The candidates for Rexburg mayor and city council met in the Romance Theater Thursday to discuss policy and introduce themselves to the public in a livestreamed event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce.
Nate Eaton, a reporter for East Idaho News, moderated the panel, pulling questions for the candidates from a community survey. The six city council candidates met first, and the mayor discussion followed.
“I thought they did well,” said Councilman Mikel Walker, who came to watch the event. “They’ve all been doing their homework.”
Most of the questions focused on the growth of Rexburg and the need for stronger infrastructure. Many candidates agreed that the city’s growth shouldn’t burden taxpayers.
“It’s important to me that we don’t burden our citizens with taxes,” said Rob Woodall, one of the candidates. “(But) at the end of the day we all want to see it grow.”
The first conflict of the evening came after Nathan Martin opposed the idea of a new indoor pool facility, suggesting that Rexburg Rapids was good enough and the city could use that money somewhere else.
“Why are we spending approximately $75 million on essentially an indoor pool,” Martin said. “It doesn’t make sense; you’re gonna price people out of their homes.”
Brian Thackeray countered, saying there was a strong need.
“I like the idea of an indoor center that’s open year-round,” Thackeray said. “Families, especially those with young children who are cooped up during the winter months, could take their kids.”
Eaton asked the candidates to share their views on a public pool. Eric Erickson, Bryanna Johnson and Woodall were hesitant about the cost, while David Reeser showed more support.
Reeser stressed his background in social studies education during questions about the city’s relationship with BYU-Idaho and the impact of college students on the town.
“I see BYU-I students as several thousand economic engines that come to our city every semester,” Reeser said. “They come here, they shop at our stores, they purchase the goods that our businesses have for sale … If we were to think of what our town would be like without BYU-I, it would be very, very different.”
Many of Reeser’s students from Madison High School were in attendance, and his comments typically had the largest applause.
“We’re just here supporting him,” said Ellie Dixon and Ayla Prince, both seniors at Madison High School. “We have a government class with him.”
Councilwoman Bryanna Johnson emphasized her experience on the city council in a question about navigating the conflicting interests of new and long-term residents.
“The easiest thing is when people show up and tell us what they’re hoping for,” Johnson said. “We need a place for the density because we are a college town, but we can be mindful of where we put them.”
There was also a strong divide over the types of housing the city should support to increase housing affordability. While the other candidates supported more single-family dwellings, Martin advocated high-density housing as a solution to housing affordability.
“Zoning things away from single-family in undeveloped areas and promoting density also promotes walkability,” Martin said. “(It) will not only lower the strain on our roads but also make building a new infrastructure less expensive: for not only the city but for the individual.”
In a question about public transportation, Eric Erickson suggested alternatives.
“Is that the proper role of government? To provide public transportation,” Erickson said. “There are other things that I think we can do to promote other forms of transportation in the city, such as increased bicycle lanes.”
At one point, Martin incorrectly claimed that BYU-Idaho planned to double enrollment in the next four years. In the break before the mayoral forum, Eaton read a statement he received from the university refuting that claim.
The mayor portion of the forum began on a lighthearted note.
“Hopefully we will be better behaved than the presidential candidates have been so far,” joked Mayor Jerry Merrill in his opening speech. “And if someone would have told me what 2020 was going to be like, I may not have run for reelection in 2019.”
Questions focused on growth infrastructure as well as the role of the mayor. Mayor Merrill defended his actions during a question about LGBTQ policy and the public outcry over public drag demonstrations.
“It’s important to understand that we, as elected officials, take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States; we cannot discriminate against certain people,” Merrill said. “But the state does have rules that govern (that) behavior … and we’re fully prepared to enforce those rules and laws.”
Another question came from a BYU-I student who felt the city doesn’t care about students.
“BYU-I is a great asset that I don’t think we’re using,” said Mike Glasscock. “I think that we could get more of those students down at city hall doing internships and working on things that have to do with projects around Rexburg.”
In several questions, Luke Evans pulled examples from his work driving taxis, flipping real estate and coaching.
“Coming from a small construction background … I found that if you have a good solid foundation, you can build on it,” Evans said. “I feel like some of these roads, we need to just rip them up and literally get down a couple of feet and build those up the correct way.”
The final question of the evening: Who would you pay top dollar to see perform here in Rexburg?
Glasscock wanted Sting, Merrill preferred Garth Brooks and Evans voted for Shania Twain.
Eric Erickson, Bryanna Johnson, Nathan Martin, David Reeser, Brian Thackeray and Rob Woodall will be on the Nov. 7 ballot for three city council positions.
Luke Evans, Mike Glasscock and Jerry Merrill are listed on the ballot for mayor.