A standing-room-only crowd poured into the spacious City Hall auditorium Wednesday night as television crews set up their gear.
For the City Council, whose routine business rarely draws large numbers, it was an unusual scene.It was not unexpected, though, for this was to be an unusual meeting. Item No. 11 on the agenda was the long-awaited showdown between Councilwoman Renee Coon and Mayor Bob Linnell, whom she had accused of compromising his integrity on the natural gas pipeline issue.
But after the smoke had cleared and three hours of statements, arguments, pointed questions, sarcastic remarks and drawn-out explanations were over, the casualties were none. Coon was not asked to resign. The mayor was not indicted. The government did not collapse. And the council, breathing a collective sigh of relief, quickly moved on to item No. 12.
Item No. 11, however, will probably go down in city history as one of the most memorable - yet one that city officials would just as soon forget.
Struggling through a moderate bout of laryngitis, Linnell said, "This is probably the most uncomfortable meeting I've had to conduct . . . I hope we don't have to go through anything like this again."
The mayor then expressed anger at Coon for making serious yet unsubstantiated allegations, for taking her case to the media, for invading his private files and for dragging his family into the fray.
Coon denied invading the mayor's privacy and said her allegations of corruption do not apply to anyone in Bountiful City government. But she reiterated her claim that the mayor "has not been working in the best interest of the city on the pipeline issue."
The controversy started simmering in January when Coon, speaking out against a Forest Service decision, told a reporter, "I was hoping for something better, but with all the corruption I've seen at all levels of government . . . I'm not surprised."
The Forest Service had authorized the pipeline to pass through a few miles of forest land above Bountiful. The pipeline, which is being built by Kern River Gas Transmission Co., would carry gas from Wyoming to Southern California.
The mayor and the other four council members took offense at the word "corruption" because of its criminal implications. They were also mad that Coon had made a blanket statement, enshrouding everyone with the accusation.
In a Feb. 6 council meeting, Coon was told to be more specific. She refused. A week later, she walked out of a closed meeting after being confronted again.
So the mayor and the other members of the council drafted a strongly worded letter urging her to clarify her allegations at Wednesday's meeting.
Over the weekend, Coon released a lengthy statement outlining why she feels Linnell has failed the citizenry in his charge to stop the pipeline. She claimed the mayor has been too accommodating to the pipeline company and has discouraged the council from voting to pursue legal appeals and injunctions.
At Wednesday's meeting, however, neither the mayor nor the other members of the council were convinced. Coon's motion that the mayor recuse himself from further involvement in the pipeline issue died on the table for lack of a second.
Councilwoman Barbara Holt said she believes the mayor and his staff have faithfully followed the policies that have been established by the council.
"Instead of proving allegations of corruption, we've found the staff and mayor have done exactly as expected. . . . Is there corruption? No. What there is is a councilwoman who has a conflict," Holt said, referring to Coon's leadership in a private citizens group that has actively fought the natural gas pipeline.
In an hourlong presentation, complete with an overhead projector, Linnell defended his and the city's record in fighting the pipeline, saying "I don't think the record would ever support anything other than the fact we've done everything we could to oppose it."
Some comments from Wednesday's meeting:
- Renee Coon, city councilwoman: "I have not called anyone in Bountiful City government corrupt."
- Harold Shafter, city councilman, to Coon: "These past couple of months, you have made it real tough on those of us who sit on this council."
- Dave Brown, member of citizens group: "Mr. Linnell, your record and actions have forced me to the inescapable conclusion . . . that this is truly a government of the pipeline, by the pipeline and for the pipeline."
- Marie Nelson, Bountiful resident and neighbor of Coon: "Renee Coon is a person of integrity. . . . She has spent hours and hours and thousands of her own dollars" fighting the pipeline.
- Keith Barton, former councilman: "Bob Linnell has done nothing wrong but has done exactly what the council has told him to do."