If Bountiful's mayor has his way the public may never know the names of those who will be considered for a vacant council seat.
In fact, it wasn't until Monday afternoon that some members of the City Council even found out that Councilwoman Phyllis Southwick has resigned her seat. Mayor Dean S. Stahle has been hiding the fact for almost two weeks.Now, council members and residents are concerned about the way Stahle has handled the resignation and that it may leave a dark cloud hanging over the term of highly respected Southwick - the second woman to ever be elected to the council.
"Frankly, I was shocked that I found out about it now," said Councilman Robert Gramoll, who learned about the resignation Sunday night.
Southwick said she submitted the resignation on March 8 after the regular City Council meeting. She said she is leaving the council to spend more time with her children and grandchildren. She has served since 1973.
Councilwoman Barbara Holt said she is "offended" by the mayor's actions. She was not told about the resignation until she made queries after the Deseret News contacted her Monday. Stahle had told other council members about the resignation over the weekend.
Dee Tingey, a past Bountiful council candidate and tax-initiative movement leader, said the mayor is stage-managing the process to get some fellow supporters on the council that could help approve key decisions, including a pending downtown redevelopment project.
"The mayor wants to build a monument to himself in the downtown," Tingey said.
Stahle defended his handling of the resignation because he said it won't become official until the council accepts it, which is expected to occur Wednesday night.
Elmer Barlow said he is angered by the mayor's actions. During his term as the city's mayor, deliberations to fill two vacant seats were held in open meetings.
"That is absolutely wrong. Instead of keeping it a secret for two weeks they should have released it to the press and asked for people to apply. The way he (the mayor) was going to railroad this through Wednesday is absolutely wrong," Barlow said.
Barlow, after learning of the vacancy Monday, is asking council members to name him to the post.
Stahle said he wants the council to accept Southwick's resignation and hold discussions about nominees in a closed session Wednesday. He said he does not feel it appropriate to discuss the ability and character of nominees in an open meeting.
"There are times when we must meet and discuss things in private that could hurt people and hurt their reputations," Stahle said.
He also wants the council to withhold names of nominees once the decision is made - even a short list of finalists. The only exception should be made in the case of people like Barlow who publicly seek the office. Stahle admitted the plan is "stretching" the state's open meeting law that allows elected bodies to discuss the competence, character or mental and physical health of an individual but said it is necessary.
"I don't feel anything can be gained by withholding the information. I wish I had known as early as possible so I could be looking at a candidate to fill that position," Gra-moll said.
If there are protests to the closed meetings he could meet with two council members at a time to discuss the nominees - an apparent circumvention of the open meetings law because only two council members and a non-voting mayor don't constitute a quorum, Stahle said. Gramoll doesn't like the idea.
"I don't know why an issue like this can't be open. . . . I think we are mature adults and this position is very important to current activities of the city. I think we ought to discuss the qualifications in an open meeting," he said.
Council members confirmed that Stahle has been touting Jerry Lawrence, a councilman who lost an election last November to Holt, and Earl Tingey, a member of city's power board, to replace Southwick. Both are said to be strong Stahle supporters. Stahle refused to talk about any recommendations.
Stahle said he did not intend that a final decision on the replacement be made Wednesday night. According to Utah law, the City Council must vote to appoint a new council member to fill a term that will last until January 1990.