BLUFFDALE Dating can be messy especially if you're a city attorney dating the mayor.
So Bluffdale City Attorney Dale Gardiner has decided to step aside and allow another lawyer in his firm to handle the day-to-day legal business of the city while he pursues "a dating relationship" with Mayor Claudia Anderson, Gardiner told the City Council in a letter earlier this month.
However, he plans to continue working on the city's appeal of a court decision that allowed about 4,000 acres of the city to break off and join nearby Herriman. That part of his decision has one council member questioning the ethics of the situation.
"Almost a month ago I decided I wanted to ask her out, and so I thought I should disclose that to the City Council," Gardiner said Tuesday. "From my perspective I did the noble thing. I went the extra mile."
Gardiner said he has known Anderson as a friend for more than 20 years "since elementary-school days." About three weeks ago, he decided to ask her out. Gardiner's wife died almost a year ago, and Anderson's husband died about six months before that.
Most council members simply say they are happy for the new couple. But Councilman Craig Briggs said he worries about the appearance of impropriety and how people will view the actions of the mayor and Gardiner in handling city business.
"I just think because of the sensitivities of what's happening in Bluffdale right now, this is going to create additional questions in people's minds as to how objective they can be," Briggs said.
But Gardiner and Anderson, as well as council members other than Briggs, believe Gardiner's work on the disconnection lawsuit does not present an ethical dilemma. It's a case he has been working on for years, and all that is left now are briefs to be written and oral arguments to be made before the Utah Supreme Court.
"There's no conflict of interest," Anderson said. "We're both on the same side, trying to get this disconnect won."
Gardiner said ethical rules for attorneys say a lawyer should not be involved in anything that could limit his ability to represent a client. He said he doesn't believe dating the mayor would cause that kind of a problem, but just in case, he is handing over the daily legal business of the city to Todd Weiler, a partner in his law firm.
It is that firm, Parry Anderson & Gardiner, the city contracts with, not Gardiner personally. Gardiner said several other attorneys in his firm have already helped him in his work on Bluffdale issues, and he said Weiler is familiar with those issues and will be able to take over for him.
Meanwhile, Anderson maintains Gardiner is the most qualified to see the disconnection case through. Councilman Bill Maxwell agrees. "I think Dale's handled it appropriately. I don't think it makes any sense to start over on the disconnect issue," he said. And while Anderson signs Gardiner's paychecks for his legal work, both Gardiner and Anderson dismissed the idea that that presents a conflict.
"To say that because you're dating somebody you're going to raid the public treasury, that's ridiculous," Gardiner said. "But even at that, the City Council gets reports on all the checks signed anyway."
As for whether Gardiner will do any more legal work for the city after the disconnection lawsuit is settled, Anderson said, "I think it depends on where this relationship goes."
On that topic, most council members are rooting for Anderson and Gardiner.
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