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West Valley City Journal

One enters, two stay as residents elect city councilmen

Jan 01, 2018 12:58PM ● By Travis Barton

Jake Fitisemanu Jr. poses for a photo with his wife and two children. Fitisemanu Jr. will represent district four on the city council. (Keil Creations Photography)

Jake Fitisemanu Jr. wanted something low-key for election night. 

The recently elected councilman for district four had just finished a time-consuming campaign and planned to have his family and campaign team over to the house for a laid-back evening as the results came in. 

Then his mom called. 

“She said, ‘No one else in the family had done this before. We’re going to go big, win or lose,’” Fitisemanu Jr. recalled. 

So his mom and aunts put together a luau with a little projector and bounce house for the kids. Then the preliminary results came in. 

“The place erupted in applause and we were all hugging each other. It was a really fun night,” he said. 

Fitisemanu Jr. beat out Lynn Sanderson 55-44 to become the first West Valley City council member of Polynesian descent. Fitisemanu Jr. is Samoan American. 

“I’m honored that I’ve been selected by the community to represent them, and I’m ready to get to work,” Fitisemanu Jr. said. 

Both candidates had beaten 16-year incumbent Steve Vincent in the August primary to reach the general election. 

Fitisemanu Jr., a health clinic manager, said he didn’t have political aspirations, but he was passionate about the community where he raises his kids. It was at the backing of those around him that decided to enter the race. 

“I really threw in my hat at the encouragement of folks around me who thought I could really do a good job of raising the issues we have in the community and elevating our voices at city hall,” he said. 

With the full support of his family and what Fitisemanu Jr. called a “dedicated volunteer team,” he ran a campaign that saw him help a lot of people register to vote and discuss the issues people care about.  

“What I enjoyed most was really canvassing. I can say that I personally knocked on houses on every street in district four,” he said and later added, “it was definitely a great opportunity for me to learn more about the community that I’m now going to be representing as well as a great chance to put myself out there and let folks know who I am and what I stand for.”

Fitisemanu Jr.’s campaign website focuses on safe neighborhoods, open and transparent communication and accountability. 

Though he will be only the new face in the city council chambers come next year, he said if there is a dynamic he could bring to the city council, it’s the reexamination of those most affected by the council’s decisions. 

“Maybe something fresh that I would like to inject into the city council is really to reinvigorate the council’s commitment to the communities, the individuals and to the families that elect us,” Fitisemanu Jr. said. He wants to make sure people are being engaged by the city council. 

“That’s a two-way street. If anything, I think that’s the most important thing.” 

Mayor Ron Bigelow said his advice to Fitisemanu Jr. as he enters the city council would be to both enjoy the experience and speak his mind. 

“Don’t be afraid to bring your comments, your experience, your background, your opinions to the table and share them. Because it will make us better,” he said.  

Returning incumbents 

While Fitisemanu Jr. brings a fresh face to the city council, voters overwhelmingly chose to keep two men in their current positions. 

Lars Nordfelt was re-elected to his at-large seat defeating challenger Frank Bedolla 60-39 as Steve Buhler saw off Philip Wayman 62-37 to retain his seat as representative for district 2. 

“I was happy to see the results,” Buhler said. “You don’t know how many people are going to vote. You’re always concerned about it, (but) you can’t ever have too many votes.”

Buhler will now enter his third term starting in January 2018. For the West Valley lawyer, who didn’t consider running in 2009 until his neighbors asked him too, it’ll be nice to get back to work after campaigning.

“I like the work. I like being involved. I am committed to helping West Valley become a better place to live and work and raise a family and do business,” he said. 

Things Buhler is excited to see progress on over the next four years includes the new buildings planned around Fairbourne Station, reconstruction of 4100 South and the “beautification and improvements” along 2700 West. 

After eight years serving as a member of the city council, Buhler said he’s learned that making changes can be time consuming since most of the city’s money is already committed for a few years. 

“It’s a big ship and turning it takes a lot of effort and a lot of persistence and work to try to get things in place that you want to have in place,” he said. 

Buhler, whose law office focuses on family law, adoptions and estate planning among other things, is known for the humor he brings to city council meetings. 

“I think I am serious because these things are serious to me, but I also like to see the humor in things and what people say,” Buhler said. “I think you can do hard, important work and still have fun doing it. If it wasn’t fun I wouldn’t want to be there at all.” 

For Nordfelt, whose father served as the city’s mayor from 2002-2010 and police chief prior to that, he was out gathering campaign signs on election night when he heard about the results. 

“I am excited that enough of my fellow residents expressed their confidence in me that I can continue to serve them,” Nordfelt wrote via email. 

Though he was gathering his signs, he probably wasn’t collecting as many as other candidates this election season. 

Nordfelt is against placing campaign signs on public property throughout the city. While he admits the possibility of receiving fewer votes due to a lack of name visibility, he felt some voters appreciated him not wasting materials and littering the streets with signs. 

“It shows how I approach my work in the city: I care more about what is best for my city than I do about my own political career, and I am careful with the funds that I oversee,” Nordfelt said. 

A mathematics teacher at Park City High School for 17 years, Nordfelt said he ran to see WVC continue to improve as “a great place to live, in the near and distant future.” 

That’s why, of the many things he’s working on for the future of West Valley, police and sustainability are his two priorities right now. 

Nordfelt said he’s excited for the opportunity they have to appoint a new chief of police. 

“I’m committed to making sure our new chief takes our police department to the next level to serve our residents and reduce crime.”

He also plans to continue his encouragement and support of the city to reduce energy consumption and air pollution, including expanding recycling, bike routes, walking trails, green construction and walkable neighborhood developments.

“I love my city and I want to do my part to help West Valley City improve,” he said.