In representative government, elected officials are supposed to serve their constituents. It appear that's what South Salt Lake City Councilman Shane Siwik was attempting to do when he referred Brian Goldhardt, a constituent concerned about crime, to news reporters.
According to published reports, the move was perceived as an end-run on the City Council and city administration. Mayor Bob Gray asked for Siwik's resignation. Siwik refused. Meanwhile, the City Council is mulling some sort of reprimand, which could include a censure. The City Council's censure resolution says Siwik, a three-term council member, "orchestrated a plan to create the illusion of a grass-roots movement in the city to disband the police department." News reports suggested the residents of South Salt Lake City might be better served by the Salt Lake Sheriff's Office rather than the city's police department.
It is difficult to parse through the political undertones of this controversy. Councilman John Weaver alleges that Siwik opposes the police department because the police association didn't endorse him in the last municipal election. The association was neutral on Siwik's race. It did endorse Mike Rutter, who ran against Herbert Goldhardt, who is Brian Goldhardt's father. Rutter won.
Regardless of anyone's motives in this matter, Brian Goldhardt did not need the City Council's sanction to contact the news media regarding his concerns. While City Council members would have been more comfortable if the issues had been raised with them first, Goldhardt has the right to free speech. Exercising that right carries consequences. In this case, Goldhardt's statements to reporters, which he said in an apology to the City Council had been inflated in newspaper accounts, angered some council members and administration officials. And Siwik has to find a way to continue to work with council members and city administrators who feel slighted.
Yet, Siwik did nothing wrong by referring Goldhardt to the news media. An independent analysis is needed to determine whether the city's law enforcement needs would be better served by the county sheriff rather than a stand-alone police department, or if increasing the department's budget could improve response times and reduce the crime rate.
Meanwhile, censuring Siwik would serve little purpose. He did what he was elected to do serve his constituents. An important public policy has been raised. The City Council should concentrate its efforts on that.