OPINION

Dujanovic: Box Elder Commission candidate must stop spinning his racist comment

Jun 12, 2024, 3:30 PM | Updated: 3:38 pm

A Box Elder County Commission candidate made comments while talking about a construction ban that s...

The Box Elder Planning Commission voted in favor of a no-construction ban last summer. One commissioner, who is now running for Box Elder County Commission, expressed who he felt the ban should apply to. (Debbie Dujanovic/KSL NewsRadio)

(Debbie Dujanovic/KSL NewsRadio)

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom. 

Republican candidate for Box Elder County Commission Steve Zollinger should have said it loudly from the start: That a comment he made at a public meeting was racist.

An audio recording last July of a meeting of the county planning commission, which Zollinger is a current member of, captured now-candidate Zollinger saying this: “I don’t think we want a whole big area of a whole bunch of like Koreans or Mexicans or whoever you know.” 

See the meeting minutes here

He said it as the board discussed a sweeping construction ban on traditionally less expensive multifamily housing options such as townhomes, duplexes, and apartments across Box Elder County. 

He put a fine point on it — with a hypothetical scenario that such a ban wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, prevent his adult children from moving back under his roof as rent-paying tenants. 

Listening to his comments made it seem that multifamily living arrangements are acceptable if your last name is Zollinger, but not if you have a Mexican surname. 

 

Instead of swiftly admitting his comments were racist, and biased, and that he’d stereotyped the 14% of Utah’s population who are Hispanic or Latino, almost a month ticked by before Zollinger issued a watered-down public apology at the August planning commission meeting.

“I would like to enter a statement of clarification from our last county meeting. As a planning commissioner, my intent is to balance the private interest with the public good. As I interact in discussion I try to use my experience to help move policy forward. I would like to apologize to any individual or group that may have been offended by my prior comments and let them know that I do sometimes misspeak and generalize at times, but it has and will continue to be, my intention to continue to look out for the individual private property rights of all people without consideration of membership in any protected classes, and try to balance public good.” 

See the meeting minutes here

I heard a string of off-topic explanations from Zollinger when I recently spoke to him by phone. 

“I can appreciate different cultures”

At the start of our call, Zollinger told me he had once lived in Canada. 

He told me he knows people live in different circumstances.

“I can appreciate different cultures,” he said.

Zollinger told me he has family who’ve adopted kids from other countries, and he loves those kids.

He explained that Box Elder County is a rural area.

And he acknowledged a need for multifamily housing units. But believes those are better suited close to cities where infrastructure exists. 

Were the comments racist?

When I directly asked him if his comments about Mexicans and Koreans moving to the area were racist he said, “Absolutely not.”

But I say, they absolutely are. 

After our phone conversation, Zollinger called KSL NewsRadio to further explain his comments on the Dave & Dujanovic Show.

“I did want to clarify some things, when I talked to Debbie last week she asked me if I meant those comments as racist, that’s what I heard. And I did not mean them as racist,” Zollinger said. “If you asked me the question, ‘Were they racist?’, I would say yes, they sounded racist, but my intention wasn’t that.”

“I misspoke, I didn’t talk about density housing properly. I don’t hold any animosity to any group or any individual. I love these people, all people,” he told KSL Newsradio.

After he made those comments last summer, the proper course of action would have been for Zollinger to admit statements like this are racist, profusely apologize, then recuse himself.

Zollinger didn’t.

Instead, in September, the entire planning commission joined him in unanimously approving a construction ban. The ban extends across all unincorporated areas of the county.

The law in unincorporated Box Elder County today

As it stands, the law of the land in unincorporated Box Elder County is clear. No construction of duplexes, townhomes, condos, or apartments is allowed.  

If elected to the county commission, it would be a step up from the planning commission for Zollinger. He would hold much more power to create, authorize, and implement policies and ordinances across the county. 

Campaigning for public office, and holding a position of authority, means finding ways to welcome people of all races to be our neighbors. It means your word choices and actions can either tear down or uplift. It means loudly admitting when you’re wrong.

Zollinger was wrong.

His comments were racist.

Going forward, he must stop spinning them.

Debbie Dujanovic is the co-host of Dave & Dujanovic on KSL NewsRadio. Follow her on Facebook and TikTok. 

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Dujanovic: Box Elder Commission candidate must stop spinning his racist comment