Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Eagle Mountain Mayor Heather Jackson says her entrance into local politics was mostly accidental. She's the Utah County city's first mayor to be re-elected.

EAGLE MOUNTAIN — House shopping is surprisingly difficult when you're 6-foot-5.

For months, Allen and Heather Jackson searched everywhere from Pleasant Grove to Nephi for a house big enough for Allen.

"The only homes in our price range were older homes," Heather Jackson said. "Lots of those homes had added a bathroom later, and (Allen) couldn't stand up in it."

Finally, a real-estate agent suggested Eagle Mountain, where developers were building new homes that fit the Jacksons' price range. Heather had been horseback riding in the area, but other than that, she hardly even knew there were houses out there.

Now, 11 years later, Heather Jackson is the first mayor in Eagle Mountain's history to be re-elected.

And much like the way she ended up in Eagle Mountain, getting into politics was an accident, too.

"I never dreamed of this," Jackson said. "I wasn't in the Young Republicans club or any of that stuff in high school. That wasn't me."

When she moved to Eagle Mountain, Jackson was working for a title company in a government affairs committee. Committee members were encouraged to know what was happening in their cities, so Jackson started going to City Council meetings.

In 2005, Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, approached her about running for municipal government. Jackson didn't expect to win, but she ran anyway and earned a seat on the City Council by 44 votes.

Just three months after Jackson took office, Mayor Brian Olsen's term started to unravel. Questions came up about travel reimbursements he requested for meetings he never attended, and there were allegations of other misuses of public funds. As the charges solidified against him, Jackson said she realized Olsen wasn't the person she thought he was.

"In the process of running my election campaign, I was encouraged to support Mayor Olsen," Jackson said, "and I tried my best to do that. Then I found out he had misrepresented a lot of things to me and the general public. It was highly frustrating and extremely concerning."

But the real problem came when Olsen announced his resignation. Who would take the last two years of his term and clean up the messes he was leaving?

"I knew it was a short term," Jackson said, "and anyone stepping into that position would need to know what they were doing to get anything done in that short of a period of time. I looked around and frankly just didn't see anybody else qualified that seemed like they would step up to the plate."

Jackson ran for the office in 2007 and got more than twice as many votes as her opponent, Richard J. Culbertson. She became Eagle Mountain's ninth mayor in 11 years — a figure that causes her to shake her head.

"In all fairness, one of the reasons we've had so may (mayors) has to do with (state requirements about) when a mayor steps down," she said. "Remember that of those nine, only four were elected."

After a mayor resigns, a mayor pro tem serves for 30 days until a temporary mayor is appointed. The following November, a mayor is elected to finish what's left of the original mayor's term. In the end, each of the city's mayoral mishaps gave Eagle Mountain three new mayors.

But even with protocol, Eagle Mountain has seen enough political scandal in the city's short history to make it Utah's New Orleans.

Olsen resigned in 2006 after being charged with seven third-degree felonies for misusing public funds. Before him, Mayor Kelvin Bailey resigned in 2003 after police said he fabricated a story about being abducted.

Jackson said she thinks most of her predecessors stretched themselves too thin and couldn't handle the time and pressure of working a job and running the city.

"Mayors we've had have been young and get a funny ego trip," she said. "It goes to their head, and they do something silly. They're trying their best to put food on the table and run the city part time, but that's a lot to do."

But as a full-time mayor, a recent change by the city, Jackson has endured more comparisons to Sarah Palin than she has to her predecessors. A city administrator, other mayors and even a Utah County commissioner all have made such references. Jackson just laughs at the idea.

"I can kind of see it," the mayor said. "I'm a football mom, she was a hockey mom; she came out of obscurity; we're both strong, highly active women who speak their minds. But (I don't see it) so much anymore, not with her later decisions and where she went."

Most of the jokes came when Jackson had to bring her prematurely born son, Thomas, to city meetings for five months. She still has the baby swing in her office. In her short two-year term, Jackson has had two kids, bringing the family's total to four boys.

Jackson said she's uncertain about her future political career. Someday, if she thought someone else could do a good job, Jackson wouldn't mind stepping down and being a full-time mom again.

But for now, she spends her days at City Hall and her free time playing with her boys or at son Sam's football games.

"Sometimes people recognize me," she said. "They'll say, 'Hey, you're the mayor.' But most of the time people just call me 'Sam's mom.' "