School issues take Centre Stage at city council debate
Robby Poffenberger | Assistant News Editor | @robby_poff
Center Stage was temporarily turned into a campaign battleground when the five candidates for Orem City Council participated in a debate Oct. 20.
Sam Lentz, Debby Lauret, Claude Richards and incumbents Mark Seastrand and Hans Andersen took the time to answer questions and share their views about issues facing Orem and, primarily, UVU, including possible UTA expansion and student housing.
About 100 people, including students and other Orem residents, attended the event, which is part of the Pizza and Politics initiative being branded by UVUSAA.
UVUSAA Chief Justice Kameron Gonzalez, who spearheads the initiative, said hosting the debate was intended to get students engaged in local politics and make Orem City more aware of the student body’s influence.
“We hope this opens up opportunities for UVU to collaborate better with the city,” Gonzalez said. “We wanted it to be an event where the city can see how much of an impact our students can make.”
He said that although moderators had prepared questions for candidates in advance, they ended up using spontaneous audience questions, which attendees were able to text in during the debate.
Karli Hull, a transfer freshman who attended the debate, said it was a worthwhile experience and wishes more people came.
“I learned a lot of great information that was relevant to me as a student and as a resident of Orem,” she said.
Most topics of discussion proved divisive among candidates. Lauret, Lentz and Seastrand spoke out in favor of a proposed expansion of UTA’s Bus Rapid Transit system that would send busses to University Parkway stops every few minutes.
“If you can drive around town and not feel like we have much of a traffic problem then I’m not sure what city you’re in,” andersen said. “We have to start looking ahead…. We have to find solutions.”
Richards and Andersen, however, opposed the new BRT line. Richards called it “financially impractical.” Andersen referenced BYU’s private transit system for its campus as a more ideal solution that doesn’t cost taxpayers any money.
“Don’t try to figure out a way to get $150 million out of taxpayers. You figure out how to do private enterprise,” Andersen said.
No candidates provided a clear-cut answer about UVU’s housing crisis, but most agreed that working with longtime Orem residents is necessary as new apartment complexes are built.
“There’s going to have to be some compromise between the university and the residents,” Lauret said in reference to student housing. “You have lifelong residents, and you can’t all of the sudden change things and not disenfranchise them … but we know that there’s going to be a need.”
Lauret, Andersen and Seastrand all agreed that building more apartments on the west side of Interstate 15, as is currently planned, is probably the best solution, while Richards said the issue of housing is UVU’s problem to fix, not Orem’s.
Lentz didn’t offer a solution but said many residents have a skewed vision of the growing student population.
“There are certain residents here in Orem that view UVU students as guests in their town, and I think that is the wrong attitude to have,” Lentz said. “You’re a very integral, important part of our city here. You currently make up about a third of our city, and that might end up growing over the next five or 10 years.”
Lentz was also quickest to go on offense against his fellow candidates. In particular, he called out Andersen for a speech he made last year, where Andersen allegedly called his fellow city council socialists and said, if he had his way, he’d “give them a swift trial and lynch them.”
Lentz then called Andersen out for voting against an all-abilities playground last year and asked him, “What century do you think you live in?”
There were audible gasps and laughter from the audience, and Andersen briefly responded, saying, “I’m in the 20th century, working on the 21st here.”
He added that he was one of three council members who voted against the park for financial reasons.
When asked about their feelings on the relationship between UVU and Orem City, most candidates said the current relationship is strong, though Richards added that he doesn’t see it as the local government’s job to promote the university. Lentz said he believes the city can provide better transport and infrastructure to accommodate the school.
Other topics of discussion included the controversial Utopia Internet service and how to reach out to the growing Latino population in Orem.
Recent polls have Seastrand, Andersen and Lauret in the lead, with Lentz and Richards trailing. The three candidates with the most votes will get seats on the council.
The election will be held on Nov. 3. Vote-by-mail ballots have already been sent out to registered voters. For more information on how to register to vote or cast your ballot, visit Orem.org.