Standard-Examiner

Weber Co. Commission hopeful Froerer rebuffs questions, criticism in campaign

Thursday , June 14, 2018 - 5:00 AM

Gage Froerer, left, candidate for the Weber County Commission, answers a question during a debate for Republican primary candidates at Pleasant Valley Library on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. Froerer faces James Couts, center, and James Ebert, right, in the June 26 GOP primary.

BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner

Gage Froerer, left, candidate for the Weber County Commission, answers a question during a debate for Republican primary candidates at Pleasant Valley Library on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. Froerer faces James Couts, center, and James Ebert, right, in the June 26 GOP primary.

OGDEN — Gage Froerer, candidate for Weber County commissioner and owner of a real estate firm here, would relinquish a contract his firm has with the county if he’s elected.

Whatever the case, the contract to oversee land sales for the county hasn’t earned Froerer’s firm, Ogden-based Gage Froerer and Associates, any money. In fact, he figures his company has spent about $20,000 in connection with the deal — preparing a bid in 2016 to win the contract and, after that, handling other uncompensated duties for the county per the arrangement.

“We would step aside, rebid it,” said Froerer, a six-term Utah House member jockeying for the commission post along with James Couts and incumbent James Ebert, in the Republican primary. The aim by canceling the contract, he said, would be to avoid any potential conflict of interest as a county commissioner, if he’s elected, by simultaneously managing county affairs and doing business with the county through a privately owned business.

Moreover, Froerer has said that if he wins, his wife, Gloria Froerer, would step down from her volunteer post as chairwoman of the board of the quasi-governmental Weber Housing Authority — affiliated with county government, though not part of it. She wouldn’t be legally bound to resign, he says, but would do so to avoid any potential appearance of conflict.

The pronouncements from Froerer — who is forgoing another House bid to vie for commissioner — come in a race that has been marked by spirited back-and-forth, behind-the-scenes jabs and under-the-radar speculation by backers and foes of both Froerer and Ebert. The three candidates face off in the June 26 primary, and with no Democratic challenger, the GOP winner is virtually assured the commission spot.

Notably, some have privately wondered about Froerer’s connections with county government via his real estate firm, which manages rental properties and brokers real estate transactions. He’s also a partner in several other real estate holding firms, according to a disclosure statement he filed as a Utah House member, though he says he’s not involved in property development.

Broadly, though, Froerer dismisses much of the chatter aimed at him, saying he’s never strayed from proper protocol in his limited dealings as a private businessman with the county. “It’s more personal attacks with no facts, just personal attacks to me,” said Froerer, a fifth-generation Weber County resident from Huntsville who emphasizes his deep roots here on the campaign trail.

And he rejects any suggestion of impropriety. The notion that he’s running for county commission “to enhance myself ... is absolutely untrue,” he said, noting that he favors turning commissioners into part-timers and cutting their pay, currently $127,739 a year.

Some of the entities in which he’s partner, including Nordic Valley Land Associates, G&E and Froerer Family Investment, own $6.13 million in land around Weber County, according to the county’s property tax records. Many of the G&E and Froerer Family Investment properties are residential while Nordic Valley owns 50.5 acres of property east of the Nordic Valley ski resort in the Upper Ogden Valley.

The likelihood of a zoning issue coming to county commissioners on any of those properties is “pretty remote,” he said, noting that many are in cities and would be subject to municipal zoning rules, not the county’s. If an issue were to come to county officials on one of the properties in which he has a stake, he’d recuse himself from the matter.

In their public pronouncements, the three commission hopefuls have steered clear of personal attacks on each other, but that doesn’t mean Froerer’s opponents are without criticism of Froerer’s connections.

Ebert, a former Riverdale police lieutenant seeking his second term, has cast Froerer as an entrenched political insider owing to his Utah House tenure.

If Froerer and Scott Jenkins win this election cycle, Ebert said, “we’re right back with the good-old-boy system with these guys who were in the state Legislature.” Jenkins, a Plain City Republican and former member of the Utah Senate, is running for the other county commission seat up for grabs this November and will face Democrat Neil Hansen in November.

Couts, a land surveyor seeking his first elective post, worries about the political contributions Froerer has received as a state representative from businesses, real estate groups and political action committees. “I don’t really think Weber County residents want that sort of outside influence coming back to Weber County,” he said.

Froerer says his ties to Utah legislators would actually be a benefit to Weber County, that he could leverage his connections to lobby for state legislation beneficial to the county. At the same time, he downplayed the influence donors have via their contributions.

“Just accepting donations doesn’t guarantee votes,” he said. 

‘NOTHING BUT EXPENSE’

Gage Froerer and Associates won the bid to buy and sell property for the county in December 2016, beating out three other firms that had vied for the contract. Three county officials, including then-County Commissioner Kerry Gibson, evaluated the four proposals, and Gibson — who, a year-and-a-half later is endorsing Froerer in his race — gave Froerer’s three competitors low scores relative to the tallies by the other county officials, according to a review of the paperwork. That helped the Froerer proposal get the top score.

Per terms of the contract, Froerer’s firm is in line to earn a commission based on the sales price when county land is bought or sold, but the firm hasn’t completed any land transactions thus far, so it’s earned no money from the county.

“The point is, there’s been absolutely nothing but expense on our side,” Froerer said, rebuffing the questions some have posed privately.

Gage Froerer and Associates also works with the Weber Housing Authority — a governing board that includes a Weber County commissioner — helping it rehab homes acquired in foreclosure so they can be sold to low- and moderate-income buyers. The agency receives administrative support from the county but is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Though his wife would step down from the housing authority board if he’s elected commissioner, Froerer expressed reticence about ending Gage Froerer and Associates’ relationship with the body. If the county’s legal experts determine there’s a conflict of interest and that his firm should sever ties with the housing authority, he will abide by their judgment, he said.

Froerer’s company receives a contractor fee on homes it helps rehab for the housing authority through an initiative of the nonprofit National Community Stabilization Trust.

Thus far, the firm has earned $19,700 in contractor fees on nine homes sold via the initiative since 2014, when the housing authority first tapped into the NCST program, according to Andi Beadles, the housing authority executive director.

More than the funds Gage Froerer and Associates earns, Froerer, in defending the initiative, emphasized the importance of the program in helping those with limited resources find housing. Beyond that, the sales of the homes create an additional revenue source for the housing authority.

The program helps target clients get “decent, safe and affordable housing,” Beadles said. “The Weber Housing Authority acted with integrity and transparency throughout program implementation.”

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.