A group of West Jordan residents is challenging a decision by city officials to use city workers and equipment for work on a nonprofit shelter for victims of domestic violence.
Calling itself the SOC (Save Our City) Committee, the group says it wants a public accounting of the time, equipment and what may be hundreds of hours of labor the city has provided without charge to the South Valley Sanctuary."The SOC Committee questions the propriety of West Jordan donating funds, labor and materials to a private venture" without a specific authorization from the City Council, said committee member Norman Riggs.
A three-story shelter that will house about 68 people, the sanctuary was built at a cost of $1.6 million.
City Manager Dan Dahlgren and his assistant city manager, Penny Atkinson, said they stand by their decision to use city resources at the shelter and both say they consider the sanctuary a "city project."
Critics disagree, saying they question the validity of a so-called city project where the city has no direct control over or responsibility for the sanctuary, its budget or its board of directors.
But Atkinson, who has played a major role in making the shelter a reality, does have direct ties to South Valley Sanctuary.
In addition to chairing its board of directors for the past two years, Atkinson has been the main fund-raiser for the nonprofit corporation that runs the facility.
She maintains the furor over city involvement at the sanctuary is a nonissue and contends her personal political enemies have decided to make the women's shelter "a target" because it is so closely associated with her.
Riggs said the group's criticism of the project has nothing to do with Atkinson personally but is focused on whether city officials have spent taxpayer funds without getting council approval.
Noting he served on a legislative task force that helped draft legislation assisting domestic violence victims, the West Jordan man said he strongly supports the mission of the shelter and is not criticizing the sanctuary or its staff.
City records indicate only one or two votes in which the council specifically authorized city crews and equipment for work at the sanctuary. In one case, the council agreed to install curb and gutter to help finish the shelter.
But council members are divided on the issue of whether there was some kind of unspoken "understanding" that gave administrators blanket approval to use city resources on the facility.
City workers themselves estimated hundreds of man-hours worth $10 to $12 an hour were spent working on the sanctuary, and several indicated a figure of 500 hours is "very conservative."
Both Dahlgren and Atkinson vigorously dispute those figures.
"I can guarantee you there were not that many hours of city employee time" expended at the shelter, said Atkinson. "It was more like 150 hours."
But no one will ever know for sure, since the city did not keep time or equipment-use records for work at the sanctuary.
Included in the work were painting, landscaping and interior work.
Atkinson and Dahlgren maintain any resources expended at the sanctuary were used with the council's awareness and blessing.
But Councilman David Plouzek strongly disagrees.
"We didn't know city workers were being used on city time . . . and we didn't vote on it. We authorized curb and gutter, and nothing else."
Councilman Jay Bowcutt also said he was only told that employees were volunteering their time.
"I wasn't aware of us approving the use of (city) manpower" for the sanctuary, he said. "I don't remember approving anything other than the cash we gave."
The newest council member, David B. Newton, said he wasn't aware until recently that city employees were still working on the sanctuary after he was appointed to the council late in April.
"But it would concern me if we're doing things that haven't been authorized," he added.
Councilwoman Margaret Grochocki disagrees with her council colleagues.
"We all knew about it," she said. "We've all been involved. That project has been going for years.
Grochocki, who works for Salt Lake County, said, "Coming from the public sector, the question has never come in my mind as to whether it was proper or not" for the city to support the sanctuary. "I'm angry that this has even come up." Councilman Gordon Haight said he also was aware of city employees working on the sanctuary.
"I think the city was really involved in getting that thing finished," he said. "It was about the same as we did on the juvenile justice center."
Councilman Brian Pitts has been on vacation and was not available for comment.
Dahlgren and Atkinson maintain the city's support of the women's shelter was evident in the West Jordan strategic plans adopted in 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997. Each of those documents placed completion of both the sanctuary and the juvenile justice center high on a list of city priorities.
While strategic plans do provide a conceptual outline for the city's goals and work program for any given year, they do not carry any authority to spend money or allocate other resources.
City records do show the council authorized almost a quarter of a million dollars in city contributions to buy the land ($110,000) and build and furnish the shelter ($118,888).
In addition, the city provided loans of $25,000 and $94,000 to the center to help put the facility in operation. About $64,000 is still owing and payable by Dec. 31.
One minute entry that loosely supports the administration's view was a general resolution passed last December calling on other communities to join West Jordan in financially supporting the domestic violence shelter.
"But I think they (administrators) have interpreted the resolution as a blank check," said Riggs, a former school district superintendent in Sun Valley, Idaho, and Union, Ore. "I don't think the city ought to operate that way.
"It should operate on specific requests to the council for people, material and dollars," he added.
Dahlgren suggested critics of the city's involvement with the sanctuary "have not perceived this as a public-minded project" and don't realize West Jordan officials originally conceived of the shelter years ago as a city facility.
While the shelter eventually evolved into a non-profit private corporation, the city manager said the sanctuary remains closely tied to West Jordan.
"I don't look at it any different than a park project," he said.
Kathy Hilton, a former city councilwoman who has also chaired the sanctuary board and currently serves as its secretary, doesn't share that perception.
Speaking at Tuesday's council study session, Hilton made it clear she's unhappy that the shelter is being unfairly linked to other controversies plaguing the city.
"The sanctuary is not under the umbrella of this city," she said. "It has nothing to do with this city . . . and I wish the city would please pass that on."
Mayor Donna Evans said that while she also supports the sanctuary and believes it meets a critical community need, it's also important for the council to review any requests for city aid "within the context of our budget" and approve them by council resolution .
"There are a lot of good causes, but if all of us allocated resources to our own pet `good projects,' there would be nothing left to provide city services," she said.
Riggs said the SOC Committee, which has grown to 10 members, is "looking at how the city spent money on the shelter, the soccer complex and its vehicle fleet."