Two Salt Lake City Council members say they're astonished one of their colleagues refused to release letters intended for public airing at a city Redevelopment Agency meeting Thursday.
The meeting had been convened to begin a probe of rumors that council members made promises to Zions First National Bank involving a bonding package for downtown's Block 57.Councilwoman Florence Bittner, who is RDA chairwoman, refused to allow the letters to be read aloud at the meeting, however. She also wouldn't permit the press to see the letters written by council members Tom Godfrey and Sydney Fonnesbeck, who were both absent from the meeting - although copies of the letters later appeared in a City Hall press room without explanation.
Explaining her decision to quash the letters, Bittner said, "It seems to me if we allow these kinds of things before the investigation is finished, all we're doing is adding fuel to the rumors."
"I find that absolutely incredible," Fonnesbeck said of Bittner's decision when contacted. Both she and Godfrey were in California on council business.
"Never in my 10 years on the council have I seen anything so blatantly, politically irresponsible. What is she trying to cover up?" Fonnesbeck asked.
"I guess I was surprised as to why our comments couldn't have been included," Godfrey added.
The letters express concern over a $23 million bond package awarded without another bid to Zions, netting it $40,000 in fees, and the call by Council Chairman Willie Stoler for an investigation of the deal-making rumor.
"I firmly believe that political haggling over who said what to whom is detracting from the real purpose of our service on the (RDA) board - namely the good government of our city," Godfrey wrote in his letter.
Godfrey said at an RDA meeting last week he heard rumors one or more council members promised Zions officials they would get the bonding package for financing Block 57 development in downtown Salt Lake City.
Zions was named in a 1984 resolution as the bonding consultant for the project but never signed a contract. Godfrey said five years was too long to retain a consultant without rebidding a contract, especially considering the rumor's presence.
Although Godfrey named no one in the rumor, Bittner and Stoler said the rumors implicate them. They acknowledged they had chance meetings or informal phone calls with Zions officials but said they made no promises.
Both want an investigation to clear their names and find the source of the story. "We will not sit idly by and let people make these allegations," Bittner said.
The motion to begin the independent investigation passed with a 4-0 vote. Godfrey, Fonnesbeck and Councilwoman Roselyn Kirk were all out of town.
The order for the investigation, drafted by Councilman Alan Hardman, calls for an independent investigation, demands that Godfrey reveal the source of the "malicious rumor" and, if it is false, that Godfrey publicly apologize.
Godfrey said in his letter the investigation would consume time better spent on "real issues," like ensuring the state builds its Employment Securities Building on a downtown block.
A state official said Thursday the building's construction schedule was delayed because the RDA hasn't reached an agreement with a private developer over the amount of land available for parking for the state.
The investigation may only be a "fact-finding" effort, Bittner said. But if any evidence of malfeasance is found, the matter could be turned over to the City Council, which has the power to subpoena witnesses, she said.
An RDA attorney who is out of town this week will appoint the investigator, Bittner said. Cost and time limitations will be placed on the probe, she said. *****
GETTING AT THE TRUTH
What the RDA investigation calls for:
-An independent investigation of the rumor and a report to the RDA.
-Councilman Tom Godrey revealing the source of the "malicious lie."
-Godfrey publicly apologizing if the rumor is false and removal of the matter from RDA minutes.