A new mayor rides into West Jordan
Dec 01, 2017 08:00AM
● By Jana Klopsch
Mayor-elect Jim Riding stands in front of his son Seth after hiking the Grand Canyon. Riding prepared for a year, which included a few half-marathons, to complete the hike. (Courtesy Kathe Riding)
By Travis Barton | [email protected]
At the end of the year, Jim Riding will clean out his desk and leave his corner office of West Jordan City’s public works department.
And move across the hall.
Riding was elected the new mayor of West Jordan City in November, defeating incumbent Kim Rolfe 64 to 35 percent.
While the result didn’t surprise Riding—why run if you don’t expect to win, he said—the numbers sure did.
“My anticipation was that I would probably win, but I thought the margin would be a lot closer,” he said. “And so, I was very, very surprised at the margin difference.”
The 64-35 margin was much larger than 2013 when Rolfe defeated Ben Southworth 50-48.
“I think people wanted a change,” Riding said noting that change goes beyond the person sitting in the mayor’s chair. Residents voted in favor of proposition 10, which will see the city’s form of government change, a change that Riding opposed.
“I think the people wanted more positive publicity out there about the city and not negative publicity, so I’m hoping to be able to give them that,” Riding said.
Riding had never campaigned to be elected before, though he joked he was on student council in sixth grade. Having been a city employee for the past 15 years, he was set to retire at the end of 2016 when he was asked to stay on another year. That’s when he decided to enter the mayoral race.
Being close to retirement and wanting to pay back the city, Riding decided if he was going to do it, now was the time.
“I just thought this is my time to try to do this and try to make a difference for the city,” he said.
Riding will leave his city employee post at the end of the year where he is the capital improvement projects and facilities project manager where he’s helped oversee the construction of three fire stations and various parks, the justice center and moving the rodeo grounds to where they’re currently located.
He said he’s also had responsibilities with tenant improvement projects, fleet, streets, solid waste and cemeteries.
Now Riding is set to take on a bigger project: West Jordan City.
With West Jordan having dealt with perceived negative publicity in recent years, Riding hopes to bring harmony to the city’s legislative branch with clear lines of dialogue.
“I don’t think there’s been enough communication between all the council members and the mayor and city manager in the past as there probably could be,” he said.
Riding would like to implement a work or study meeting prior to city council sessions similar to what other cities do around the valley. Those meetings see the mayor and city council go over items on the upcoming city council agenda with the heads of departments and city manager.
This way, Riding said, there can be more conversation and clarification prior to when they would vote on an issue.
“Even though it’s a public meeting, it’s a lot more informal,” he said. West Valley City and Murray hold their study meetings shortly before the city council sessions while Draper and Cottonwood Heights hold theirs on the off week of city council meetings.
One of Riding’s major focuses as he enters the mayor’s office in January is to strengthen relationships with the county, legislators, council members, the city manager and city employees, most of whom he already knows having worked with them.
Another major issue for the Air Force veteran is to also bring more economic development to the city. With plenty of land still undeveloped—approximately 25 percent—Riding is focused on bringing in companies to provide goods, services, jobs and tax revenue.
“We can’t place all of the tax burden on the homeowners here; we need to have some more businesses, good businesses here,” Riding said.
Overall, Riding wants to see an improved image for the city whether it’s positive news from a city council meeting or simply local school principals calling to ask for help.
“Our motto is “home of the good neighbor,” he said. “How can we be the good neighbor that we need to be for everyone?”
It was July 1993 when Riding, a Phoenix, Arizona, native, moved to West Jordan with his wife and seven children plus one; they have a “daughter” who adopted them when she was in high school and who still comes over for family dinner once a month with her husband and five kids.
Riding said West Jordan was a perfect match at first because of the home they could buy for his family’s size. When he and his wife decided to move four years ago, they chose an empty lot two blocks from their house so they “could stay in (the) neighborhood with (their) friends in West Jordan.”
“We built the house, stayed here, and we still love it,” said Riding, who loves hiking, fishing and riding trails in his Razor.
The outdoor enthusiast, who shares a garden with his neighbors, also loves a challenge—his campaign flier had a picture of him fighting a bear—with his Grand Canyon hike five years ago possibly serving as one of the toughest. With his family, Riding hiked from the north to the south rim. It took 10 ½ hours and a year of physical preparation to accomplish this.
It’s that kind of preparation he wants to take into his newest challenge, serving as mayor of West Jordan City.