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Dave Bailey

PROVO — The World Series was on Fox 13, but some of the best swings of the night were on Provo cable Channel 17, where Mayor Lewis Billings and challenger Dave Bailey played hardball in their first true debate two weeks before voters go to the polls.

Bailey threw the first pitch, attacking "misinformation alerts" produced by the Billings campaign in response to Bailey campaign material. He tossed in a shot about a Billings campaign graph that shows the city has $65 million in reserve funds.

"The quality of our five (mailers) speaks for itself," Bailey said. "We have documented everything from city financial reports, budgets and audits. No baloney, no misinformation, no made-up graphs."

Billings fired right back.

"You have a degree in accounting but you don't seem able to go through the documents" and understand them, he said, calling Bailey's stance on the reserves a "load of baloney."

"We have in this city almost historical record highs in fund balances and reserves," Billings said. "The documents are available on the Provo city Web site."

When Billings questioned Bailey's union ties, Bailey referred to a comment on "cronyism" he made in a local newspaper about the incentives city administrators gave Wing Enterprises this year to move from Springville to Provo. Owner Hal Wing subsequently hosted a dinner that raised a city-record $50,000 for the Billings campaign.

"I wasn't a union man for 20 years, I was a union member for 30 years," Bailey said. "I was the treasurer of that union the whole time. Am I proud to be a union man? Since he (Billings) started talking about unions months ago, I started getting checks from unions. Do I take money from any organization as long as it's legal? You bet.

"Did they get a sweet deal? Did they (unions) get a super good deal on the Ironton property (like Wing) and then give me the money? No way. The mayor's office is not for sale."

Billings called Bailey's accusation part of a "wild implementation of the facts" in the race.

"I know a very distinguished businessman who is very miffed of being accused of cronyism, of being bought off," he said. "I'm going to let him deal with Mr. Bailey on his own."

The debate was sponsored by the Provo City Employees Association, and all of the questions came from employees, many about salaries, benefits and morale.

One was about Provo's schedule. Most city departments are open four days a week, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., with City Hall doors closed on Fridays. Bailey said he would consider a flex plan that would keep doors open on Fridays but provide employees with more flexible schedules.

Billings said the city has suffered through difficult economic times since 2001 but has tried to provide what salaries and benefits it could for employees through an annual review of salaries. He also projected the 2005-06 fiscal year, because of rising sales tax revenues, could be the best since he's been with the city and that employees deserve consideration if that happens.

Bailey said Provo had been through boom times early in Billings' tenure but agreed that times have been tougher lately. He said he would call for an independent, professional wage survey so employees could trust it.

"We know that there's a morale problem," Bailey said. "Are people doing the best job they can? Yes. Are employees helpful to public? Yes. Are they grumbling? Yes."

Billings said morale was being damaged chiefly by the scrutiny of several departments due to the rugged campaign.

"I don't know that I agree that morale is at an all time low," Billings said. "I think morale is very good, if we could get the election over."

The two men and the candidates for Provo City Council will appear again Thursday night at 7 for a "Meet the Candidates Night" sponsored by the Provo/Orem Chamber of Commerce in the City Council chambers. That event is also scheduled to be televised on Provo cable Channel 17.

E-mail: twalch@desnews.com