A simmering dispute between factions of the City Council, the mayor and city administration suddenly boiled over Tuesday night into a surprise confrontation over the powers of Mayor Donna Evans and City Manager Dan Dahlgren.
The messy debate finally ended with a begrudging 4-3 ballot that narrowly gave Dahlgren, Assistant City Manager Penny Atkinson and other senior staffers a divided "vote of confidence."Councilmen David Plouzek and Mike DeMass joined Evans in voting against the unusual resolution.
But if the 4-3 vote was a victory, it was a hollow one for Dahlgren and council members Brian Pitts, Jay Bowcutt, Gordon Haight and Margaret Grochocki.
While the vote did provide a semi-endorsement for the current city management, the confrontation also revealed a growing schism within the council.
City Attorney Greg Curtis said four council members had asked him to draft a pair of resolutions calling for the confidence vote and reaffirming West Jordan's city manager form of government.
The resolutions were then placed on Tuesday's council agenda, reinforcing speculation a confrontation was imminent.
On one hand, rumors have been rampant in recent weeks that some council members and city administrators believe the new mayor is meddling in administrative matters, attempting to usurp Dahlgren's authority as city manager and interfering with staff.
Other reports, however, suggest the mayor and some councilmen suspect they're being stonewalled when seeking reliable information on key issues and question whether staff is cooperating fully in carrying out council policies.
No one has been talking openly about the dispute so far, and the fact the issue even surfaced during the meeting Thursday seemed to surprise some who attended.
"It makes me sad," said longtime area resident Dale Bateman. "There has to be some serious controversy before they (council members) start bringing stuff like this before the public.
"I just hope they can pull things together," he added.
The resolution reaffirming a council-manager form of government, however, was moved to the back burner for a few weeks until the council learns more about Utah Code provisions that permit the optional form.
Plouzek said language proposed in the resolution was overly restrictive and did not allow the mayor the authority to execute contracts, bonds, subdivision plats and other documents already provided for in state law.
DeMass also cited a provision in West Jordan's administrative code delegating those duties to the city manager. Noting that contradicts state law, he asked the city attorney which law supersedes.
Curtis replied state law always prevails.
Plouzek also said the resolution should be amended to allow council members to receive "appropriate documents" and other information from staff without having to clear all "casual requests" for information through the city manager first.
"I don't think we need this resolution," said Evans. "But we do need to bring our city ordinances into compliance with state law."
Jennifer Andelin, former chairwoman of the West Jordan Planning Commission, called the resolution "a power play" intended to "censure the mayor.
"Donna (Evans) won the election." she said. "Work out your differences. "This kind of manipulation will only hurt us."
Councilman Jay Bowcutt suggested the city contact the Utah League of Cities and Towns to arrange an appropriate workshop that will help clarify legislative and executive roles.
Plouzek and DeMass said they would have no problem endorsing a vote of appreciation to city staff.
But both men criticized the apparent blanket endorsement of the "vote of confidence" resolution as too blind and unquestioning.
"The council represents the citizens," said DeMass. "I believe they've elected us to act as watchdogs for them, and I have a problem with declaring our full support and confidence" as a matter of principle. "I believe we have a responsibility to ask questions."
But Haight did not share that reservation. "I do have full confidence in and support the staff of the city," he said.
If council members know of problems with staff that have not been brought out in executive session, Haight added, "you're derelict in your duty" for not bringing those issues forward.