The anger and frustration within the Salt Lake City Council bubbled to the surface this week - again.
While politics has cooled in most of Utah this year - a respite from the huge 1988 election year - it's hotter than ever in the city, where four of the seven council members' seats are up this November.The recent scrap is over "rumors" - not well-founded - that several council members made a deal with officials of a local bank, ensuring that the bank will get the bonding financing work on a city redevelopment project. (The bank was promised the work five years ago, but no formal contract was ever entered.)
That hassle has resulted in some serious name calling between Council Chairman Willie Stoler and Councilman Tom Godfrey, who reported the original rumors.
While this storm will blow over, it may only be a warm-up for more intra-council fighting this election year.
The whole unpleasantness started a year ago when the power base of the council shifted away from established members and to the newcomers.
One council member, Sydney Fonnes-beck, had been voting mostly in the majority since the council form of government took over from the old City Commission in 1979. Now she finds herself in the minority in frequent 4-3 votes.
Fonnesbeck says she won't seek re-election this year and will leave the contentious council.
But three other council members up for re-election will probably run again - Stoler, Godfrey and Florence Bittner.
Councilmen Wayne Horrocks and Alan Hardman came on board in January 1988 and soon thereafter started voting on a number of critical issues with Stoler and Bittner - on the council themselves only two years - in a four-vote, majority bloc.
Often, that bloc votes contrary to the wishes of Mayor Palmer DePaulis, himself a member of the original 1979 City Council and part of Fonnesbeck's voting bloc.
Opponents to Stoler, Bittner, Horrocks and Hardman call them the "Gang of Four" - the nickname given the four former Red Chinese leaders purged after the death of Mao Tse-tung and blamed for many societal ills.
DePaulis has said that Stoler "must hate my guts" because he so often opposes the mayor. Stoler denies it.
DePaulis now says he feels it's his public duty to speak out this election year on how the council conducts business. That's a euphemism for saying he's going to let Stoler's and Bittner's constituents know he doesn't think they're doing a good job.
The latest argument got even stranger Thursday night when The Gang of Four voted 4-0 - Godfrey, Fonnesbeck and Councilwoman Roselyn Kirk were out of town - to conduct an official investigation into the whole affair.
Bittner, who chaired the meeting, also refused to allow letters by Godfrey and Fonnesbeck to be read at the meeting or passed out to the press.
Talk about strange. Now city taxpayers are going to have to pay for an investigation into shaky rumors that don't amount to much while Bittner tries to stomp on First Amendment rights of free speech.
The investigation seems serious, with the four asking if a subpoena can be used to force Godfrey to divulge the source of such rumors. Stoler is a retired city police major. You can almost see him cuffing Godfrey in City Hall, saying: "Book him Dano for rumor one."
In short, this is all becoming silly.
The flap may long-term effects, solidifying the Gang of Four's resolve, further alienating the other three council members.
DePaulis' criticism of Stoler and Bittner could - assuming they're re-elected - place them at loggerheads with the mayor for years to come.
Finally, this and any forthcoming feuds could also arouse enough interest among city voters that they'll think about a change this November. How that plays out waits to be seen.