The Rexburg Area Chamber of Commerce held their Meet the Candidates forum for Rexburg today at the Romance Theater, located in downtown Rexburg.
The candidates had two minutes to offer an opening statement about who they are and why they are running. After that they had one minute to answer each question, of which there was three.
When asked about business growth Travis Brown, Custodial Supervisor for Brigham Young University of Idaho, said that business growth was vital to the area because the residents in Rexburg have a predominantly low income and more business would mean more jobs and hopefully better wages. Many on the panel agreed.
Jerry Merrill, current mayor of Rexburg running for re-election, said it takes three things to increase business. He said the first was rules and regulations, they’ve simplified the development code to make Rexburg an easy place to do business. The next was re-development, businesses need a place to be and they want to be downtown. Which is why they’re redeveloping the downtown area. And finally a mayor needs to be out promoting the city as much as possible. Telling businesses that Rexburg has good schools, it’s safe, the city has family values, and there are recreation opportunities.
Jordan Busby, current council member running for re-election, said one way to help Rexburg become more desirable for businesses is to promote the local schools.
Robert E. Chambers, religious instructor at BYU-I, said the city working collaboratively with locals and local businesses will be the key to making Rexburg be more successful.
Tisha Flora, current council member running for re-election, said the city is the poorest county, the city struggles with parking and infrastructure. She said they need to work on the cities shortcomings to continue to grow.
Bryanna Johnson, a local mother and PTO president for Kennedy Elementary School, said ordinances and codes need to be looked at and kept up to date. She said the city also needs to work on having enough development space for new businesses. She said new businesses will help the ones that are already here.
When asked what the biggest challenge facing Rexburg was they all had slightly different answers but the one thing they all agreed on was that the city is growing and a bit faster than was to be expected. Almost every candidate said the city has to continue to manage the growth carefully.
Tisha Flora said the infrastructure needs work and so do the roads. She said the city is 10 years behind on road work and they put thousands of dollars every year into road maintenance and plowing. She said when the Teton Dam Flood happened all the roads had to be redone at that time and about 40 years later they all need work done again.
“I don’t think there’s any question that Rexburg will grow, the question is how?” Chambers said.
The next topic of discussion was the possible tension between students and local community members.
Busby said he didn’t think there was a disconnect but there have been some problems. He said the city works well with the university through a liaison, Brett Sampson, who is the University’s Public Affairs Director. He said the students are an integral part of the community. He said the bridge is being rebuilt every day and that students are vital.
“They provide entertainment for us and they keep our police busy but I do think they are an integral part of it,” Busby said. “And I have heard residents say we don’t need the students, no we do need the students.”
Many on the panel agreed. Brown, who works on campus and manages the Farmers Market in town said there is a disconnect between students and community members. He said there may not be one at the administrative and city levels but there is one between everyday students and citizens.
He said they are frustrated with each other and have been for a long time but he has seen at the Rexburg Farmers Market that they both can work together and get along. He said they can peacefully come together in a more natural way at public events and meeting places.
After the forum was over candidates served pie to those in attendance. That gave them the opportunity to meet with and speak to those who were in attendance.
“This was so wonderful,” said Chris Mann, Rexburg City Councilman and CEO of the Rexburg Area Chamber of Commerce. “I’m so glad that the Rexburg Area Chamber of Commerce was able to have this forum today so that the candidates could present their platforms and let us get to know them better. I think there are some great candidates and I think there are some choices that the citizens of Rexburg will have to make.”
County Commissioner Brent Mendenhall was in attendance and said he felt it was a good forum. He said it was a shame that there wasn’t more people there but was happy to see that those who were in attendance were paying close attention and taking notes. He said it was great seeing people who want to serve the community because it can be so challenging.
“I think they are all very qualified,” Mendenhall said. “The city council has been very good, they’ve worked well together these past couple of years but I also see some freshness coming in, some new perspectives. I think Rexburg is in a no-lose situation I really do.”
Doug Ricks from the House of Representatives was also in attendance.
“It’s good to hear from the candidates,” he said. “It’s always good to have a little bit of competition and talk about ideas.”
Rexburg Councilman Mikel Walker said all four candidates for city council were strong. He said it would be great to work with Tisha and Jordan again but said it is up to the people of Rexburg to decide who will be on the council next.
“I think the forum that we have each time we have an election like this one today was great,” Sampson said. “We got to know the personalities and viewpoints of our candidates today and it’s just another example of what’s great about our community.”
When asked about the question on relations between students and community members Sampson said he thought it was interesting and said that the relationship is good. He said that there are some perceptions that persist but he feels the community and students are getting along.
“The chief of police today was just telling me how grateful he was for the students in the community,” Sampson said.
To watch the full forum visit our Facebook page. The next candidate forum will be held for Sugar City Candidates. That forum is scheduled at 7 p.m., Oct 17, at the Sugar-Salem High School