City council arrivals and departures
Dec 19, 2019 10:48AM
● By Mimi Darley Dutton
Michele Weeks chose not to run for re-election for family reasons and because of conflicts with the mayor and other council members. (Mimi Darley Dutton/City Journals)
By Mimi Darley Dutton | [email protected]
A first-time father, a first-time grandfather and an incumbent with deep Draper roots will take the city council oath in early January. Two with similar last names but no relation will sit behind the dais and two familiar council members chose not to run for re-election.
Pam Tueller of the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office said 7,970 ballots were cast in the November election representing just shy of 34% of registered voters in Draper. Tueller said voter turnout is closer to 50% in mayoral elections and that Draper has seen an increase of registered voters in the last four years, now totaling 23,538.
Marsha Vawdrey garnered the most votes in this city council election, nearly 22%. “I was impressed with so many really good candidates who put their names in. I thought we had some awesome choices. And there were wonderful people who didn’t win,” Vawdrey said. This was her second official campaign. She was first appointed to the city council for 2014–15 to fill the vacancy created when Troy Walker was elected mayor. Then she ran for and won the 2016–19 term and she’ll now serve another four years.
Vawdrey has lived in Draper for 50 years and raised her four daughters here. Prior to being on the council, she served as secretary for the fundraising committee to build the historic park and she also worked with other residents to get the $7 million bond passed to purchase Corner Canyon. “There was a whole plan for a subdivision up there — that’s what got me involved in helping pass that bond,” she said. Vawdrey and her husband, Doug, worked on the Draper Days rodeo for seven years together and she has eight years of planning commission experience. “It helps you understand what the city can and can’t do and what applicants can and can’t do. It’s a good opportunity to have the experience of actually having to vote on things and realizing there are so many sides and you can’t please everyone,” she said of being on the planning commission.
Vawdrey knows that improved communication between the city and the residents is important, so she helped start the brown bag lunches with council members after a resident suggested the idea. She said the city is now doing monthly emails, they will soon be getting a new website, and she hopes the city will do town halls in different areas to improve communication. In 2020 she wants to incorporate a celebration of the 19th amendment into Draper Days. “I think about it as a female council member that it’s only been 100 years in our country that women have been able to vote. It’s cool to think about and it’s something to celebrate,” she said.
Fred Lowry got just over 20% of the vote. He was reluctant to run because he values his privacy and that of his family, but he felt compelled to help the city at this time. “For all the candidates that ran, I have great respect for their willingness to put their face out and their life out for the betterment of the city,” he said. “The reason I ran is I sincerely care about Draper. I don’t have any personal agenda or ambitions of a political career. My only agenda is to help support and continue to build the city that I love and care about.”
Lowry ran a campaign with focal points using the letters in his name: F for forward thinking —“We can’t change certain things that have occurred, but we can at least do our best to learn from the past and plan better going forward.”
R for respect for all — “Everyone needs to be heard. We aren’t going to always agree, but we can at least have respectful conversations. We need to celebrate the differences that we all have. It’s through those differences that we’ll be able to come up with the best solutions for our city.”
E for environment, which to Lowry means not just being green with things like parks, trails and clean air, but also being aware of physical and mental health.
D is for Draper doorway — Lowry hopes to positively influence the development of the prison site. “We have one opportunity to do it and make sure it’s done correctly. I’m committed to work collaboratively with the state in helping ensure that development complements what we have here in Draper and will allow us to fulfill some of the pressure for condensed housing to be located near mass transit and areas that it can more adequately fit,” he said.
Like Vawdrey, Lowry previously served on the planning commission. He and his wife, Jill, moved to Draper 22 years ago and raised their six children here. They just became grandparents for the first time to a baby named Lincoln Landon Lowry. “The name is special to us because Landon is named after our third son that we lost to suicide two and a half years ago,” he said.
Lowry said the low voter turnout in this election surprised him after he met so many people who voiced hopes and concerns for the city. He also discovered there are divisions among different areas of the city while campaigning. “I would like to bring all sides of our community together,” he said.
Cal Roberts will be the youngest council member at age 30. He garnered 19% of the vote. He was campaigning and knocking on doors as he prepared to become a dad for the first time as well as after the August arrival of his son, Solomon. Roberts and his wife, Lizzie, live with their son in SunCrest and that is how he first became involved in city politics. He was appointed by the city council to serve on a taxpayer advocate board for the SunCrest community beginning January 2019, a position he’ll vacate now that he’s part of the council. “Nobody was volunteering, so I thought what the heck, I’ll throw my hat in the ring and maybe it’s a small way I can serve my community. We were able to come to a productive, amicable agreement with the city to take some of the funds from the city and from the district’s extra tax to fix and maintain some of the roads up there,” he said.
Roberts said he used to go to Draper Days every summer while a student at BYU. “I loved the small-town feel of the city,” he said. That led he and his wife to purchase their first home here. But he’s quick to say he doesn’t just represent SunCrest. “I thought there was a real gap between where the residents wanted their city to go and where the city was going, such as how do we balance growth and protecting our small-town feel, infrastructure and traffic congestion. I sensed I could fill in that gap. Some friends encouraged me to run and I went for it,” he said.
After college, Roberts worked on Wall Street and then in Los Angeles in investment banking for venture capital and private equity companies. “I had a strong desire to get back to Utah and I got an itch to start my own business, so I started acquiring small business.” He operates, owns and manages a portfolio of fitness studios and fast food restaurants throughout the Salt Lake Valley.
“I learned we need to start thinking smaller in our politics and more hyper-local. What really stood out to me as I knocked on over 6,000 doors was every neighborhood has their own specific issues that matter to them,” Roberts said. Those include dust and air pollution coming from Geneva, traffic around American Preparatory Academy and the roundabout and traffic on 1300 East. “How are we going to fix those problems people face on a daily basis? Tackling those specific problems is going to be important to us,” he said. Roberts would also like to see neighborhood zones with leaders who collect information and act as a liaison to the city government, following a similar program in Provo, for improved communication.
After an accident that left his adult son paralyzed from the waist down, Alan Summerhays opted not to run for office again after serving 12 years. “I feel he’s going to need my full attention in order to walk again,” he said.
Summerhays moved here as a child. “When I grew up Draper was A5, which was one home for five acres,” he said. He and his wife, Kristine, raised their six children here, though they lost a son at age 4 in a drowning accident at Lake Powell. “All of my kids and grandchildren live in Draper which is very nice,” he said.
More than 40 years ago, Summerhays helped gather signatures to incorporate Draper as a city.
He also volunteered to help the fire and police services in the past. “When the siren blew, all the volunteers would come a runnin’. We just helped out any way we could,” he said.
Summerhays said the traffic that came once schools were built was the biggest change he saw in his time on the council. He was a proponent of the city having its own fire and police departments. “We get better service,” he said. He feels his biggest challenge was the Traverse Ridge Special Service District (TRSSD). “That’s the biggest problem I can see for this city council, to make those people understand that tax has to be paid for the roads (repair and maintenance), snow removal and the lights, etc. They’ve already spent hundreds of thousands on attorney fees and all of it’s coming out of Draper City’s coffers, both the plaintiffs and the defendants, all citizens are paying for it,” Summerhays said.
Parks and recreation were a big focus for Summerhays and he considers bringing Rhett Ogden to the city to run parks and recreation his biggest accomplishment. He’s also proud the city employs a ranger to protect the open space. Summerhays was involved in creating baseball fields and as result, the city just named the new baseball diamonds at Galena Park in his honor. “I was stunned and humbled that everybody thought that much of me to do that. It was a genuine thank-you from everybody in Draper. I’ve put in some 40 years and I’m still not done. I want to still be active with the city,” he said.
Michele Weeks also chose not to run for re-election after one four-year term on the council. “I made this decision for many reasons. One was the death of my husband almost two years ago, the death of my best friend last summer and then with my mother having her stroke and just recently passing, I thought I needed to focus more on my family. The other aspect is the total lack of respect and cooperation I’ve gotten from the council,” Weeks said.
Weeks first tried for the open council position that Vawdrey won in 2013, she ran for the state senate in 2014 and ran a campaign for mayor in 2017. She was first prompted to run for city council because she said she was frustrated with the traffic, the number of fast food restaurants and the disregard for parking as well as a lack of communication from the city. “As you run for office you have a louder voice and you’re able to have a dialog with people one-on-one. I believe that’s part of the problem with our city, our state and the nation. As a council member, I believe my job is to be the voice of the people and that caused strife among my fellow city council members and mayor. It wasn’t always easy,” she said.
Weeks considers her “What’s Draper Up To” Facebook page to be one of her biggest accomplishments. “The council and mayor sued me for that for an ethics violation. I spent thousands of dollars defending myself. I understand citizens are busy with their lives, but they need to do the research to find out what the city is doing and most people don’t have time for that. I thought it was my job to give the citizens an easy format to understand what the city was doing and how it was going to affect their lives,” she said. She also worked on designing the right-hand turn lane from 1300 East onto Highland and encouraged walking and equestrian trails as well as dog parks. On balancing growth and development she said, “I’m not against development, but I’m for quality of life. I’ve always been a strong voice for making sure we have developments that enhance our quality of life.”
Weeks stated that her biggest challenge was the mayor and the council. “They would purposely keep me out of meetings, keep information from me. If they didn’t like my voice, they would make lawsuits against me,” she said, adding that residents she was working with received threatening notes from city council members to back off. “It’s hard to beat a lawsuit when they’re using taxpayer money to sue and I’m putting thousands of dollars out of my personal money just to defend myself. And it got more brutal after my husband died,” she said.
“I’ve learned that I’m much stronger than I once thought I was. The political needle is difficult to swing but I do believe I was able to improve the communications and hopefully sustain some of the quality of life of Draper residents even though we are a rapidly growing city,” she said.
As for future plans, Weeks said she plans to remain local and to enjoy her kids while they’re still in high school. Asked if politics are in her future she replied, “I never say never.”
Both Lowry and Roberts were given advice as they begin their time on the council. Roberts was encouraged to learn as much as possible and build relationships with other members of the council to have unity. “We may not always agree, but to always respect your colleagues and assume good about their intentions. I think if we can do that, I think this coming city council can be very effective in solving issues that face Draper residents,” Roberts said.
“You need to be prepared to listen, develop tough skin and don’t become emotionally attached to the decisions that are made. Do what’s going to be the best for the city as a whole,” Lowry said.
“I felt like my institutional knowledge would be important right now. We’re going to have a really new council. I think it’s important to have a little continuity, so I wanted to stay another term to bring that continuity,” Vawdrey said.