Despite assertions by a council member that "the issue is moot," Salt Lake City Council Chairman W.M. "Willie" Stoler formally requested a probe Tuesday into rumors a deal was made giving a bank a $23 million bonding package.
Stoler asked the Redevelopment Agency to hold a special session within 72 hours to begin an independent investigation of a rumor aired by Councilman Tom Godfrey that council members made promises to Zions First National Bank.Godfrey made the rumor public last week when the council, seated as the RDA board of directors, voted to name Zions as a financial consultant in Block 47 financing, netting Zions $40,000 in fees.
Stoler and Councilwoman Florence Bittner reacted angrily when Godfrey broached the rumor that one or more council members had met with Zions principals, and that a deal was cut ensuring Zions would be the consultant.
The RDA in 1984 passed a resolution naming Zions as the consultant but never signed a contract with the bank, prompting Godfrey to say he believed 5 years was too long to honor a resolution without re-bidding the contract.
"I believe that it reflects bad political judgment," he said, reading aloud from a letter to Stoler. "I felt that anything that would put any cloud over the (Redevelopment) agency or cause it embarrassment needed to be cleared up."
However, Godfrey said, "since I am convinced no improper or illegal deal was made, I feel that the issue is moot."
Nevertheless, Stoler asked Bittner, also the RDA's chairwoman, to hold a special session on a possible investigation to determine the source of the rumor and its veracity.
"I appreciate what you said in your letter," Stoler told Godfrey. `However, the damage, as far as I'm concerned, has been done."
Stoler said he could "steer an investigator very close to the source of the rumor," maintaining the story was false. "Obviously, the allegations are totally untrue."
Stoler and Bittner both said they met with Zions officials but made no deals. Zions officials also said consulting contracts were not discussed in a "chance meeting" with Stoler and in a phone call with Bittner.
Councilwoman Sydney Fonnesbeck pointed out that Godfrey described not allegations but only a rumor and attached no names to the story.
"At no time did I refer to specific people when I stated that there was a rumor," Godfrey said.
Godfrey also said Stoler and Bittner "strongly denied any dealings with the principals (of Zions); however, two hours later you both volunteered having had some contact with the principals."
The investigation is necessary, Stoler said, to settle dust raised by the rumor. "A cloud of suspicion hangs over the entire council at this point," added Councilman Alan Hardman.
While the Redevelopment Agency has made headlines over the rumor aired by Godfrey, the agency also has come under criticism from local architects for the RDA's selection of an architect for design of public land for a new Jazz arena.
Last week the RDA chose an architect from a field of 13 in just four days, which, in a letter to the RDA distributed Tuesday, architect Michael Stransky called "inappropriate in the highest sense of the word."