Wilford Sommerkorn

Wilf Sommerkorn says he's ready for a new challenge, and Salt Lake City certainly has one for him.

Sommerkorn was introduced Monday as director of the capital city's troubled planning division, ending a five-month search for a candidate Mayor Ralph Becker believes is qualified to steer the division out of a decades-long downward spiral.

"Wilf Sommerkorn brings the expertise, experience and well-deserved respect from planners in Utah and nationally," Becker said.

Sommerkorn, a Salt Lake native, has served as Davis County's director of community and economic development since 1994. In all, he's spent 27 years working for the northern Utah county.

"Salt Lake City has always been home to me, or at least my original home," he said. "This is a great opportunity to go back where I came from and try to make it the premier city in the state."

When he begins work in Salt Lake City on Aug. 25, Sommerkorn will inherit a planning division labeled "dysfunctional" in an April audit commissioned by the City Council.

Sommerkorn said he's well aware of the audit and the extent of the problems it identified. The city's commitment to adhere to the audit's recommendations, Sommerkorn said, is one of the reasons he took the job.

"That's going to be the first priority, dealing with some of those issues," he said. "Until you get those things dealt with, it's going to be really hard to do anything else in a real meaningful way."

Becker promised during his campaign to retool the planning division to address residents' frustrations over customer service and planning procedures and to restore the public's confidence in the division.

Several personnel changes have been made in the planning division under Becker's watch, including the firing of planning director George Shaw in March.

Becker filled a key void in June when Frank Gray was hired as director of community and economic development, filling a position that had been vacant since the first-year mayor took office in January.

The addition of Sommerkorn, the mayor said, "completes a leadership team at our department of community and economic development that will provide superb guidance to achieve Salt Lake City's potential as a great American city."

Sommerkorn's career as a professional planner includes work for the Transportation Research Center at the University of Tennessee, Centerville, the Wasatch Front Regional Council and the Davis County Council of Governments.

Sommerkorn earned a master's degree in science planning from the Graduate School of Planning at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, as well as an undergraduate degree in physical geography from the University of Utah.

He has been active in professional planning organizations, including the American Planning Association, Urban Land Institute, Utah Economic Development Alliance and the Alliance for Regional Stewardship. He's also been involved in Envision Utah, the Utah Quality Growth Commission and the Davis COG Transportation Task Force.

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com