Editorial: More collaboration and accountability needed in mayor/council relationship

In the final days of 2017, Building Salt Lake received two distinctly different media releases from Salt Lake City’s two governing bodies, the City Council and Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s administration, touting each body’s perceived 2017 successes.

For the city, 2017 was a busy year.  Amidst record low rental vacancies and unprecedented growth in multifamily development, the city adopted its first ever Transit Master Plan and the Growing SLC five-year housing plan, that city leadership hopes will help increase housing diversity and affordability citywide.

But 2017 also saw a lot of friction between the Mayor and the council and their end of the year narratives not only reflect that friction, but each body’s increasingly different priorities leading into the new year.

The Mayor’s office chose to close out the year touting the new jobs and investment created under the Mayor’s newly formed Department of Economic Development (SLCDED).  According to the Mayor’s office, the SLCDED played a major role in completing 15 projects over the last year-and-a-half that have added up to 6,214 new jobs and $482,900,000 in capital investment.

From the council’s perspective, the adoption of the transit and housing plans, allocation of $21 million to address affordable housing and the approval of funding and additional 63 officers to police department were the highlights of 2017.

While new jobs and capital investment are welcome news, most of the companies that the SLCDED have attracted to the city will run their operations in the city’s industrial west side, one of the most transit-poor areas in the region.  Additionally, despite these new jobs, the transit draft plan the Mayor’s office sent to council only softly discussed transit in the industrial westside and the emerging Northwest Quadrant Area.  More local jobs are great, but in a region that endures regular winter and summer inversions, more jobs shouldn’t mean more cars on the road.

Council members pushed for added language to the transit plan that emphasized better transit service in these employment corridors, but transportation is under the Mayor’s jurisdiction.  With the exception of the funding for new police officers and the setting aside of $21 million to go to affordable housing, most of the council’s 2017 legislative successes came in the form of master plans that will only be successful if the Mayor’s administration makes them a priority.

Master plans are only effective when they are followed and it will be the Mayor’s responsibility to ensure that needed transit improvements and new housing policies are carried out in a timely manner.  It will be the council’s responsibility to put pressure on the Mayor to ensure that she is loyal to the frameworks outlined in both the transit and housing plans.

Outgoing council members Stan Penfold and Lisa Adams cited the council’s strained relationship with the Mayor’s office as partial motivations for leaving office.  Beyond following through with newly adopted plans, this year the council will make a final decision on Accessory Dwelling Units and will need the full support from the Mayor’s office to guarantee that any adopted ADU ordinance is fair and equitable for all residents.

There is still a lot of work to be done in 2018 if Salt Lake is going to manage growth while and become a more inclusive and vibrant city.  If we want to live in a walkable, transit-rich, bike-friendly, sustainable and affordable city it will require a Mayor that is more transparent and more willing to collaborate with our city council.  We will also need a council that continues to be vigilant of administrative priorities and holds the administration accountable for how it respects established plans so that those priorities are fully realized.

Posted by Isaac Riddle

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at isaac@buildingsaltlake.com.