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The City Journals

Coin flip determines new Bluffdale City Council seat

May 21, 2018 11:15AM ● By Travis Barton

Tish Jackson, wife of Alan Jackson and one of the only attendees not affiliated with any candidates, flips the coin to determine the new city council appointee. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

Bluffdale has a new city councilmember, and it was George Washington who decided it. Well, sort of.

After 11 candidates were whittled down to two via a first-round vote by the four remaining city councilors, the final vote was 2-2 between finalists Travis Higby and Kristin Roberts. State code mandates a tie be broken by chance, so a coin was flipped.

Roberts chose tails—choosing first after picking the closest number between 1-10, a number determined by Mayor Derk Timothy—but the quarter landed with George Washington’s head up, and Travis Higby was appointed the newest member of the Bluffdale City Council. 

“That was absolutely unexpected,” a visibly surprised Higby said moments after the coin flip. “I was voting for Kristin, but I’ll try to do my best now that they made a decision.” 

Higby will serve at least until the current midterm ends in January 2020.

The public process to choose a new councilmember came when two-term Councilman Alan Jackson stepped down in April due to health issues.

During the May 9 city council meeting, the 11 candidates who applied for the position were given about two minutes to state their case and answer questions from the mayor and council. In what was essentially a public job interview, both finalists described the experience as “nerve-racking.” Higby noted it was “a little awkward” but that it needs to be public for the residents to see. 

“I don’t have a whole lot of public speaking experience,” said Roberts, who expected something like this to happen, “so it was a little nerve-racking, but it was OK, better than I thought.”

Roberts—who favors 1-acre lots with animal rights; smart, balanced growth; and emphasized having a strong sales tax base with retail locations along Redwood Road and Bangerter Highway—was gracious in defeat and positive about the future of the city. 

“I know the city council will do a great job for the city and our citizens,” she said. “And I congratulate Travis. I think he will be a great addition to the city council.”

She isn’t the only one to think that. During the first round of voting, Higby was the only candidate to receive a vote from every council member. The man he replaced also has full faith in him. 

“He’s more than qualified,” Jackson said of Higby. “I think he’s going to do a tremendous job for the city. I’m excited that he’s there. There were so many good candidates this evening that could’ve easily filled my position. It was good to see that. He’s going to do great, I think he’s got the knowledge and background to step right up and fill that seat.” 

Higby’s background includes working with city administrations through his work as a civil engineer where he said he’s helped councils with large infrastructure projects. 

Travis Higby takes his oath of office to become Bluffdale’s newest city councilman. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

 Initially, he was a reluctant applicant for the position. Having held town halls for work and served on Bluffdale’s general plan and parks, trails and open space committees, Higby told the council he’s “always looked at what you guys did, admired it and said no thank you” to the prospect of joining them. 

After being cajoled by City Councilman Dave Kallas’ wife, Higby decided to apply but lacked excitement at the possibility. It wasn’t until the civil engineer started speaking with city staff about the city’s plans with its infrastructure and water and transportation projects that he “started to get giddy.”

Higby, a resident of Perry Farms (southeast side of the city) for 11 years and HOA president for the last eight, said he wants to maintain low density, keeping horses on properties. “That’s essential to what we are,” he said. 

When asked by the council about his vision for undeveloped land on the south end of the city, Higby said landowners have the right to do what they want—within what’s allowed by city ordinances—and let the free market take place, with guidance from the city.   

When the council raised taxes to increase its fire and police, he supported that. Referencing a cultural divide between the east and west side of the city (brought up throughout the night by candidates and councilmembers), Higby said they throw an annual luau at Perry Farms to maintain that cohesiveness and wants to apply that concept to the city. 

Minutes after his appointment, Higby got right to work taking his seat on the dais listening to resident frustrations about parking and jumping into city budget discussions.