nearly all our towns, the mayor appoints council members as liaisons with various arms of city government. One council member might be the liaison with the city planning commission, another with the library board, another with the fire department, etc.

Apparently state statute is a little unclear on whether the mayor, at will, can rescind the appointments, or shuffle them to different council members, at will. We believe he should have that power.

If state law is unclear on the power to appoint or other powers, a city should do as Ephraim and Mt Pleasant, and possibly other Sanpete County municipalities have done: The city council should pass an ordinance, applicable to that city only, further defining the government structure and powers of officials.

The primary role of a council liaison is overseeing what the department is doing to make sure leaders are following policies and not wasting money. A secondary role is communication. The liaison reports back to the mayor and council on what is going on in the department and what problems have arisen that might require budgetary, regulatory or administrative action.

Is the council liaison with the fire department in charge of the department? No. The mayor is in charge of all departments. Does the fire chief report to the council member who serves as liaison with the fire department? No. The fire chief reports to the mayor.

There’s another aspect of municipal governance that isn’t written into statutes or org charts but should be common sense. The mayor and city council need to work together.

The mayor needs to inform the council about what he or she is up to. If projects the mayor proposes are worthy, we would expect the council to support them wholeheartedly, especially if they can be financed by donations. If there’s a lot of opposition to a given project, possibly the mayor should not move ahead with it, even if he or she has the power to do so.

In the final analysis, communication, civility and compromise are the lubricants of a progressive municipality.

High School leaders to be commended

for their focus during Walkout


Mar. 22, 2018


The leadership at North Sanpete High School should be commended for their cool handling of student participation in the recent mass social movement, National Walkout Day, on Wednesday, March 14.

The school’s leadership must have been faced with a quandary when a number of students approached the high school’s administration to see if they would get in any trouble from participation in the event.

Nan Ault, the school’s principal, sent out an email to the parents of the school with a message to make them aware that, although it would not be a school-sponsored event, she would be allowing willing participants to gather on the track so they had a safe place to exersize their right to free speech in the walkout.

The event was to be optional, Ault wrote, but not sponsored by the school.

Instead of the school officially sponsoring a movement she said has some politically charged agendas attached to it—specifically the antigun agenda being demanded by National Walkout Day organizers, Women’s March Youth EMPOWER—she turned to the school’s student body officers and asked them to help support the students who wanted to participate.

In short, the climate was to be one of support and inclusion where the youth of the school would not be punished if they wanted to stand up for their beliefs, but school lessons would not be interrupted.

Social media response to the Messenger’s advance coverage of the event was a mix of outrage and enthusiasm. This was clearly a sensitive matter to some people in Sanpete, and people on both sides of the fence had something to say.

In some of our Facebook responses, parents said they would not allow their children to participate. Some people showed disappointment in the high school they themselves attended as youths. Still others were upset because they felt stricter gun control was clearly the endgame for this mass movement, and the youth of North Sanpete High should not be involved in it.

On the other hand were the supporters of the walkout.

Some people said they felt it was important that the students be given the opportunity to participate—even people who said they wished some other schools were allowing participation as well. A healthy portion of the social media responses boiled down to, “Where’s the harm?”

Some other predominantly conservative school districts such as Harford County, Md., threatened punishment for participation.

The superintendent of the Needville Independent School District near Houston warned students last month they faced a three-day suspension for “any type of protest or awareness” during school hours.

Approximately three-dozen students gathered on the track field at North Sanpete High School at 9:45 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14.

The student body officers, who prepared a message of support for participants, made a conscious effort to steer the discussion away from local hot-button issues like gun control and instead encouraged support and inclusion.

Hawks were allowed to walk out.

The whole thing went off without a hitch, and the participants, while not many in number, were allowed to exercise their right to free speech.


State has $581 million surplus to use


By Ralph Okerlund

Senator District 24

Mar. 1, 2018


Dear Friends and Neighbors,


We have wrapped up week five of the Legislative Session, and we now only have nine working days left until we adjourn till next year.

We have officially passed a total 171 bills, but by the time we finish the session we will pass somewhere around a total of 500 bills.

I invite you to watch our floor debates, tune in to our committee meetings and reach out to me with your thoughts on the bills over the next two weeks.

Here are a few of the highlights from week five:

Resolution in support of a new national park in Escalante

This week we debated the resolution (SCR8 at https://le.utah.gov/~2018/bills/static/SCR008.html) declaring Utah’s support for Congressman Chris Stewart’s effort to create the Escalante Canyons National Park and Preserve and the Grand Staircase, Kaiparowits and Escalante Canyons national monuments. This bill passed the Senate and will be heard in the House next.



The executive appropriation committee announced this week that updated revenue estimates show a surplus of $581 million this year, which is almost twice as much as was previously expected.

Some of this comes from tax revenues and some comes from budget management.

Our budget surplus is nearly $80 million more than we anticipated.

As I consider the budget and appropriations, Snow College has been on the forefront of my mind. This great institution is a boon to our region, and we are trying to support its mission and growth as they expand concurrent education to provide kids with education online.

The next step in the budgeting process is for the Senate and House majority and minority caucuses to create their own proposals. We will then compare budgets, consider input from the governor and ultimately prepare a final budget to pass on the House and Senate floor.

This topic appeared in the Deseret News (https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900010994/utah-lawmakers-now-have-dollar563-million-in-additional-revenues.html) and in Utah Policy (http://utahpolicy.com/index.php/features/today-at-utah-policy/15890-utah-s-budget-surplus-surges-to-more-than-half-a-billion-dollars).


Resolution honoring Sen. Orrin Hatch

Sen. Orrin Hatch has served the State of Utah for over 40 years as a U.S. senator. Now that he is retiring from the U.S. Senate, our State Senate passed a resolution, SCR 13 (https://le.utah.gov/~2018/bills/static/SCR013.html), to honor Sen. Hatch for the good work he has done on behalf of our state.

As part of the resolution, Feb. 21 of this year was designated as Orrin Hatch Day.

This resolution gave us the chance to visit with Sen. Hatch and honor him for his many years of service to our state. You can listen to the floor discussion and Sen. Hatch’s remarks (https://le.utah.gov/~2018/bills/static/SCR013.html).

This topic appeared in the Deseret News (https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900010960/utah-lawmakers-declare-orrin-hatch-day-share-stories-honoring-retiring-senator.html).


What do you think?

Thanks for following me along in my legislative journey. I hope to continually keep you informed about my work on the Hill. Likewise, please keep in touch. I’d love to hear your insights and opinions. I can also be reached by email at rokerlund@le.utah.gov.

I’m grateful for the opportunity you’ve given me to serve in this capacity. We live in a unique and special place. Thank you for all you do to make Utah the best state in the nation—and thanks for paying attention.


Until next time,


Ralph Okerlund Utah State Senate, District 24

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Spring City heritage of military

service worthy of recognition

with veteran memorial


By Courtney Syme

Feb. 22, 2018


A committee of Spring City residents (Spring City Veterans Memorial Association) is working to ensure veterans of Spring City are not forgotten or ignored. With the support of city government, VFW Post 9276, The Friends of Historical Spring City and others, a veterans memorial is being pursued.

The memorial and a granite monument will be “In honor of the brave men and courageous women of Spring City who served in the Armed Forces of the Territory of Utah and The United States of America.”

This effort is modest when compared to many veteran memorials. That is part of the proposed design—an affordable, modular concept not intended to be a final product but a starting point.

We plan to honor veterans past and present and plan for inclusion of future veterans. The memorial will represent more than 175 years of military service by residents of Spring City.

Spring City is recognized for its rich pioneer history and heritage, primarily through the preservation and restoration of pioneer era buildings and architecture. Great effort has taken place over the last 50 years by individuals and the community to ensure that heritage is not forgotten.

One aspect of Spring City’s heritage that began even before settlement and continues today is the heritage of brave men and women who served in the defense of country, state and community through military service. Nearly 500 such individuals have been identified. This heritage of past, present and future has, unfortunately, been mostly ignored.

The committee recognizes this effort is no small undertaking. No one entity could accomplish it alone. This will require the cooperation and support of many people and organizations.

What we did not expect was that this idea would create some controversy.

Perhaps that is why no one has attempted this in the past.

The cost is significant, but millions have been spent on historical preservation and recognition. The cost of the memorial is small in comparison.

The committee made a commitment to be open and forthcoming about its activities and motivations. There has been extensive review of documents and publications about the history of Spring City veterans.

The work of the local and county Daughters of Utah Pioneers (DUP) has been invaluable. Our list of veterans as posted on Facebook is a combination of published lists mostly from DUP sources.

One committee goal is to make sure the information engraved on the monument is as accurate as possible. We are gratified by information identifying veterans not in publications. Most of those are veterans of recent conflicts. We will issue updates on the progress of the project in a timely fashion.

Many people recognize honoring veterans as a worthwhile idea. We appreciate their support and ask patriotic people everywhere to support the recognition of our veterans.

Our freedom and liberty have been and are dependent upon the service of good and honest people. We can and should honor them.

“This liberty will look easy by and by when nobody dies to get it” (from George Washington in the play “Valley Forge” by Maxwell Anderson).

The most challenging part of this project is funding. The committee is committed to providing an appropriate and quality memorial that will not only honor veterans but also add beauty, value and pride for our community and Sanpete County.

Grant applications are in process. However, most require matching funds.

Donations for this important work are being accepted.

At least $20,000 needs to be raised to provide the matching funds for grants and to begin construction.

The committee’s goal is to dedicate the memorial no later than Veterans Day 2018.

We ask for your help!

Visit our Facebook page for more contact and donation information. Donations will be accepted at any branch of Utah Heritage Credit Union or may be sent to PO Box 126, Spring City UT 84661.

In 1945, President Harry S. Truman said, “Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.”

Report from the Legislature


By Ralph Okerlund

Senator District 24

Feb. 15, 2018


Dear Friends and Neighbors,


We have just concluded week three of the 2018 Legislative General Session, and what a productive week it was!

We are nearing the end of our appropriations subcommittees who have taken requests from all the departments and are now taking building-block requests to fund programs not included in the current base budget. We saw some big issues on the Senate floor this week and met with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke about his plans for conservation and energy development.

This week we recognized our Senate Art Contest Winners. We received over 300 submissions from high school students around the state for our annual contest. This year’s theme was “The People of Utah.” The top 28 students were recognized on the Senate floor on Monday, Feb. 5, including Jessica Wright from Juab High School and Hannah Ostraff from North Sanpete High School. Their art is hanging in an exhibit outside of the Senate office in the Capitol.


Week Four Big Issues

            Secretary of the Interior—I had the opportunity to meet with Secretary Zinke this week when he came to share his plans to improve conservation and management of public lands.

As Secretary of the Interior, he is focused on domestic energy development and reaching a point where the United States can be self-sufficient. He is also working to maintain federal protection of our lands yet allow a greater partnership with the state and the people in the management of the lands.

He spoke to Congressman Chris Stewart’s resolution HR4558 for the creation of three smaller monuments and a new national park on the former Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears national monument lands. Secretary Zinke said both he and President Trump are in favor of this resolution. You can read more about his visit (https://www.ksl.com/?sid=46257565&nid=148&title=interior-secretary-zinke-details-reorganization-plans-to-utah-leaders).

            Budget—In Utah, we are required to pass a balanced budget every year by the end of session.

As we’ve seen recently from our federal government, when the legislature doesn’t pass a spending budget, the government shuts down.

In Utah, we mitigate the threat of a government shutdown by passing base budgets within the first few weeks of session. By doing this it allows us to have the minimum expenses covered so no one can hijack the budget bill and threaten a government shutdown. Before the end of session, we will pass a more complete budget bill.

            Olympics—The state is in the process of considering hosting the Winter Olympics again in Salt Lake City. In a recent poll, over 83 percent of Utahns favor the idea. Unlike many former Olympic hosts, most of the facilities in Utah are still in operation. This resolution (SCR9 at https://le.utah.gov/~2018/bills/static/SCR009.html) says, in essence, that Utah is ready, willing and able to host the Olympic games again. This doesn’t guarantee the Olympic committee will choose Salt Lake City, but it will serve as Utah’s official application.

News stories on this appeared in the Deseret News (https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900009658/we-did-it-once-we-can-certainly-do-it-twice-another-olympic-bid-for-salt-lake-recommended.html) and in the Salt Lake Tribune

Aerial photo of old Gunnison Elementary School shows deteriorating condition of the building and surrounding area.

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