The chairwoman of the Salt Lake County Democratic Party is joining Republicans who want District Attorney David Yocom to investigate Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson for possible misuse of public funds.
"I believe that if a public official has done something wrong they should be investigated," Megan Risbon told the Deseret Morning News on Monday, saying she is sending Yocom a letter today officially requesting an investigation.
Investigations of wrongdoing should not be made along party lines, she said, acknowledging that her letter might offend Anderson, one of the state's best-known Democrats.
Risbon noted that asking the district attorney to look at the mayor's expenditures is an effective way to look at the "whole picture" that Anderson told her in a recent e-mail he wished people would see before deciding he acted improperly.
"If there is some wrongdoing, sure he should be prosecuted," she said. "If there isn't, then there shouldn't be anything to worry about."
A decision to investigate hasn't been made and won't be until Yocom, who is out of town all week, is back and has reviewed the matter, a spokesman for the district attorney said Monday.
Because the call for an investigation was only being made by county Republicans, and given that public funds expenditures remains a sore subject in local party politics, Risbon's support and her promise to send the letter perplexed at least two Democrats.
"I'm surprised that the county Democrats are doing this," said City Councilwoman Nancy Saxton, herself a Democrat but who is often opposed to Anderson on issues.
Dale Lambert, a Democrat and council chairman, said he knows of no evidence against Anderson and that merely asking for an investigation has already put a cloud of doubt over the mayor's office that could very well be unwarranted.
Calling for or endorsing a criminal investigation is inappropriate "unless there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing," Lambert said.
Evidence is ample and the district attorney just needs to fill in the details, say county Republicans, who maintain Yocom's office set a precedent a year ago when it investigated and prosecuted Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman for misusing public funds. Workman resigned to help prepare her defense and was ultimately acquitted by a jury.
Republican County Chairman James Evans sent a letter last week to Yocom asking him to check into Anderson expenditures. In particular, his paying a tab that included alcohol for a dinner group he hosted this past July as well as allowing his girlfriend and others to join a city-sponsored trek to Torino, Italy, to deliver the mayor's Olympic message. Olympic tradition calls for the city hosting the most recent Winter Olympics to deliver a message of hope to the city holding the next Games.
Risbon made her position public during a debate broadcast on KCPW radio, during which she was questioned by Evans and the radio host.
"Let the district attorney do his job and appoint an independent counsel like he did with Mayor Workman and find out if there is any merit behind it. I mean, let him do his job," Risbon said. "That's what (Yocom) did with Mayor Workman. I don't see how this is any different."
None of the repeated Morning News calls to Anderson seeking comment the past week have been returned. The mayor's designated news media contact also hasn't returned calls and the newspaper is excluded from the list of news outlets being sent press releases on the matter.
During the European leg of the Torino trek, noncity employees, including Deputy Mayor Rocky Fluhart's wife, a Park City couple Anderson calls friends, Anderson's girlfriend and others, had room and meal expenses paid by private donations the mayor raised to fund the trip.
Anderson said when asked initially about the trip that no tax dollars were used on the European leg of the trip, although $35,000 in tax monies were used for initial portions. All those tax dollars are being paid back through the private donations and the mayor has noted that the noncity employees that he allowed to participate had to pay their own air fare.
Evans maintains that even donations are considered "public monies" by law and therefore Anderson misused those public monies by allowing his girlfriend and other noncity employees to have their meals or rooms paid.
On the one hand, Anderson seemed to realize the noncity employees shouldn't have their expenses paid because he made them pay their own airfare, Evans said. On the other hand, Anderson has argued it was proper to allow these noncity employees to have their meal and room expenses paid. Evans claims the mayor's actions were not consistent.
Evans has also seized on Anderson's assertions regarding the $35,000 in tax dollars initially paid Dunn Communications to make a documentary about the Torino trek. Evans has said the mayor violated the city's written contract with Dunn that states in part: "The parties acknowledge that the public relations services and the video documentary to be provided by (Dunn Communications) hereunder must be limited to and paid by donations and not from city funds."
County Republicans also want a $457 tab for food and drinks in the Grand America hotel lobby lounge in July looked into.
Anderson has said the tab possibly contained food, alcohol and private club memberships but said he "can't remember" the exact breakdown of what he paid for or what was being served that night.Comment on this story
His city reimbursement sheet lists a few people by name and then states "others" were also paid for on the city's dime. Anderson said people came and went throughout the evening and that the group included visiting mayors, city employees and musicians in town for the Salt Lake City International Jazz Festival.Anderson has said he was unaware of a city policy forbidding the use of city dollars to purchase alcohol. Anderson actually signed off on a group of policies in 2003 that included the alcohol ban, but the mayor maintains he was unaware of the alcohol provision when he signed the policy.