Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson's outspoken nature has city employees professing that the man is a beast to work for while equal numbers swear by his do-or-die leadership style and frenetic work pace.

Yet, the latest high-profile shufflings — those of Deeda Seed, Anderson's former communications director, and Christy Cordwell, his longtime personal assistant — have once again raised questions of how the mayor's personality affects the public's business.

Personality differences are bound to distinguish political leaders, but Salt Lake City Council members say the capital city's mayor single-handedly stalls the city's legislative and cooperative interests throughout the state.

"I think that it's difficult to work with this mayor because this mayor has one opinion," Councilman Eric Jergensen said. "Sometimes he gets so caught up in that one opinion that he's not willing to listen to anyone else. It's very difficult to have a functioning government when one branch of that government is always right and the other is usually wrong."

Anderson said his personality does not hinder the city's business.

"That's just political nonsense," he said.

On the contrary, he believes his methods have enhanced the city's image. "We've made tremendous progress in the city. The energy and passion I bring to the job are contagious."

Anderson's differences with the City Council are well-known and plentiful. There was the spat about the Human Rights Commission (the council established it, Anderson said it was toothless); then the fight about withdrawing support for the Utah League of Cities and Towns (Anderson said the organization doesn't represent Salt Lake City's best interests, the council voted to stay with the league); and finally, Anderson's accusation that council members were voting on city business based on their religious beliefs.

Anderson has also clashed with other mayors, residents of other counties, most notably, Davis County residents, and the Utah Legislature. Confrontations with those people have directly impacted his effectiveness, said Councilman Dave Buhler, who also lobbies for higher education with the Legislature.

"I would not call him a collaborator or someone who listens really well," Buhler said. "With the Legislature, he's the man they love to hate. Unfortunately, he brings it on himself and involves himself in issues that are not city issues."

For instance, Anderson said Davis County residents undermined quality of life in Salt Lake City with their general support of the proposed $750 million Legacy Highway.

Lawmakers said Anderson's vocal dislike of opinions different from his own nearly cost Salt Lake City $4 million for a Salt Palace expansion project. Legislators during the 2005 session also eliminated the possibility of using redevelopment agency projects for the Real Salt Lake professional soccer stadium that Anderson is courting.

New poll results

Anderson's political tactics may also be costing him voter approval, according to a new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll.

Of 230 respondents, 50 percent said they probably or definitely disagree with Anderson's political style. Forty-three percent said they agreed with his style in the survey conducted Aug. 29-Sept. 1. The poll by Dan Jones & Associates has a 7 percent margin of error.

"I'm a firm believer that organizations assume the personality of their leader," said Frank Pignanelli, a lobbyist, former Anderson political opponent, and political columnist for the Deseret Morning News. "Salt Lake City being isolated from the rest of the state is just like Rocky being isolated from the rest of humanity."

The hostile environment Seed depicted after her termination is not a solitary description, said Dave Owen, former communications director for Anderson, who left his post after only two months because of "serial abuse."

"Somebody's always the problem. Deeda had become the problem, and now that Deeda is gone, everything will be fine and in 30 days, somebody else will be the problem," he said. "Rocky cannot tolerate any deviance from his line. He simply has zero tolerance for any contrary opinion."

Pignanelli said he ran against Anderson in 2003 simply because he believed Anderson was running his office by yelling, berating and humiliating. Pignanelli said he received many phone calls from city hall staff describing the work environment.

"What got me up every morning to campaign against this guy was the atrocious way he treated employees," he said.

The greatest consequence, Pignanelli added, is that Anderson's personal conflicts with staffers are driving qualified employees from his office.

High turnover

Since Anderson took office in 2000, 41 employees from the mayor's office have either quit or been fired — a 240 percent turnover rate within the 17 positions at the mayor's office.

"Those people, most of them if not all of them, were capable, qualified, personable people," Councilman Van Turner said. "I don't know why they leave."

Anderson attributes the high turnover to incompetence by employees, who, he said, "weren't getting the job done." He noted that he does get frustrated with employees. He even has his own personal improvement jar that he puts money in every time he swears at staffers. But most of those arguments are fueled by employee mistakes that have escalated, he said.

"People who know me will know it's not focused personally; it's focused on the frustration of not getting the work done," he said. "I have a forceful enough personality and presence that people think I'm yelling when I'm just being direct."

Anderson's "passion and energy" for the job can sometimes be intimidating for staffers, chief of staff Sam Guevara said, but are all part of what makes the mayor's office productive. Employees who sign on to work for Anderson understand it is a high-stress environment and that they are expected to meet the mayor's standards.

D.J. Baxter, the senior adviser who has been in the mayor's office since 2000, said working for the city is a demanding job and Anderson has a right to keep his employees in line. Baxter noted, however, that he has never seen Anderson belittle employees for not doing their job.

"Rocky is a very hard-driving guy. Anybody who works for him knows that right up front. He expects us all to keep up with him," Baxter said. "I think the taxpayers are getting their money's worth."

Mark Alvarez, administrator of minority affairs in the mayor's office, also has never had any run-ins with Rocky. Rather, he said his experience with the mayor has always been "pleasant."

In fact, Alvarez said hearing Anderson "clearly state his position on issues" is a motivation for the office and that his "clear vision" is driving the city's success.

Outside issues

Anderson's passion for topics outside the city's official business has drawn him national attention. Anderson has advised international organizations about global warming and made national headlines last month by protesting President Bush and the Iraq war during the president's visit to Salt Lake City.

The majority of residents in the city he governs don't mind Anderson being in the national spotlight, according to the Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll. Of the 230 Salt Lake residents responding, 50 percent thought Anderson spent an appropriate amount of time on national and international issues. Forty-two percent said he spent too much time on such issues.

Among 414 statewide respondents, however, 52 percent said Anderson spends too much time devoted to national and international issues.

Jergensen thinks that Anderson ought to concentrate his efforts closer to city business and spend less time on the big-button issues that have won him national recognition but no further local admiration.

"People can disagree about Bush and the war, and that's fine," Jergensen said. "But does it improve quality of life and enhance the quality of life for the resident of Salt Lake City? Is it representative of what Salt Lake City is about? Does it help to build Salt Lake City's stature in the country and world in economic development possibilities? And, does it make sure the streets are safe, the potholes are filled and the sidewalks, water and garbage are all functioning properly?"

Anderson counters that he is doing his job adequately.

"City services have never been better," he said. At the same time, "we're nationally and internationally recognized for the work that we've done."

'Energy and passion'

Cordwell, who was the mayor's assistant for approximately 5 1/2 years, resigned her position the same day Anderson fired Seed. Cordwell would not comment for this article, directing all questions to her attorney, Ralph Chamness. Chamness refused to discuss specifics of his conversations with Cordwell, but he is known for having pursued workplace discrimination lawsuits in the past with other clients.

"At this point, it wouldn't be productive to make any comment," Chamness said.

Anderson said during a Sept. 2 news conference that he has made hiring mistakes and apologized for any deeds that made former employees and friends anxious. Cordwell's office was between Seed's and Anderson's offices; he said that he often criticized Seed to Cordwell.

That apology came just days after Anderson described reports that he is difficult to work with as an "urban myth."

"I understand now that probably really wore on Christy," Anderson said. "It doesn't dampen my passion or my energy or tenacity, but in this case it made me re-evaluate how and when and where I discuss performance problems with employees."

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Yet, neither Anderson or his former employees think that Anderson will change his leadership style. City Council members don't think so either.

"I've often thought that it would be really difficult to live within Rocky's skin," Councilwoman Jill Remington Love said. "I just think moment by moment he is just charged with energy and passion and confrontation. He probably uses the word 'outrage' 50 times a day because that's how he feels. He's got just so much emotion inside of him."


E-mail: estewart@desnews.com; kswinyard@desnews.com