"I'll take one of these, one of those and … " That's what newly elected city officials seem to do once sworn in to office. They think the city is their toy store.
Salt Lake City's mayor and council are no different. They all campaign on the commitment they will listen and carry out the interests of the taxpayers, yet once in office it's a different story.
One of the first concerns the recent new council members had was that the mayor was setting public policy, when in fact it was the council's responsibility. One said they were closest to the neighborhood, walked their districts and heard the residents' priorities — improve public safety, municipal services, street lighting and fix an aging infrastructure — the nuts and bolts. Another one said, "We are rebuilding our city roads at a rate of once every 600 years. This isn't sustainable, and it's not progressive. We need to do better." They wanted to have a budget based on, "taking care of what we have."
Yet, what do we get? A mayor who wants to have a separate tax for street lights, inspectors who drive around to make sure residents don't mix up the garbage in cans that older people can hardly manage and fines for people not shoveling snow on their sidewalks. Now, the council members have changed their positions and joined the mayor in raiding the citizens' candy store. They allowed the installation of solar parking meters that not only cost the taxpayers more, but also make it difficult for the elderly to climb a curb, try to walk to a far placed meter post and remember a long number.
Not being content with the trendy "sustainable" program, now they are taking trips to Canada to see what new toys they can buy at taxpayers' expense. They went to look at housing and transportation and came back enamored with making the most of public spaces — parallel parks, flowerpots, tables and chairs. Spare us. We are still trying to get over the last administration's gimmicks — backward parking and policing grocery carts. Furthermore, they have made the city so unfriendly with their parking costs that discourage many from going downtown.
Some residents, especially the elderly, must feel under siege with all the fines and inconveniences for the sake of novelty. Seniors, many on fixed income, were the ones that built the city and pay their taxes. They comprise approximately one-quarter of the city's population and feel ignored by our leaders. The mayor is inviting seniors to dialogue with him about the city; however, he wants them to come to him on the third floor of the city building without considering how seniors can park and get to the meeting. Why doesn't the mayor reach out to them and meet them at a senior center such as the Sunday Anderson Center on the west side?
City governments ought to meet the needs of its residents — the nuts and bolts — in a cost- effective manner rather than raising money to buy the latest toys to build a legacy. Once the newness of wielding power wears off, elected leaders just might start responding to what all citizens need, including the elderly, instead of listening to the expert urban planners that come up with the flavor-of-the-day in urban planning. Former mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago had it right when he said, "The experts tell us our cities are in trouble, but what do they know?"
It's time Salt Lake's elected leaders start making sure our city works and is friendly for all citizens, instead of seeing it as their sand box to try new toys.
A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.