August Christensen, left, Hyrum Johnson
DRIGGS — Incumbent Hyrum Johnson and candidate August Christensen are running for mayor of the city of Driggs.
Christensen is currently serving on the city council.
To learn more about the candidate’s platform, EastIdahoNews.com sent the same eight questions to each one. Their responses are listed below, were required to be 250 words or less, and were only edited for minor punctuation and grammar.
Elections are on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
Tell us about yourself — include information about your family, career, education, volunteer work and any prior experience in public office.
Johnson: It has been an honor to serve as Driggs’ Mayor these past eight years. We’ve come so far since 2014 when the pain of the Great Recession was still real. With many important projects currently underway, I am excited to complete my service with one final term; Unifying the Future of Driggs by providing experience and continuity at a time of great challenges and exciting potential for Driggs.
My wife, Sarah, and I came to East Idaho in 2003, attracted by the outdoor beauty, and strong sense of community. We’ve raised our three children here, with our youngest in her last couple of years of High School. My professional experience in business and finance, combined with various volunteer boards, including Driggs Urban Renewal Agency, and Teton County Economic Development Subcommittee prepared me to lead Driggs out of the recession, and into this time of vigorous growth.
Serving as Driggs’ Mayor has been both the most rewarding, and most difficult job of my professional career. I am excited to round out my service, completing important projects during this critical time in the growth of our community. For more information on me and my service to our community, please visit www.HyrumForDriggs.com.
Christensen: Hello! My name is August Christensen and I am running for Mayor of Driggs. I have lived in the City of Driggs since 1998. I started a family here which includes my husband, Aaron, and our twin daughters, Olive and Lily. I have started two schools here in the Valley including my own business here in Driggs as well as a non-profit in Victor. I have been an educator for more than 30 years in addition to working in the administrative role and managing teams of teachers. Connecting with hundreds of children, their parents and other teachers have shown me the benefits of working towards a shared goal: bringing the community together.
I love Driggs. I love having hard conversations with my neighbors and still being friendly. I love pitching in with the many others to help where needed and to those in need. Our small town is special. I have been on the city council for eight years. I am ready to take this new step as a city leader and bring a fresh perspective to the mayor’s chair.
What are your proudest accomplishments in your personal life or career?
Johnson: Following is a partial list of my accomplishments as Mayor:
Successfully negotiated a law enforcement contract with Teton County
Advanced progress on Driggs’ future Aquatic and Recreation center,
including the donation of land from two owners.
Founding member of the Teton Joint Housing Authority, focusing on long
term housing affordability solutions.
Hiring and unifying a phenomenal staff, and empowering them to rise to
the challenges we face.
Major water project improvements to ensure safety of our water supply for
decades to come.
Finding grant funding in unusual places, including major funding for water
projects, and for walkability and pedestrian safety projects.
Updates to our computer network systems to protect our water quality and
safety from cyber attacks.
Adoption of city lodging tax, allowing visitors to contribute to city
infrastructure, parks, and events.
Negotiated with EPA to reduce a fine from a potential of over 2 million to
Leading efforts to identify and solve our Wastewater Treatment Plant
Involvement in state and federal legislation to protect the interests of our
Developing relationships with citizens and elected officials across the
political spectrum – acting as a bridge builder.
Instrumental in securing millions of dollars in grants for Driggs and the
region, including water and sewer system improvements, walkability and
pedestrian safety, funding for transit center and operations – some of
which will come in the next two years.
Oversaw the building of the Geo-Center and Transit Center improvements
to Driggs Community Center.
Christensen: I have found a great sense of accomplishment in creating change where needed. Whether it has been in starting a needed business from scratch, bringing needed services to our public schools, creating a workshare program at a local farm, bringing families and children together in nature and getting our town to plow sidewalks for access to schools and town way before I was on city council are just to name a few. My time on city council has been filled with creating change, from work on dark night sky initiatives to maintaining our small town feel with appropriate signs.
What are the greatest challenges facing your community?
Johnson: Driggs, like many communities, faces unprecedented growth. This challenges our sense of ‘normal’ and brings with it discomfort and challenges. Housing attainability is the most painful casualty, as too many of our workers lose their housing to rising rents or conversion to Short Term Rental (STR). This in turn challenges our businesses, which struggle to maintain adequate staffing levels. Grand Targhee’s proposed expansion feels threatening to many, and the volume of people and traffic in our community challenges our view of Driggs as a quiet town.
Though growth can be uncomfortable, we cannot stop it. We can shape and mold it to conform with our Comprehensive Plan, thereby preserving the values and character of our community. We must also continue to maintain what we already have, ensuring that our utility systems, transportation network, and parks continue to perform, even as they age and demand grows.
Civility is also a concern in Driggs. The art of respectful disagreement seems to have been lost. Social Media, with its algorithms and lack of meaningful moderation, throws fuel on the fire; stoking anger and discontent, instead of healthy dialogue and discussion. It is time to return to basic human kindness and face-to-face interactions. It is time to remember that we have more in common than not; that we are more united than we may remember.
Christensen: One challenge right now is lack of housing for our local workforce. I will collaborate to prioritize housing solutions. We need every tool in our box to help our neighbors and friends right now. Every little bit helps. I started the Housing Crisis Task Force in April and I am passionate about keeping our current local workforce.
Another challenge is that Driggs does not have a city administrator position which most cities, like our neighbor Victor, have. This position oversees staff, council and the day-to-day activities of a city. Without a city administrator, the elected mayor fulfills this position. Having a city administrator handle the day-to-day operations of the city provides more direct accountability to the decision-makers and community. Moreover, a professional city administrator has years of specialized training. Elected officials typically don’t have this experience and tend to make decisions based on their own interests rather than what is in the best interest of the community. This will create stability and consistency for the long term in Driggs.
How is your experience better suited to dealing with these unique challenges than your competitor(s)?
Johnson: I’m often asked what a Mayor actually does. By law, the Mayor is the Chief Executive Officer of the City who, like the Governor or President, oversees the administrative, or operational side of government. Imagine the captain of a ship, who is responsible to sail the ship from point A to point B. The City Council is the Legislative Branch, a separate body of individuals which sets policy, budgets, and the law. The City Council sets the destination; the Mayor sails the ship.
In a small community like Driggs, the Mayor must be a jack-of-all-trades, able to pitch in where needed. I’ve plowed snow, painted crosswalks, and run internet cables, all while overseeing an $8 million annual budget, managing 15 full-time employees, and supervising major improvements to our parks, water system, and downtown core. At the same time, I’ve looked to the future and helped create the Joint Housing Authority, tasked with the long-term goal of housing attainability in our community.
A Mayor must also reach beyond city boundaries and engage with legislators and other cities to advocate for our community’s needs. Building and maintaining these relationships often consumes the most time, yet brings the greatest benefits for Driggs. Over 8 years, I’ve cultivated meaningful relationships beyond Driggs that have yielded additional funding for the City. This has allowed us to perform critical maintenance on our utilities and roads, our parks and buildings, and update our Comprehensive Plan, all while delivering real savings to you, our taxpayers.
Christensen: Many challenges need a group of people to collaborate together. I am the person who will strive to bring people together and make those important community connections happen. As mayor, I will commit to connecting to people: listening, engaging, and rolling up my sleeves if necessary to get the big and small jobs done. As mayor, I will be open-minded and transparent. I can make tough decisions in times of need and will look to other agencies, nonprofits and businesses in a greater effort to make sound and responsible decisions on behalf of the City of Driggs.
How will you best represent the views of your constituents – even those with differing political views?
Johnson: I am a fierce independent, affiliated with no political party, but prepared to work with anyone interested in tackling real problems. City issues are neither Democratic nor Republican. Parks, pipes, and potholes are functional matters which touch the quality of life of everyday people, and partisan politics has no business in these races. My record shows that I am welcoming of all who wish to engage in a serious manner, regardless of their affiliation. I won’t agree with everyone, but I’ll give everyone the respect and time they deserve and am always committed to solving real problems for our community. By being a ‘builder of bridges’ I am Unifying the Future of Driggs.
Christensen: Listening. People want to be heard. Giving our community opportunities to share their input is essential. I will create more communication pathways to connect City to citizen and citizen to City. I was instrumental in getting the process started in sharing additional communication from the City and I will ensure the community stays informed. I will host town hall meetings and add a time slot for the community to share at city council meetings. By having open communication pathways you will be able to share your voice, feel empowered, be the change.
What are your views regarding the role of the media in covering your city? How can you best work with local reporters to ensure coverage of the issues?
Johnson: The Media is the fourth estate, and as such, has a critical role to play, exacting integrity and accountability from government officials at all levels. Good governance has nothing to hide, and government leaders at all levels must remember to whom they are accountable. I’m proud to be accessible to my constituents, both directly and through the media.
Under my leadership Driggs’ government is now more transparent than ever. Recent improvements in our communications efforts, and an upcoming rebuild of our website, put information at the fingertips of residents, businesses, and visitors. Stay tuned to enjoy these forthcoming improvements. We value your thoughts and input in our community. Let us know how we are doing!
Christensen: I am so grateful that our local newspaper attends every city council meeting and includes pertinent information in our weekly newspaper. They often reach out to interview additional people to add a diverse background to the story.
What measures, if any, do you believe your city should implement amid continued COVID-19 concerns?
Johnson: Unfortunately we’ve seen the pandemic politicized from the very beginning. Misinformation has spread like wildfire, and stoked distrust of trustworthy sources. ‘Social media’ companies have utterly failed to stop outright lies and misinformation. We know that vaccination, combined with acquired immunity will eventually settle the pandemic, but the 700,000 lives lost before their time will leave heartache and scars long after the economic injuries have healed.
At this point we in local government can only encourage selflessness and basic human kindness as the best cure for what ails us. After all, the phrase isn’t “I the Person…” but rather “We the People…” We need to return to a sense of “We”, uniting for the betterment of all.
Christensen: It is essential for us to work together to keep our children in schools, businesses open and our hospitals available to all. At this time, Driggs has a mask mandate for indoor public spaces, which I supported. This was enacted due to our state’s level of Crisis Standard of Care in our hospitals, the high level of transmission in our community, in addition to children under 12 not having an option to be vaccinated yet.
If you received a multimillion-dollar grant to use for the city in any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?
Johnson: If this is an offer, we will happily accept it! I would ask the City Council to authorize it as follows: To use as match funds to obtain grants or other outside funding for the following projects: 1) Maintenance and upgrades on Water and Wastewater systems. 2) Improve our Parks & Recreation Facilities by building Driggs Aquatic and Recreation Center; building Pickleball Courts; building a ballfield complex (all projects identified in our Recreation Master Plan.) 3) Bring an indoor performing arts center to Driggs.
We are at a critical time in Driggs where we’re experiencing tremendous growth and uncertainty. Through proven leadership and experience, I have the skills and dedication to lead Driggs’ ship through our challenges and opportunities over the next four years. I am humbled by the trust and support the citizens of Driggs have given me the last eight years and look forward to serving you again as Mayor to Unify the Future of Driggs. I ask for your vote on November 2nd. As always, I am eager to hear from you. Please do not hesitate to contact me with your questions or comments. For more information or to connect, please see my website at www.HyrumForDriggs.com.
Christensen: Goodness… parks, housing, aquatic center, city manager, etc?!?! What fun it would be to decide, but how could I as a single individual? Of course, this would be the decision of the people of Driggs, their right to choose, because we are here to serve.
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