SALT LAKE CITY — On the final night of the longest circus act in town, you couldn't blame Joe Ligori if he posted a large sign inside the State Capitol Rotunda:
"Would the last person to leave the building please turn out the lights!"
After ensuring that more than 6,000 bulbs are changed every year, including four giant ones atop the copper Capitol dome, Ligori is entitled to some R&R, especially after March 8, when the legislative session ends.
There's only one problem. He's usually the last guy to leave the building.
For almost 35 years, Ligori has been the go-to expert on everything involving the Utah State Capitol, from tracking down old nuts and bolts in his famous "rat pile" for historical renovations to rescuing dignitaries from stalled elevators and making sure that every bulb works on the Capitol Christmas tree.
Now that the Legislature is about to convene again, his phone is ringing more often than a Hawaiian vacation giveaway hotline.
"It can get pretty nutty," admits Ligori, 60, who oversees a crew of nine as the facilities coordinator at the Capitol, "but we're ready. Having so many people here at once is rough on the Capitol, but keeping everybody happy is the main thing."
As his boss, Jake Jacobson, says, "If Joe and the crew are doing their job right, people don't even know they're around. That's the secret to pulling everything off at the Legislature in 45 days. They have a huge job, but they make it seem easy."
Whether setting up microphones for protests, waxing the lion statues outside the entrance or cleaning up after 30,000 children a year on school field trips, "there's never a dull day in the 'People's House,' " says Ligori, who recently met me for a Free Lunch chat during a rare break from his Capitol duties.
"It's such a beautiful building and there's so much history here," he says. "I always look up in awe and think, 'How did these guys haul the columns to build this back in 1912?' "
Like a coach who huddles with his team before the big gamwe, Ligori gave his crew a pep talk this week before throngs of politicians and lobbyists swarm the Capitol.
"I always tell them that we're here to serve and to be polite and say, 'Yes, ma'am,' or 'Yes, sir,' " he says. "And because we're so political up here and we're always going in and out of important places, we never repeat anything we hear."
He pauses and grins. "You can ask," he says, "but we won't tell. We're much too busy for gossip, anyway."
Ligori, who used to visit the Capitol as an Ogden schoolboy and eventually earned a political science degree, says an interest in politics has come in handy while serving eight governors.
"I've enjoyed working behind the scenes — I have photos of myself with all of them," he says. "If any of them needed anything, they knew all they had to do was pick up the phone."
On a few occasions, after the Capitol's new elevator system was installed, Gov. Gary Herbert called to say he was stuck.
"As you can imagine," says Ligori, "we got him out pretty quick. The new elevators took some getting used to for a lot of people."
As did the new air conditioning system, door locks and light switches. Now that the Capitol's renovations are five years old, "things are starting to need repair," says Ligori, "and I'm just the guy to ask." His basement office is full of old hardware "because I can't stand to throw anything away. Just ask my wife."
He chuckles as his cell phone rings again. "It really is amazing what you can fix with duct tape and wire."
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