A very productive and informative trip to the Municipal Building, all in all
By Dan S.
This afternoon I was honored to attend the City Council's farewell party for Jesse Garcia, thanking him for his 16 years of service. The council's conference room was packed with Mr. Garcia's friends and supporters, plus the city council staff and a few other city staff. Chair Wicks presented Mr. Garcia with a framed montage of official city council group photos taken over the last 16 years, as well as a separate framed collection of four Cal Grondahl cartoons from the Standard-Examiner, all featuring Garcia. The festive event was catered personally by Pete Buttschard of Rooster's.
The council meeting itself was relatively short. First on the agenda was presentation of the city's FY2009 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Copies of the report were distributed to the council members, as well as to councilmember-elect Garner who was in attendance. The presentation focused on the high quality of the report as determined by the auditors and another organization that follows such things. For the fifth year in a row, the city received an award for the quality of its CAFR. The council will now review the report and discuss it at a work session in mid-February. It appears that the new report is not yet posted on the city's web site, but I assume it will be soon.
Next on the agenda was a council resolution to approve the renewal of the city’s Recycling Market Development Zone. This zone coincides with the city’s manufacturing zones, and allows businesses in those zones to obtain a 5% state tax credit for investments related to recycling. The modest program has been in place for ten years, and according to Richard McConkie of the Business Development department, about six businesses have obtained the tax credits so far.
The final agenda item was approval of a long list of modifications to the council’s Norms and Procedures, which set forth procedures for carrying out council business. Mr. Cook verbally summarized the changes, but his summary was much too quick and cursory for me to absorb all at once. Incidentally, during the reception for Garcia, I was pleased to learn from Mr. Cook that the council intends to start posting its full agenda packets (aside from closed-session items) on the Internet for public viewing early next year.
At the end of the agenda, as always, was the time for public comments. This was my reason for attending the meeting. Given that the year will soon end and some council members will soon step down, I wanted to make a final attempt to finish up some business. First I held up a piece of campaign mail that I received from then-candidate Blain Johnson in fall 2007, and quoted from it the following sentence: “Our elected officials must be responsible and accountable to the community we serve.” I then reminded the council of two incidents that call for more accountability.
The first was Councilman Johnson’s agreement to assist Thaine Fischer, in late 2008, in his application to the city for a zoning ordinance change. The Utah Municipal Officers’ and Employees’ Ethics Act (Utah Code 10-3-1305) requires that whenever a municipal officer accepts compensation for assisting someone with business before the city, the officer first file a written disclosure statement. Mr. Johnson failed to do that, and in fact did not file his disclosure statement until March 5, after I had submitted a GRAMA request for it. In accord with state law, I filed a complaint with the mayor regarding this matter on May 22. After hearing nothing for more than four months, I inquired again with the mayor in October and received a letter saying that “the matter has been assigned for investigation and review.” Tonight I stated to the council that although violation of the Act is technically a felony, I was not asking that Mr. Johnson be charged with a felony but merely asking that there be a public acknowledgment that these incidents had occurred--in order to deter future, more serious, violations.
Secondly, I brought up the matter of Envision Ogden and Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate. It was on February 19, 2009, that I discovered that FNURE was nothing but a shell entity, created to conceal the source of over $20,000 in campaign contributions. Because FNURE’s address was the same as that of Mr. Johnson’s law office, I immediately sent him an email asking who FNURE was. He never replied. So tonight, in the name of accountability, I asked him again (probably for the last time): “Who is Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate?”
There were no further public comments, so it was then time for comments from Mayor Godfrey. He stated simply that the investigation into the Ethics Act violation had been turned over to an entity outside the city, so the city now has no control over when a determination will be made. (He did not say when the matter was first passed on to the outside entity, but I would assume that this happened after my second inquiry, in October.)
Comments from the Council came next. Mr. Garcia thanked everyone for the good wishes expressed earlier that afternoon. Then Mr. Johnson said that he had always been honest in conducting the city’s business and done nothing wrong. (He neither acknowledged nor answered my question about FNURE.) Finally Councilman Stephens said some general good words about Councilman Johnson and his two years of service on the council.
When the meeting adjourned and people were leaving the room, Mr. Johnson walked past me and said simply, “You are a piece of work.” (Several months ago, the last time I tried to speak to him, he said only “I got nothin’ to say to you.”) Then John Patterson pulled me aside and chastised me for publicly humiliating Mr. Johnson so near the end of his term, when (according to Patterson) I already got what I wanted when Johnson decided not to run for reelection. Patterson also said that in his opinion, Mr. Johnson was an asset to the council and had raised its average IQ over the last two years. In response, I first defended the IQ level of the rest of the council, then told Mr. Patterson that he has no right to speak for what I want, and that in fact, what I want is elected officials who are honest and who obey the law, no matter how high their IQ. Patterson acted as if he was completely ignorant of what FNURE had done, so I gave him a quick refresher course before he went into the work session (which I didn’t attend).
Finally, on the way out of the building, I happened to see City Engineer Justin Anderson. I asked him about the southeast bench water tank proposals, and he said the proposal for the 5 million gallon tank will probably be coming back before the council fairly soon--but the higher, 1.25 million gallon tank behind WSU seems very much up in the air. I also asked him about the Ogden River restoration project and he stated that the contract had been signed, before the deadline passed.
All in all, it was a very productive and informative trip to the Municipal Building.