Don Watkins frets that distrusting and cynical residents will churn out sordid tales about how he used his political office to pocket $66,000 in a land deal for a place to bury a badly needed waterline.
And that's exactly what the Alpine mayor doesn't want.He adamantly denies he is selling any of his 10 acres on 900 North to the city for the crosstown utility pipe. In fact, Watkins says he'll most likely let the city take an easement for free.
"I'm going to go the extra mile to make sure there isn't a perceived benefit," he said.
"I'd hoped they'd be able to strike a deal with one of my neighbors so it doesn't appear I'm getting a number of benefits. The land is not for sale."
His colleagues on the City Council agreed last week to spend up to $66,000 to buy a small piece of land Watkins has owned for seven years. An easement could cost $13,500, they voted.
The mayor plans to meet with City Administrator John Newman in the next two weeks to work out a deal. City officials could employ eminent domain powers if talks reach an impasse, but Watkins doesn't appear too worried about negotiations.
"Normally what you'd do is buy an easement, but I may just let them put it in," he said.
"We will negotiate at fair-market value," said Newman, who has received approval from the council to start negotiations with Watkins. "Then, a (condemnation) if an agreement is not made."
Councilwoman Pheobe Blackham stresses she wants Newman to concentrate on obtaining an easement instead of purchasing the lot during negotiations. There's not much the city can do with such a small piece of ground, she said.
"The only reason to own it is to put a road on it," Newman agreed.
Newman outlined negotiation strategies for the land in a council meeting last week, topics that could legally be discussed behind closed doors in accordance with state open-meeting statutes.
Utah laws allow public bodies to close meetings to the public for discussion of professional competence or physical or mental health of an individual, collective bargaining, litigation, purchase of real property, security matters and criminal investigations.
Newman said he broached the subject in the meeting although it was not listed on the agenda for discussion because he wanted to quash any speculations of impropriety or backdoor wrangling.
He also needed approval from the council to start the admittedly sensitive negotiations with Watkins, who, technically, as the city's top elected official, is Newman's boss.
Watkins was on vacation the week Newman talked about the upcoming negotiations.
"The benefit that would come is if the waterline is put in a place that's advantageous someday," Watkins said. "I just don't know where to have them put it."