In fairness to West Jordan Mayor Donna Evans, I wish to reply to Myrna L. Thomas' Readers' Forum comments.
Thomas' comment that Mayor Evans has been " . . . found to be a liar and a troublemaker in the fleet vehicle scandal" is totally unfounded and, as fleet manager, I am prepared to meet with Thomas and her associates to clarify the matter. Is the mayor a troublemaker? Yes, as is anyone who seeks to reveal a problem others would rather not see disclosed. A liar? Not once in the six months I have known her, and she has had ample opportunity to try to mislead me, as well."Ignorance" is a word bandied about with reckless abandon, especially in politics. Too often we equate ignorance with stupidity. They are not synonymous, and while Mayor Evans may have been ignorant of the political necessity of stroking fragile egos, she has demonstrated to me that she is a woman of high intelligence, willing to learn, and in opposition to what some people would have you believe, a person of high integrity.
I first met Donna Evans about six weeks after she assumed office as mayor of West Jordan. In the course of her self-education regarding city government, she asked to meet and discuss the fleet fund, a reserve account specifically designated to replace existing vehicles, but not authorized to purchase additional vehicles. Simply stated, the fleet fund is only authorized to maintain the current size of our fleet, not to increase the size of government. Her discovery that the fleet fund had been used to purchase additional vehicles for the city without council approval, thereby depleting the fund balance, led her to ask questions of city management that were not answered until public disclosure of the discrepancy was revealed. (It should be noted that the City Council gave retroactive approval after this issue was made public.)
City management was not unaware of the fleet concerns as documented by the lengthy report I submitted to management and the council in early 1995, six months after I accepted appointment as Fleet & Facilities manager. In that report, I detailed the problem with using the fund to purchase additional vehicles or to support operating expenses in other departments. During the FY99 budget preparation, it became clear that the fleet fund, after maintaining a floating balance of approximately $1,500,000 for several years, had been reduced to a negative $400,000. Mayor Evans asked why, and the battle was on.
After three years of being praised for the content and management of the fleet fund, my ability and the authenticity of my remarks was suddenly questioned after I refused to present a false picture - that the fleet fund was in excellent shape - to the City Council during budget hearings. Despite the necessary checks and balances our American system of government requires, dissenting opinion has not been welcomed. That battle continues, but so does Mayor Evans' quest to shed light on city operations.
In over 25 years of public management, including three appointments as a city manager, I have never before seen a city's senior management team reluctant to conduct an outside audit. When the call for such an audit comes from a public newspaper, generally a reflection of community attitude, serious attention is required. For those citizens who remain concerned, an audit of specific funds could clarify and eliminate that distrust.
The editorial in the Deseret News succinctly identified the primary asset of a local government: the trust of its people. And as to Thomas' claim of biased reporting, in my career I have witnessed my share of subjective castigation of government officials and in my opinion, Don Baker, the reporter who covers the city of West Jordan, presents a balanced and objective view with regard only for the truth. He has never taken my word as factual until he had several corroborating statements. I must assume he does the same with other opinions.
As an experienced city administrator who has witnessed many types of elected and appointed officials, I have come to trust Mayor Donna Evans and submit that she is worthy of your community support. Her quest for open and enlightened government will not succeed without the support of those who elected her. Simply acknowledging and confirming the accuracy of her discoveries has put my job at risk. Citizens of West Jordan have much less to risk and so much more to gain as their government opens its windows and breathes the fresh air.