Provo mayor race gets ugly

Did Billings misrepresent facts about BYU education? He'll change campaign documents

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 19 2005 1:15 p.m. MDT

PROVO — The race for mayor in Provo is getting nasty.

Those who want to derail Mayor Lewis Billings' pursuit of a third term anonymously supplied the Deseret Morning News with a purported copy of his Brigham Young University grade report. They say he misrepresents facts about his college education, and Billings told the newspaper Tuesday night he will change his campaign literature.

Some who support Billings but oppose challenger Dave Bailey are pointing to Bailey's ties to a well-known Democrat because they hope it will damage him in heavily Republican Provo — even though the mayor's race is nonpartisan.

Individuals involved in these political maneuvers say they are acting independently — not as part of either candidate's campaign.

It's a familiar tactic in Provo.

Billings defeated Bailey four years ago to win re-election by 362 votes. That race was tense, but it didn't have as much third-party activity as this year's election or Billings' first run for mayor in 1997.

"This is definitely a darker race," Billings said. "This is getting personal."

He called the release of his BYU grades a "crime in our city" and said he has consulted a lawyer. He is calling for BYU to conduct an internal investigation.

The document is not a transcript but an academic summary. Either way, it is supposed to be private, protected by a federal education privacy law, university spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said.

The document shows lackluster performance by Billings as a freshman during the 1974-75 school year, but Jenkins wouldn't verify its authenticity because of the law. Billings said he couldn't either without requesting an official transcript for comparison.

Jenkins said if a university employee leaked the information, it could result in a termination.

Billings does not have a college degree and though he has not claimed to have one, some residents say he has overstated his educational credentials.

"I haven't seen his resume but I believe he fabricated his college background," said local developer Stephen Stewart, who on Tuesday launched www.saveprovo.com to comment on all of Provo's political races and express frustration that the city has withheld approvals for his development project.

"In this election and others," Stewart wrote in a letter posted on his Web site, "Billings has been plagued by the rumor that his credentials ('studying engineering and business at BYU' and being close to graduation) are distorted or even falsified. I challenge the mayor to come clean: Produce a BYU transcript. . . . "

Bailey, who says the leak of Billings' academic records from BYU did not come from him, said Stewart is not part of his campaign. In fact, Stewart told the Deseret Morning News he tried to recruit another person to run for mayor.

"I think he needs to answer to his constituents," Bailey said of Billings. "If he's been misleading the public, he needs to answer to his constituents. If he's misled the people of Provo, he needs to provide answers."

Billings told the Deseret Morning News Tuesday night he could see how someone could question a statement in the biography on his campaign Web site and in campaign literature. Both say Billings took engineering and business classes at BYU. The academic summary shows he enrolled in engineering courses but there is no indication he enrolled in business classes.

"We'll have to change it so people can have the specific details," Billings said. "There is misinformation being put out there."

He added: "If it's not clear, we certainly will clarify that. In the official documents put out by the city, my resumes are clear. This is not trying to take credit for something that isn't true. . . . That summarization, it got a little too unclear."

In response to a Government Records Access and Management Act request filed Tuesday by the Deseret Morning News, Provo released the resume and application Billings submitted in 1994 when then-Mayor George Stewart recruited him for a city job. The resumes do not claim Billings studied business at BYU.

George Stewart is running for a seat on the City Council and said this week that he hired Billings to be Provo's community affairs director and lobbyist to the Republican-dominated state Legislature because Billings had connections as chairman of the Republican Party in Utah County.

George Stewart said Billings told him he was close to completing a college degree when he promoted Billings from his first Provo city job, director of community and government relations, to the city's chief administrative officer in 1996. The City Council confirmed the appointment.

"I never asked for a transcript," Stewart said. "I hired him in a job where I didn't think he needed (a degree). His work experience was enough. And then with his job performance I gave him some responsibilities of and the title of chief administrative officer. . . . His educational background was never a big deal for me."

Billings believes he is within two semesters of a degree because of classes he took at the University of Phoenix, the University of Utah and Utah Valley State College. He said that until 1996 he took at least one course per year after completing a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the mid-1970s.

Billings' resumes show a long career in business, including stints as chairman of the board of the Provo/Orem Chamber of Commerce.

For his part, Billings is firing back, saying the campaign is full of "personal attacks" he called "questionable," "marginal" and "tripe." His campaign has already surpassed the five "misinformation alerts" it issued in response to Bailey statements and mailers in the 2001 Billings-Bailey match.

"I'm going to nominate Dave for a fiction writer of the year award," Billings said. "This whole campaign from my opponent is innuendo and attacks. It seems willing to pull out all the stops for political mileage. I think it will backfire because the people of Provo don't react well to those tactics."

Republicans outside the Billings campaign have pointed out that Nancy Jane Woodside is working for the Bailey campaign. Woodside has served as vice chairwoman of the Utah Democratic Party and ran for Congress as a Democrat against Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah. Bailey's wife, Mary Bailey, said Woodside is only helping to prep the candidate for debates against Billings.

Provo is no stranger to nasty campaigns. Billings easily won his first election in 1997 despite negative ads by an anonymous group called Ethics 4 Provo. Billings' opponent, Karl Thalman, said the group was not linked to his campaign.


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com

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