Cedar Hills residents look for healing and a fresh start following decade of controversy

Published: Saturday, June 30 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

Ten months later, federal agents executed a search warrant at Richardson's home, part of an investigation into his associate Christopher Hales. Hales was ultimately sentenced to 90 months in federal prison for fraud. Richardson was named in court documents but was not charged with any crimes.

Johnson said his friend Richardson, the former mayor, agreedD with many residents that the city shouldn't be in the golf business.  But until the city can sell the property it's necessary to do the best with what they have.

The recreation center was commissioned, drawing a new round of debate and on Jan. 27, residents Paul Sorensen and Ken Severn filed 46 pages of allegations and supporting documents in 4th District Court, accusing Richardson and then-City Manager Konrad Hildebrandt of inappropriately moving $371,726 from city recreation funds to make the golf course appear profitable. They also accused the two city officials of unlawfully giving Hildebrandt a raise and withholding public records.

Utah County Attorney Jeffrey Buhman ultimately said his office would not investigate the complaint against Richardson. He said the allegations were troubling, but did not constitute criminal activity.

Severn, a web developer, moved to Cedar Hills in 2006. He said he and his wife liked being closer to the mountains and were impressed with the neighborhood and people who lived there.

"We didn't know about all the trouble," Severn said.

During the 2009 election, Severn attended a "meet the candidates" event and was shocked when he saw Sorensen, a candidate for City Council, being verbally attacked by an incumbent for concerns he had raised in his campaign.

"Here was a current City Council man, red-faced, going after this guy running for City Council," Severn said.

From his experience that night, Severn found himself involved with a coalition of residents and former city officials who disagreed with actions taken by Cedar Hills leadership. That group evolved into the Cedar Hills Citizens for Responsible Government, which has campaigned vocally for the removal of Richardson as mayor, Hildebrandt as city manager, and has petitioned for greater access to public records.

"The city just ran me around," Severn said of his initial attempts to view city documents. "All we're really searching for is honesty in the government."

The coalition scored a number of victories. In May, Hildebrandt and two other city officials resigned from their posts and the City Council approved an external audit into the golf course's finances. The city was also encouraged by a state records official — and later ordered by the State Records Committee — to comply with public records requests submitted by the group.

That same month, Richardson was named in a federal complaint that accused him and Hales of soliciting more than $2 million in fraudulent investments.

Residents rallied in support of Richardson. At the City Council meeting when the external audit was approved, several community members stood to express their appreciation for the work being done by city leadership, frequently drawing applause from the 40 to 50 in attendance.

"It was great," city councilman Trent Augustus said. "I was definitely excited to see people come out."

The coalition's efforts then focused on records requests, following the council resignations. Richardson's resignation then followed a week ago.

The criminal charges are tied to an alleged equity skimming scheme. Neither Richardson nor his attorney responded to requests for comment.

Johnson said most friends and neighbors have expressed sympathy for Richardson and hope his legal troubles are worked out.

"He really does need to concentrate on taking care of his family," Johnson said. "If (resigning) is what is best for him, great."

Streeter said she gives Richardson the benefit of a doubt and added that it's important for people to remember that the charges against him are in no way related to his position as mayor or to the finances of the city.

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