Sandy Mayor Larry Smith wants his City Council to consider abolishing community councils, saying they don't represent residents and, at times, meddle in important city business.
But Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis considers neighborhood councils a vital link with the public and says he would never consider dissolving them."When you want to sell something, they're the people to go to," DePaulis said. "They may disagree with us and cause controversy. But that's good."
It's not the controversy the councils create that concerns Smith. It's the confusion.
Smith said developers who go to community councils to discuss proposals before going to the planning commission may believe they have the support of that area of the city. But, in reality, they may not.
"It's a frustration to the City Council, to planning commission members, to the mayor," he said. "What it does - something I am opposed to - is put another layer between the citizens of this community and their elected officials."
Smith, who maintains an open-door policy, wants all residents to discuss issues directly with him or a member of the City Council.
An over-ambitious goal? He says not. At least for the time being.
"Maybe someday it will be so busy down here that I can't take calls from the citizens. But that certainly isn't the case now. One of my absolute policies is anyone who wants to visit with me can do so," Smith said. "That's the kind of direct government I would prefer to have."
Sandy's four quadrant councils evolved out of citizen groups involved in reviewing the city's initial master plan. Smith said some have operated consistently since, and others have come and gone - depending on the issue.
"For the most part, they have not played a major role in Sandy government," he said. "In fact, they are not even an official group in Sandy City. They organize themselves, set their own bylaws, etc."
Quadrant council officers are elected by whomever shows up from their district to an annual election meeting. Chairmen are sometimes elected by six or eight votes, or as few as three.
The bottom line: Most residents, Smith said, don't know who their community council representative is.
"That's why I don't believe we need a (community) council coming in representing the citizenry. In unincorporated Salt Lake County where they have 270,000 people, they have a need for that type of thing," Smith said. "But in Sandy I think citizens are best served by direct contact with elected officials and not working through an interim group that just makes it frustrating for both sides to communicate with each other."
Dennis J. Wilkinson, chairman of Sandy's Alta Canyon Quadrant, is surprised by Smith's feelings.
"Never have they (the mayor or City Council) told us in a public meeting or privately that the community councils were a problem," he said.
While Wilkinson admits that many residents don't know the councils exist, he still believes they are the level of government "closest to the people."
"We are trying to grow and learn and take a more positive role," he said. "We are trying to become more effective and more representative."