Mitt Romney is the "white knight" who will rescue the reputation of the 2002 Winter Games, Gov. Mike Leavitt and a handful of other Utah leaders have decided.
Romney, a Boston-based venture capitalist with Utah ties, was expected to be named chief executive officer of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee at an Olympic board of trustees meeting Thursday morning.Also at Thursday's meeting, trustees were to decide on members of a new 20-member management committee that will be responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Games. Ten new trustees were also appointed and new ethics policies announced.
The actions come on the heels of Tuesday's release of SLOC's board of ethics report concluding that former bid committee leaders Tom Welch and Dave Johnson were almost completely responsible for the bribery and influence-peddling scandal that has rocked the Utah Olympic organizing effort to its foundations.
The report excused SLOC's board of trustees from any ethical violations. Leavitt and others in leadership positions have proposed the organizational and policy changes in order to avoid the lack of oversight experienced during the time of what the report called Welch's and Johnson's undocumented and unreported unethical transactions.
Most of the positions on the new management committee were allocated in a structure proposed by the governor and SLOC Chairman Bob Garff, but the trustees themselves were able to choose five names from a slate of candidates proposed by the governor and Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini.
Those names included some of the key members of both the bid and the organizing committees, including First Security Bank chief Spence Eccles. Although acting president Frank Joklik was rumored to be among the management committee members, sources told the Deseret News he would not be included. He will, however, be on the board of trustees.
Board members Alan Layton and Verl Topham resigned.
The other positions on the management committee, not voted on by the board, are the two International Olympic Committee members from the United States, three members of the U.S. Olympic Committee, the governor, the mayor, four Olympic athletes, the SLOC chairman, the SLOC CEO and appointments by the state Legislature and the Utah League of Cities and Towns.
Trustees were also to expand the size of the board to 50 members in order to make it more inclusive of Utah's population, Leavitt said. The board will take an advisory role to the management committee.
The new trustees announced Thursday are Marion Willey, a low-income housing developer; Forrest Cuch, an American Indian who is heavily involved in native American activities in Utah; Salt Lake City Council Chairman Keith Christensen; Provo Mayor Lewis Billings, Weber County Commissioner Camille Cain, Teresa Beck, Jim Schwartz, Joan Gutchel, John Ruger and Tom Horry.
As part of a new ethics policy dealing with conflicts of interests, the governor called on trustees who have dealings with the organizing committee that would provide them with "substantial personal benefit" to resign within 60 days.
"Those who will be affected by it have done nothing wrong," Leavitt emphasized. The policy, rather, is intended as a prohibitive measure to avoid future problems.
"These have been some hard lessons that have been learned from our Olympic trouble," Leavitt said. "It's time to move on, and this is a way for it to move on."
In response to Leavitt's call, Layton resigned Thursday, effective Feb. 28, because of his construction contract with SLOC to cover the speed-skating oval at the Oquirrh Park Fitness Center in Kearns. He also renovated and expanded the University of Utah's Rice Stadium, which will host the opening and closing ceremonies. That contract was not with SLOC.
Topham also resigned. He does not have contracts with SLOC, but he was a key member of the bid committee and said "it's time for someone else to carry the torch." He had been on the governor's and mayor's list for management committee candidates.
Earl Holding, who has contracted with SLOC to use his Snowbasin resort for skiing events and who is often named as one with significant dealings with SLOC, did not resign.
The board also established an open records and meeting policy. "The presumption will be that meetings are open," Leavitt said. "In the past, our presumption has been that meetings are closed."
He also established a board attendance policy.
The governor said Romney "could clearly be referred to as a franchise player."
While no one is questioning the choice of Romney, concerns are being raised about the way he was selected to replace outgoing CEO Joklik. Joklik resigned last month amid the ongoing scandal surrounding Salt Lake City's bid.
"There's a big question about the process, but we're very fortunate to have someone like Mitt," said Utah League of Cities and Towns President and SLOC board member Ken Bullock. "How do you reinforce trust of the public and the board that decisions are not dictated by a few individuals?"
It's been no secret that the governor wanted Romney to take the job. Leavitt and SLOC Chairman Bob Garff have met several times with him in Salt Lake City, and a hastily assembled "screening" committee, as the governor put it, met with him Wednesday.
At one time, Garff and others had said there would be a formal search for a new leader for the 2002 Winter Games. But later Garff said that would change if a "white knight" emerged.
Others had been approached about the job even as negotiations were under way with Romney, including Jon Huntsman Jr.
Huntsman, the son of billionaire industrialist Jon Huntsman, said he turned down a spot on the management committee offered by the governor because of concerns about how the new CEO was being selected.
"If I was not able to support the process which they were employing in bringing in new leadership, I shouldn't be serving in a position like that," Huntsman said.
He said he was willing to be considered a candidate for the top job at SLOC but learned from media reports that an effort was under way to hire Romney without a formal search.
Indeed, the committee that was supposed to help screen candidates wasn't formed until Tuesday, after the governor and Garff had already apparently settled on Romney.
Leavitt also discussed the job with Dave Checketts, head of the Madison Square Garden sports empire in New York City. But Huntsman said he did not believe other candidates were being seriously sought. This despite Garff's contention that "literally dozens" of legitimate candidates were being considered.
"A search was never fully carried out," Huntsman said. Had the effort to find a replacement for Joklik been "open, fair and honest," Huntsman said he "would have at least been willing to talk to them."
Huntsman was in a similar position in 1997, when the decision was made to replace former SLOC President Tom Welch with Joklik without a formal search.