Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis has branded as "overreaction" a request by City Council Chairman W.M. "Willie" Stoler for a probe of rumors that council members arranged a deal with a local bank in awarding a $23 million bonding package.
And City Attorney Roger Cutler, saying Stoler has every right to request an investigation of the rumor, made public by Councilman Tom Godfrey, cautioned that such an investigation must not abridge state "whistle-blower" laws.Last week, Godfrey revealed at a Redevelopment Agency meeting that rumors were circulating that one or more council members met with principals from Zions First National Bank and made a deal the bank would get the bonding package, worth $40,00 in fees.
The City Council is also the RDA's board.
Stoler and Counilwoman Florence Bittner admitted they had talked with Zions officials, but the two council members and Zions officials deny any discussion of Block 57 occurred.
Stoler, calling the rumor an act of mudslinging, said he will request at a council meeting Tuesday an independent investigation of the rumors to determine who started the story and to measure the rumors' truthfulness.
But DePaulis, who is the RDA's chief administrative officer but has no voting privileges, said Stoler's request is an overreaction and a "symptom" of divisiveness on the council, frequently split by 4-3 votes.
"I don't know about the merits of an investigation. It seems like just on face value, it might be a little bit of an overreaction," he said. "Why doesn't he (Stoler) just ask Mr. Godfrey?"
Stoler, saying "I'm not after vengeance, I'm after truth," said, "maybe Mr. Godfrey can clear it up; maybe that is the answer." But if not, then Stoler said he would request a probe by an independent investigator.
The investigation should focus on the source of the rumor, Stoler said, but it should also clear the air by fully exploring whether the rumor is true or not.
"I welcome the investigation. I don't know that anyone has anything to hide, except if they're hiding where it (the rumor) got started," he said.
Cutler said the RDA has the right to request a probe as does any organization or private citizen. "But you've got to be careful that you're protecting everyone's rights under the whistle-blowing statute," he said.
That law says that an employer cannot threaten a person's job status if the person reports waste of public money or violations of law, nor shall an employer threaten an employee for participating in an investigation.
"There's nothing wrong with looking into it . . . but it depends on the tone," Cutler said.
Stoler said he will request the investigation at a City Council meeting Tuesday, which begins meeting out of regular session at 5 p.m. in City Hall, 324 S. State St.