Salt Lake City taxpayers are getting a $457.88 refund.
Mayor Rocky Anderson said Friday he is paying back the $457.88 bill he racked up at the Grand America hotel lobby lounge last July.
The mayor also said he has issued a policy that establishes an Expense Review Committee that will examine all expenses and reimbursements incurred by city employees (except those under the authority of the City Council). Those expenses and reimbursements also will have to be posted on the city's Web site, Anderson said in a statement released late Friday.
In addition, Anderson is calling on the City Council and the Utah State Legislature to create gift bans similar to the one he adopted soon after taking office in 2000. The ban forbids all city employees (again with the exception of council workers) from accepting gifts of any kind, even a cup of coffee.
"I urge the City Council to adopt a gift ban applying to Council members and employees under the control of the Council similar to the ban I have adopted for all other City employees," Anderson said in the statement. "Similarly, I urge all other elected officials in Utah, including the Utah State Legislature, to adopt a ban on gifts, which the vast majority of Utahns has favored for many years."
Anderson's $457.88 bill had raised eyebrows at City Hall since it included alcohol and, at the time, it was against city policy to use tax dollars to purchase alcoholic beverages. Anderson said he was unaware of the policy and has since changed it.
Also, some had complained that Anderson didn't provide a good accounting of who he paid for that night when he was entertaining visiting mayors and jazz musicians attending the Salt Lake City International Jazz Festival. While he did include some specific names, he also gave the generic reference "and others" when describing whose tab he picked up that night.
In the statement Friday, Anderson said he broke no law and did nothing unethical but wanted to pay the money back to avoid even a hint of impropriety.
"I have reimbursed Salt Lake City Corp. for those expenses in order to resolve any concerns and in recognition that written city policy in effect at the time prohibited the purchase of alcoholic beverages with city funds (notwithstanding my authority to make exceptions to that policy)," the mayor said.
Anderson also said he has been careful with tax dollars. "Since my first day in office 5 1/2 years ago, I have been extremely frugal in spending taxpayers' money," he said.
Anderson has come under fire recently for issues surrounding the city's effort to take an Olympic message to Torino, Italy, last summer. The mayor allowed his girlfriend and other friends to attend the city-sponsored trip.
Critics, including leaders in the Salt Lake County Republican Party, have said Anderson should have had a more open selection process for the Torino trip, which was funded by private donations Anderson raised. Those donations are still public funds, Republicans say, and therefore any expenditures of those funds should be subject to the city's procurement and bid rules.
"The public must get an answer to the question as to how Mayor Anderson's friends were selected for the opportunity to travel through Europe," Republican attorney Lohra Miller said Friday. "Was the city's application and bid processes followed? Why were the mayor's friends from Park City selected? How was the mayor's girlfriend selected?"
County GOP Chairman James Evans has called for District Attorney David Yocom to investigate Anderson, and County Democratic Chairwoman Megan Risbon has followed suit, also calling for an investigation. Yocom, a Democrat, set a precedent last year when he investigated and prosecuted Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman, a Republican, for misusing public funds. Workman was acquitted but resigned in order to prepare her legal defense.
Evans said Workman offered to pay back the nearly $20,000 in county funds she used to create a position at the boys and girls club where her daughter worked. Yocom said paying the money back couldn't get Workman out of hot water so he shouldn't let Anderson's paying back the $457 bill affect his decision to investigate, Evans said."I'll be curious to see if the district attorney allows the mayor to pay back funds when he didn't allow that same options for Mayor Workman."