Though citizens usually vote in new city council members during an open election, St. George City Attorney Shawn Guzman said that Wednesday’s appointment of councilwoman Bette Arial was the second seat he has seen assigned through this secondary process in the past 11 years.
“The first one was when council member Sharon Isom passed away (in 2004),” he said. “In this case, Jon Pike – who was in the middle of his 4-year term on the city council – was elected as mayor.”
Guzman said that once Pike vacated his seat, the city had 30 days to fill the open position on the City Council. From January 6-15, he said council members accepted applications from parties interested in the opportunity. Twenty-five candidates applied, but Guzman said that only 24 made it through the screening process.
“One was disqualified, because he wasn’t a registered voter in the city,” Guzman said.
Each of the remaining 24 petitioners joined council members at the Wednesday night meeting to present their case, and share with them what they would bring to the table if selected to fill Pike’s position in an open interview.
Guzman said there was a 3-1 vote in favor of both Arial and Diane Adams – with Arial in the lead. He said that in order to fill the seat the vote had to be a unanimous, so there was a second round before the council declared Arial the winner.
Arial said she was somewhat surprised when she won, because there were so many good candidates who applied for the position. Some contenders showed up with large groups of supporters, and others had even made campaign buttons she said.
“It was intimidating,” Arial said. “But it all worked out, and again, sometimes when you show up, miracles happen.
“They even swore me in that night, so that was surreal,” she added.
Though raised in Provo, Arial said her family has deep roots in St. George, and that she has cherished the years she has spent there raising her family.
Since graduating in 1972 from BYU, Arial’s resume reports that she has served the community in a variety of positions including a 9-year position with the BLM where she acted as a congressional liaison, media contact specialist, publication director, environmental education specialists and a special projects manager.
Arial said that out of the many roles she has played in her lifetime, she believes this particular job may have helped prepare her the most for what she is about to encounter as a newly appointed public servant.
“I had to work with a lot of people,” she said. “And try to help solve, or at least mediate problems.”
Similarly, she said, the five years she worked for Congressman James V. Hansen’s office gave her the strength to handle the controversial topics that she may encounter while serving as a member of a city council that governs over such a large territory.
“It was the time of the grazing, mining, timber controversies,” she said. “And I just tried to listen, learned to have empathy for both sides, to try to understand where people were coming from and what on earth we could do about it.”
Arial said she looks forward to learning more about her new post to serve the community of St. George. As she moves toward the future as councilwoman, she said that more than anything she wants to have an open mind, and try her best to fulfill the needs of the people in the community she is serving.
“I know I’m going to be on a very steep learning curve about the city and what’s been done – especially some of the projects that are in the works,” she said. “I do know that Gayle Bunker, who had left the council, was a great advocate for the arts, and I hope that I can in some way do a little of what she has done, or at least be that advocate, because I think that the arts are a very important part of our society.”