Former Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis will be the new executive director of the Department of Community and Culture, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. announced Wednesday.
The hiring of DePaulis, a Democrat and currently a state tax commissioner, for the Cabinet post triggered other major changes in the Huntsman administration that appeared to be almost a game of musical chairs. The transitions will happen over the next several weeks.
"Palmer is well known in this community," Huntsman said. "He is well known as a community advocate and as a diligent public servant."
DePaulis' new position oversees the Utah Arts Council, the Division of State History, the State Library, the Division of Indian Affairs, the Office of Ethnic Affairs, and Housing and Community Development.
"This whole department is the department that ensures everyone is fairly accessing the resources of the state's cultural and community benefits," DePaulis said. "This is the heart and soul of the state."
DePaulis replaces former executive director Yvette Donosso Diaz, who resigned in March. Diaz had been the first Latina to serve in a Utah governor's Cabinet and the first to head the Department of Community and Culture, which Huntsman created when he broke up the state's Department of Community and Economic Development shortly after taking office last year.
Huntsman said his selection of a male, non-minority Cabinet member doesn't diminish his commitment to diversity. He said DePaulis was the recommendation of a search committee headed up by community advocate Pamela Atkinson.
The search committee was looking for a candidate who could lead the department effectively, Huntsman said. He said he sees Palmer's role as "reinvigorating" the department "across the board."
DePaulis said he wants to be visible in the community and to work directly with members of the community.
"I'm a hands-on person. I enjoy meeting people and working with people," DePaulis said. "My priority is to make every single office within the department a priority."
DePaulis said he hadn't yet detailed his plans for the department, saying he'd meet with staff members to before he gets into problem-solving mode.
He said his work as mayor from 1985 to 1991 with the late state Sen. Pete Suazo helped him understand how to serve the city's minority population.
"Pete was the person I relied on to help me understand the problems and issues facing Salt Lake City," he said. "I think we made some good progress."
DePaulis, the son of an immigrant, said he spoke Italian as his first language, adding "I'm looking forward to learning Spanish."
DePaulis received a bachelor's degree in 1967 from Sacred Heart Seminary and his master's degree in 1971 from Wayne State University in Detroit. He taught school in Michigan and Utah and worked for an insurance company. His former public positions include Salt Lake mayor, chief of staff for Attorney General Jan Graham and currently the Utah State Tax Commission.
He is also active in community service, most recently working with the homeless.
Huntsman also announced Wednesday that DePaulis will be replaced on the Tax Commission by D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, the lone Democrat appointed by Huntsman at the start of his term. She has served as the executive director of the Department of Administrative Services.
Her job will be taken by Richard Ellis, now the head of the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget. Ellis will be replaced by John Nixon, the deputy director of the Department of Workforce Services and a former member of the state budget office.
Huntsman said the changes had nothing to do with recent Tax Commission errors in calculating the price tag for his now-defunct income tax reform plan. "These are postilions that are open as a result of the sequence of appointments," he said.
The governor also announced Wednesday that he is moving Jesse Gallegos, a member of the Board of Pardons and Parole, to the top spot at the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.Michele Christiansen, now the commission's executive director, was named general counsel to the governor earlier this month to replace Mike Lee. Lee is stepping down to become a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.