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I had no interest in commenting on the current municipal election campaign in Moab and have recently tried to distance myself and this publication from specific local issues. The Zephyr’s investigative efforts regarding the City Hall debacle last year led, as most of you know, to a five million dollar defamation lawsuit against me and four other defendants by the ex-city manager. The allegations have been summarily dismissed, but the possibility of an appeal lingers. So my enthusiasm for Moab politics has waned some.

But recently, I received a forwarded email, sent originally to a friend from Grand County’s Democratic Party chairman Kevin Walker. The letter was an endorsement of mayoral candidate Emily Niehaus and a mocking rebuke of her opponent David Olsen. Somehow I got sucked into it as well.

Candidate Olsen, of course, was the long time Moab City staffer who, in September 2015, was suddenly terminated and ordered out of the building by then city manager Rebecca Davidson, with the blessings of the mayor and council.

In their political solicitation, the Democratic Party includes a one minute video of Olsen talking about his candidacy and what he’d do as mayor. Among his first acts, Olsen said, would be to send letters of apology to the five co-defendants in the defamation case—Chris Baird, Janet Buckingham, Annie Payne, Connie McMillan and me—for the difficulties all of us have faced. I am grateful to Olsen for his comments.

But the Democratic Party feels that his apology was a mistake and somehow demonstrates Olsen’s unfitness for office. Walker condescendingly wrote:

“David is a nice guy and a tireless trails advocate, but his qualifications for mayor stop there.  If you have not attended the recent candidate forums, we suggest you check out this short video clip.

“… At the League of Women Voters forum, he said that he wanted to ‘get his old desk back’ and to write a letter of apology to Jim Stiles. At Civics on Center he continued to dwell on the past.  We need a mayor with the skills and vision to carry us forward.”

Why would the Democratic Party and Moab “progressives” criticize Olsen for such a gesture?

The Moab  Democratic Party letter belittles Olsen for his apology but fails to mention that it was the actions of the most “progressive” city council and mayor in Moab’s history that led to the disaster at City Hall.

Not one member of the current city council ever offered an apology to anyone. Nor did the mayor. The mayor once called efforts to expose the City Hall controversy “social media crap” and defended the same city manager who is now suing him as well.

The Democratic Party’s letter boasts that all the candidates it supports are “progressive.” That is exactly the way the current council members described themselves when they hired or supported the former city manager. The ensuing fiasco and ongoing litigation occurred on their watch.

Now, Moab “progressives” won’t even mention the City Hall debacle–they don’t want to “dwell on the past” as Walker puts it—yet they campaign for more of the same. 

The Democratic Party actually lists mayoral candidate Niehaus’s “progressive” credentials as an indispensable qualification. But one has to ask, just how much more “progressive” government of this kind can the community of Moab endure?

Candidate Niehaus has never expressed any serious concern about the City Council decisions that led to the ex-city manager’s hiring, job performance, her ultimate dismissal, the lawsuit against the five citizens, or the pending lawsuit by Davidson against the mayor and the City of Moab.  Nor has she acknowledged the cost of their actions or the effect it had on city employees’ morale.

Not only has Niehaus essentially stayed silent on these matters of great concern to Moab’s citizens, she tried to stifle any discussion of them by others. According to administrators of the facebook page ‘Citizens for Transparency in Local Government,’ Niehaus urged them to shut down the page completely.

Annie Payne, founding administrator of the page, recently posted that candidate Niehaus “asked for this page to be taken taken down in June of 2016. Davidson/Smelt lawsuit was filed two months later.” Fellow administrator Buckingham confirmed, “She specifically asked me to take it down and it did not have to do with fears over a lawsuit.”

(Note: I sent a message  to candidate Niehaus asking for a response to the statements by Payne and Buckingham, and she received it, but so far has not replied.)

All the candidates for mayor and city council need to clarify their positions re: the recent Moab City Hall mess. It’s a shame that the local media hasn’t already aggressively pressed for answers. Sometimes “dwelling on the past” offers important lessons. As the wise man once warned, those who ignore history are likely to repeat it.


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