While the outcome of the 2020 presidential race was still being figured out well beyond Election Day, the will of Box Elder County voters was crystal clear.
In an election featuring few contested local races, voters in the county turned out in record-high numbers to support their choice for the next president of the United States, governor of Utah, two seats in the Utah Legislature, and a new face representing their district in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in 18 years.
Early and late on Election Day, long lines formed outside the Bear River Valley Senior Center, which served as one of two in-person voting locations in the county on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
It wasn’t quite as busy during the day, but still saw a steady stream of voters coming through the door.
Box Elder County Clerk Marla Young said the county hired extra poll workers to staff in-person locations on Election Day and for early voting days the week before. While the day came and went without any major incident, she thanked the Box Elder County Sheriff’s Office for standing by to handle any problems that might arise.
“Everything seemed to go smooth last night,” BESO Chief Deputy Dale Ward said on Nov. 4, the day after Election Day. “We had a few little issues, but no major problems.”
After the last absentee and early-vote ballots were counted last Friday, the numbers revealed that turnout did indeed reach a record high. 26,362 ballots were cast countywide, representing slightly more than 88% of all registered voters.
In the presidential race, incumbent Republican President Donald Trump was the overwhelming favorite in the county, gaining 78.4% of the vote, compared with 16.2% for Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
The result was largely expected in Box Elder County, part of Utah’s 1st Congressional District, which was the most reliably Republican voting district west of the Rockies in the 2016 presidential election. The party had a 26-point advantage across the district that year, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Voting Index. That margin put it slightly ahead of Utah’s 3rd District (plus-25), which includes the southern portion of the Wasatch Front and most of southeastern Utah; and Wyoming’s single, statewide district (plus-25) in terms of Republican support.
Box Elder County voters last week also gave a big boost to Spencer Cox, who won the Utah Governor’s office with 64.4% of the statewide vote and 75.2% of the Box Elder County vote.
In other races, newcomer Blake Moore won the U.S. House seat left open by the retirement of Rep. Rob Bishop, who has held the seat since 2003. Moore defeated Democratic challenger Darren Parry with 69.5% of the district-wide vote and was an even more popular choice in Box Elder County, where he received 75.8% of all ballots cast.
State Rep. Lee Perry’s decision not to run for reelection in Utah House District 29 after serving there for 10 years created an open seat in the Utah House of Representatives. Republican Matt Gwynn easily took that race with 78.6% of the vote.
Joel Ferry, also on the Republican ticket, won a second term representing Utah House District 1. Ferry garnered 79.4% in a landslide victory over Democrat Amber Hardy (13.2%) and Constitution Party candidate Sherry Phipps (7.4%).
All four of the county-level races on this year’s ballot featured incumbent Republicans running unopposed, including Commissioner Stan Summers, Assessor Rodney Bennett, Recorder Chad Montgomery and Treasurer Shaun Thornley.
In races for the Box Elder School District Board of Education, Tremonton board members Tiffani Summers and Connie Archibald ran unopposed. The only contested school board race was between incumbent Nancy Kennedy and challenger Todd Cordner, with Kennedy receiving 50.4% of votes to Cordner’s 41%.
When a mental health crisis happens in Box Elder County, law enforcement officers are usually the first to respond, yet most lack the training to effectively deal with such situations once the initial emergency has subsided.
Recognizing this, Bear River Mental Health Services has placed the issue at the forefront of its action plan for the upcoming year.
Coordination and cooperation between law enforcement and mental health workers is among the top priorities in the agency’s 2021 area plan for Box Elder, Cache and Rich counties, said Beth Smith, president and CEO of BRMH.
In recent weeks, Smith has been visiting with leaders in the tri-county area to share details of the agency’s plan. The annual tour is a key requirement for the funding BRMH receives from the state each year.
In her most recent presentation before the Box Elder County Commission, Smith shared some statistics to suggest that BRMH needs every penny of the government funding it receives, and then some.
She said that at any given time, one in five Utah adults is experiencing some kind of mental health issue, yet more than half don’t seek or receive help. The situation is even more dire among the youth population, with suicide being the leading cause among Utahns aged 10 to 17, yet Smith said 60% of at-risk youth don’t get the help they need.
Meanwhile, BRMH’s caseload is seeing significant, steady growth. Smith said admissions to mental health facilities in the area are up 15% over the past year, and the number of crisis contacts requiring some sort of in-person response are up 30%.
“This is despite COVID hitting in mid-March,” she said. “We saw an initial drop in services for almost two months, and yet admissions for the year are up. This is an indication of need.”
The increased demand for services also comes despite the fact that the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute has become the first point of contact for crisis calls.
“They hand it back to us if they can’t handle the issue, and still crisis response codes are up 30%,” she said.
While caseloads are growing, the number of available mental health workers is not keeping pace with the increase, she added.
“We have a provider shortage,” she said. “Every county in Utah is lower than the national average (of mental health workers) per 100,000 residents.”
Facilities that house people who need inpatient treatment also fall short of the need.
“The state hospital beds are completely full all the time,” Smith said. “We have eight beds, and there’s always eight or more people on the waiting list.”
A major focus of the BRMH plan for 2021 involves providing more resources for the agency’s Mobile Crisis Outreach Team, which was first funded by the Utah Legislature in 2019. When police respond to a mental health-related call, BRMH sends a mental health professional and a case manager to the site once it has been deemed safe by first responders.
“They provide relief and support for the police, who are generally untrained in mental health emergencies,” Smith said. “(The police) will make the situation safe, then we can stay and deal with the crisis.”
She said that not only is this approach more useful in providing timely help to those who need it most, it’s also more cost effective.
“It’s $380 per event versus $9,000 if a person ends up in the emergency room or an inpatient unit,” Smith said.
BRMH is currently working with police departments throughout the region to provide training for officers on how to coordinate efforts between the agencies.
While securing more funding for the MCOT program is a top priority, it’s not the only item on the BRMH wish list for increased financial support.
Another effort that started as a pilot program in Cache County this year aims to allow the sharing of patient information between all agencies involved in mental health services. Health privacy regulations often make it difficult for those various groups to communicate with each other, and this new effort creates a release form that patients can sign to allow the sharing of crucial information.
“No matter where the client comes from, if we can get that signature, now we can start working together as multiple agencies,” Smith said.
The BRMH plan for next year also puts a strong emphasis on telehealth services, which have become more important than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, the agency received a grant from the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice to serve more individuals who have been in and out of jail, working with those who have been recently released as well as those who are still incarcerated.
Other areas of focus for the upcoming year include bringing in more case managers to make sure people are discharged from hospitals when they no longer need to be there, and to follow up with patients after they are discharged; helping people navigate the often-complex process of receiving Medicaid benefits; seeking more grant funding; increasing pay for therapists to help with retention; and ramping up community education efforts through social media channels.
It all adds up to making the best use of a limited budget to address a problem that continues to grow in modern society, and leveraging local funding to bring in more financial resources from higher levels of government, Smith said.
“We have a lot of staff working really hard,” she said. “We really appreciate the support Box Elder County gives us. That dollar that draws down two dollars in state funds, that draws down seven more dollars in federal money, is so valuable to us. It just feels like it’s not enough.”
“Thank you for your service.”
When someone says this I don’t take it as meant for just one person, but for all servicemembers past, present, and future. I am proud to have been able to visit with the following men who live in Portage and have served our country. They served willingly and diligently when the country was at war and they were needed.
Bruce Roderick joined the Army in March of 1968. Basic and AIT training on the job was in California at the then-active base at Ford Ord, which was located on the Monterey Bay off the Pacific Ocean. He really wanted to serve in Vietnam, but his orders said he was to go to Germany as a cook.
“My duties were to arrive at the mess hall at four in the morning and be prepared to feed between 15 to 75 men for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he said.
Cooks were outfitted in white cooking uniforms during the day and of course had the Army uniform for other occasions. When he had time off he would help by driving a truck and helping mechanics. He did not want to sit and do nothing.
He stayed in the same location in Germany until discharged. On weekends of two days in a row he would sometimes go to the Non-Commissioned Officers Club and also into some of the close German cities and party.
He met Sonja, his wife, in Germany. He saw her first from the second-story balcony walking with her sister. He soon met her and the connection was made. Her full name is Sonja Katherina Uhrig Roderick. She did not speak any English and he did not speak any German.
They got engaged when Bruce left the Army. He went though the ceremony to receive his discharge papers and told her he would be back after he had worked and earned enough money to return. She and her father wondered if he would truly return.
“Her father was so happy and excited when I went back that he treated me like a king,” Bruce said.
They were in Germany for approximately three years before they returned to the United States. One of the places he loved visiting in Germany was the Black Forest, which is known for its namesake ham and cake. He learned German while he was there, and Sonja learned some English.
They have been married for 48 years. About 25 years ago her parents came to America to visit. They had never been so up-close to the mountains, so Bruce loaded them all in his truck and drove up Middle Canyon, which is not far from Portage. The weather here is about the same as Germany — cold in the winter with snow, and warm in the summer.
He says that since he was a cook in the military, Sonja has had him cook most of the time during their married life. His favorite German meal is rump steak (or as it is called in Germany, jager & hunterschnitzel). Germans also love bread, and every other store is either bread or meat.
Bruce says, “If I had it to do it all over again I would not change one thing.”
Ed Rogers moved to Utah after retiring from the U.S. Air Force but is originally from California, now living in Portage.
He spent over 25 years in the military and says they were good years. He was a crew chief and worked mainly on the C-141 Starlifter and the C-5 Galaxy, our largest military cargo/passenger aircraft.
Ed made a couple of trips over to Iraq and considered it a privilege. His first trip was to Balad Air Base. He was in charge of the wheel and tire shop, as well as crash recovery.
“I had a great NCO who got us neck deep in testing our recovery equipment when we first arrived, and it was a good thing,” he said. “Our normal day was to generally build up F-16 tires that had exceeded a certain number of flight hours. We did that because we didn’t generally have that many aircraft crashing. We would go out semi-frequently because if a pilot has a problem that could get hairy. The pilot calls for an emergency landing and most of the time it’s a humdrum wait until the excitement is over.”
One quiet Sunday afternoon they got a call, not of an emergency landing, but an F-16 had blown a tire upon landing and had gone off the runway into a grassy area. It had just taken off, heavy with bombs, fuel and maybe a missile or two.
The incident commander has to be certain the aircraft is safe to work on before allowing the ground crew to respond. His crew was ready to go, but had to wait for the command. Once they received orders all cooks, clerks, cops, accountants everyone available from the base was asked to come assist. As many as they needed, came.
“One base, one team,” Ed said. “We’re airmen, soldiers, seamen, whatever our country needs.
“The pilot was A-OK and his aircraft actually stood up pretty well.” Ed said. “I believe they sent it back to the depot and it got repaired.”
His second trip was to a small place called Ali Air Base, about 100 miles north of the Kuwaiti border.
Reflecting back, Ed said, “I am proud of my service and the experiences the USAF afforded me. I cherish the men and women I served with.”
Glen Jacobson joined the Army in 1973. Fort Ord in California was his first duty station. Here he served basic training and also started training to operate guns and be a sniper. After basic, he was stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and continued sniper training, but also trained to be a radio technician.
“They were getting me ready to go to Vietnam with my unit and we went to receive jungle fever injections,” Glen said.
When he received his shot he became deathly ill. He had such an allergic reaction that he was unconscious for two weeks. They really didn’t know if he was going to survive.
“When my unit deployed to Vietnam I was not able to go because of health reasons, so I was assigned to guard duty and repair technician for four months.” he said.
Glen was trained as a radio technician and personnel carrier driver. At every base where he served he was assigned guard duty, which he really enjoyed.
Glen was transferred to Fort Carson, Colorado, which was his last duty station, to be a repair technician for radios, tanks, jeeps, trucks and anything that needed fixing. He volunteered for guard duty whenever he was needed.
“It was better than sitting around trying to find something to pass the time,” he said.
He actually stayed in the Army for a total of two years and then decided to go home. He wasn’t home long before he had a job at Hill Air Force Base in repairs, and then moved on to other employment.
“I loved serving my country and I think it is the best thing anyone can do,” he said. “Military teaches you respect for officers and other peoples’ wishes, and especially you gain respect for yourself.”
Would he do it again?
“Absolutely I would do it again, but I would serve for a longer period of time,” he said.