In violation of city policy, Mayor Rocky Anderson used Salt Lake City tax dollars to pay a $457.88 bar tab last month.
That bar tab accrued during a late night at the posh Grand America Hotel's lobby lounge followed another of Anderson's pub tabs, one for $175.86, which city taxpayers paid for a few days earlier.
And while Anderson defended the bills this week as necessary functions of his job, both bills put him in violation of city policy, which forbids using city funds to purchase alcoholic beverages.
The mayor described the policy as ludicrous and said his job requires some wining and dining to dispel the myths people have about the city's culture.
"Is coffee included in the policy?" Anderson asked. "If there is such a policy, it's insane."
The mayor said he will consider changing the policy, which was adopted by former Mayor Deedee Corradini's administration in 1995.
The bar tabs came in July as Anderson wined and dined Salt Lake City International Jazz Festival musicians and other mayors visiting for the Sundance Summit A Mayor's Gathering on Climate Protection, which Anderson and Robert Redford helped organize.
Both bills were paid after midnight, following festival events the mayor attended. Anderson, as he has in the past, maintains he is one of the nation's most frugal mayors. He noted he often pays for concert or play tickets even if he is attending the event on city business. In other cities, when he is a guest, mayors treat him like royalty and nobody makes a fuss, he said.
"When I go to Chicago, Mayor (Richard) Daley rolls out the red carpet," Anderson said. "It's amazing. The dinners, the receptions, the bars that are set up, the parties that are thrown."
Anderson said he's positive he's not the city's first employee to violate the alcohol policy.
"I can promise you it's been violated time and time again," he said. "You don't think Mayor Corradini bought drinks for IOC members?"
A City Hall source notified the Deseret Morning News of Anderson's expenditures because that source had concerns the mayor was inappropriately spending city tax dollars. The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Anderson's nights out had little to do with city business and more to do with the mayor going out for a good time. The source felt the mayor shouldn't have made taxpayers pay those bills and noted the city policy on alcohol purchases. The Morning News received copies of Anderson's bar tabs following a Government Records Access and Management Act request.
Countering the criticism, Anderson said it's more than reasonable to expect taxpayers to pick up those tabs.
The mayor said he was promoting Salt Lake City by entertaining visiting mayors and notable jazz musicians many of whom had never been to Salt Lake City. It is in the taxpayers' interest that these visitors walk away from the city with a good experience and a knowledge that the city has a nightlife, Anderson said.
"It would have looked ridiculous to invite all these people out together after the jazz festival and then tell them they had to pick up their own tab," Anderson said.
The $457 tab came July 9 the next-to-last night of the jazz festival as visiting mayors including Tom Bates of Berkeley, Calif., Heidi Davison of Athens, Ga., and Kitty Piercy of Eugene, Ore., along with the city's community development director, Louis Zunguze, and jazz musicians, joined Anderson for some post-festival refreshments (both food and drink) at the Grand America lounge. Anderson estimated there were some 20 people in his group. The total bill was actually more than the $457 Anderson put on his city credit card, but some people chipped in to pay the rest, the mayor said.
The mayor also defended the sloppy reporting of his reimbursement submission, which stated he paid for "Mayor & Mrs. Bates, Zunguzees, Mayor Heidi & Al Davison and others." Normally, for reimbursement, a city employee would disclose all the people the city paid for, not just a generic "and others" reference. In Anderson's case, it was difficult to know with such a large, fluctuating group, he said.
"There were several people that actually came in and left" as the night wore on, Anderson said.
Three nights earlier, on the first day of the festival, Anderson took Utah Symphony music director Keith Lockhart, Lockhart's parents, festival director Jerry Floor and "other jazz festival participants" to Squatters Brewing Co., following a festival event at Abravanel Hall. Anderson again put $175 of the bill on his city credit card.
"It would have been inappropriate not to pick up part of the bill," Anderson said. "This is an event of huge significance for our city."
City Councilman Dave Buhler, who is often at odds with the mayor, said mayors have to do a certain amount of entertaining. He said the public will have to decide whether Anderson's expenditures crossed the line.
"Whether this is excessive or not, people will have to judge that," he said.
Other City Council members had varying levels of unease about the bills. Councilwoman Jill Remington Love said she hoped private sponsors of large events like the jazz festival could pick up the mayor's entertaining tabs in the future.
Salt Lake County Republican Party Chairman James Evans, another frequent critic of the city's Democratic mayor, said regardless of whether the tabs were excessive, they violated city policy.
"The only city policies that matter with Rocky are the ones he agrees with," Evans said. "If he doesn't agree with them, they don't exist."Comment on this story
While not commenting directly on Anderson's bar tabs, City Attorney Ed Rutan and Human Resources director Brenda Hancock said they weren't sure what sort of punishment would befall a mayor who violated city policy.
Many times city employees who violate policy are given written warnings for a first offense, unless the offense is determined to be egregious, Hancock said.With a mayor, the City Council could take some sort of punitive action like a formal investigation or impeachment, Hancock said. Or, perhaps, the voters could express their opinions at the ballot box.