At their Salt Lake City Council swearing-in ceremony in 2011, all three council members came in vowing they were going to take charge, instead of the mayor, in setting policy to direct the future of the city.
They came in saying they knew best what residents wanted since they walked their neighborhoods and heard their priorities — improve public safety, municipal services, street lighting and fix an aging infrastructure — the "nuts and bolts." One said, "We are rebuilding our city roads at a rate of once every 600 years. This isn't sustainable, and it's not progressive. We need to do better." They wanted to have a budget based on, "taking care of what we have." All three wanted bottom-up planning so citizens could have a say in the direction of their city.
However, like many newly elected politicians, they quickly became intoxicated with their new sense of power. They forgot the promises they made, how residents would have a voice in directing their future and quickly got dazzled by the professional planners and the mayor. They forgot the "nuts and bolts" and bought in to the mayor's agenda about sustainability. They took trips out of town and came back with novel ideas about transportation, housing, public spaces and other trendy ideas.
Before realizing it, the mayor had sold them on mortgaging our future with a performing arts center and bike paths as part of his sustainability agenda. The mayor and his professional planners had their vision of what our city could become and be a model for the nation. Now, the city has been transformed to attract newcomers with trendy ideas that discourage long-time residents from going downtown, inaccessible solar parking meters, confused trafficking and parking spaces. He failed to replace streetlights and when citizens complained, his answer was to create a special tax for the lights.
Council members now are waking up and finding the mayor took them on a spending spree to get his agenda, and left the tab and no money to pay for the city's basic needs — the "nuts and bolts" — that need attention. Council members are now stuck saying they have to pay for the city's crumbling infrastructure they vowed to take care of at their swearing-in a year and a half ago.
Now, the council wants us taxpayers to pay for their failure to fulfill their vow to take care of the city's basic needs as they promised. It seems irresponsible that taxpayers should have to pay for their neglect. Last Tuesday, they held a public meeting to take comments on the "proposed budget," but nobody came. Maybe it's because there is no proposed budget that can be readily found, or any evidence that the council has established a set of priorities based on the city's needs. The new council members could take a political lesson from the mayor. He knows more revenues must be increased but will not support that this year. So guess who has to do the dirty work?
Our city leaders have already spent on their "wants," now they must take care of the "needs." It's time the mayor and council members do what all of us have to do — take care of the basics and live within our means.
A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.