Facing a tax hike of up to 20 percent and still stinging from a community-wide friction over a proposal to widen a roadway through the historic center of town, the city of Jordan made history Wednesday night.

For the first time, candidates for mayor and City Council gathered before the public for a forum at which they answered questions about what they have in mind for the city's future.

Longtime Mayor Ron Jabs, facing two challengers who want his seat, struck a note of humility before an audience of 70 gathered in the high school auditorium and a television audience that will watch the tape in the weeks to come.

"I want to say this," he said. "I know that communication in the past, for our City Council and so forth, has left a lot to be desired. I will take a more proactive role" in letting people know what's going on at City Hall. "That's critical, no doubt about it. I hear that loud and clear."

He also said that "With hindsight, we'd have done a lot differently on [Hwys.] 21 and 282," the intersection whose proposed transformation kicked up a major struggle.

Challenger Pete Ewals, who said his day job involves forecasting for a private business that will fold if he doesn't do his job right, said the city has been messing up at just that skill.

"We've been chasing rapid growth and evidently didn't see the housing bubble," he said. "Things were coming to a grinding halt. We kept bonding and spending. ... When you see housing delinquency rates going up, you have to put the brakes on. We have put a lot of infrastructure in place that is good for the future, but guess who gets to pay for it now?"

Given the strength of the underlying tensions, the two-hour forum featuring 10 candidates in all, seven for City Council, was remarkably good-natured. One exception came when Ewals sensed that Jabs was filibustering on the roadway issue, taking up limited time emphasizing the part that everyone agreed on while delaying addressing the hottest elements: the use, for instance, of the city's power of eminent domain to take over private land in the roadway widening project.

Jabs said that was done reluctantly after the city refused to pay a fortune for a scrap of land "about the size of this table," the standard-size table at which the candidates sat.

The same issue arose from time to time during the previous hour, when the council candidates addressed the issues.

Challenger Thomas Boncher said:

"I didn't grow up in Jordan," as some others emphasized they had done. "I chose Jordan. I choose to live here. And it's not because of traffic flow or wonderful intersections, but because it's a great place to live and I want to keep it that way. The small-town charm, warmth, friendliness -- a place to walk and talk and see people. I hope you'll choose me to preserve the town that way."

Much of that discussion had to do with the financial crunch the city faces. Council Member Mike Shaw noted that the city used to see 45 to 60 new homes built each year, "but this year, six or seven." The council is talking about carving $200,000 off the tax hike to bring the increase closer to 15 percent than 20, he said, and "I feel with more discussion, there can be more cuts."

David Peterson • 952-882-9023