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Peter Corroon says his legacy is restoring public trust in county government

Published: Sunday, Dec. 23 2012 7:20 p.m. MST

Sophie Corroon plays a game with her father Peter Corroon in the background at their home in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon drives home at night, he motors past the governor's mansion.

It's a destination that eluded him when he ran for governor in 2010, losing 64 percent to 32 percent to Republican Gov. Gary Herbert.

It was also the venue for one of the more illuminating moments in Corroon's tenure as county mayor — the political equivalent of being taken to the woodshed by state Republican leaders for his strong stance against using public funds for a professional soccer stadium.

"The state is run by a few power brokers. If you get on their bad side, things can be made difficult for you," he said of the experience.

Corroon dug in his heels at the Capitol because he believed using taxpayer money to finance the stadium for Real Salt Lake was an "unsafe investment." 

Ultimately, the Utah Legislature passed a bill to divert a portion of the county's hotel tax dollars — a total of $35 million — to pay for the suburban stadium.

But Corroon's unwavering opposition lifted the political unknown onto the state stage. While some political observers describe the ordeal as the defining moment of his political career, Corroon takes a different view.

He says he believes the hallmark of his two terms as Salt Lake County mayor is leaving the county in better stead than when he started, restoring confidence in county government and improving employee morale. But he also leaves on the heels of a 16.2 percent tax increase, drawing the ire of critics.

Corroon recounted one of his first meetings with county division directors after he was sworn into office.

"I asked them 'What should we be doing differently?' I pretty much got blank stares and no response. I don’t think they were used to having the ability to make decisions for themselves," he said.

Corroon said he has insisted on accountability and strong fiscal management but he's tried to give department heads and other administrators latitude to manage their areas of responsibility.

Deputy Mayor Nichole Dunn said the county was "a mess" at the start of Corroon's first term as mayor. The former mayor, Republican Nancy Workman, was charged in 2004 with misusing county monies, although a jury found her not guilty the following year.

But the trial revealed that she allowed the use of public funds for the Boys and Girls Clubs. The trial, the Deseret News opined at the time, "came down to a question of intent, and of whether Workman was a mayor more concerned with the big picture than the details of running a large government."

Even though Workman had been acquitted, the GOP chose to back write-in candidate Ellis Ivory. Corroon won election by 8,300 votes.

Corroon, who was a relative unknown in Utah politics, promised to use his background in business to operate open, honest, ethical and efficient government and to restore confidence in the office and Salt Lake County government. 

"I think we have done both, but it's up to citizens to decide," Corroon said at a recent press briefing. Corroon did not seek a third term in office, fulfilling an earlier promise to serve only two terms in position.

Accomplishments

Corroon says some of his administration's most significant accomplishments include Salt Lake County maintaining its AAA bond rating during the economic downturn; keeping Salt Lake County one of the safest communities in the nation; providing alternatives to incarceration; setting aside more open space and developing parks; and enhancing humane treatment for abandoned pets or unwanted pets.

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