When the federal government shut down on Oct. 1, the legislative and executive branches of Salt Lake County government sprang into action.
A federally funded program to provide supplemental nutrition to pregnant women, mothers with babies and children under age 5, would be shuttered statewide. In Salt Lake County, we serve 25,000 clients in the Women, Infant, Children — or WIC — program. Six clinics in the county screen the applicants. If they meet eligibility requirements, they receive a voucher to exchange for infant formula, baby food and nutritious products such as milk, eggs, cheese and cereal. Nursing mothers are assisted to help ensure that they continue to breast-feed their infants. When the shutdown occurred, 64 employees faced the loss of their paychecks and those in need would be turned away.
No one at Salt Lake County pointed the finger of blame or criticized the other side. Instead, the mayor’s director of Human Services, Lori Bays, gathered the facts from the Salt Lake County Health Department and sent an email to the Salt Lake County Council, which has five Republicans and four Democrats. At the Council meeting that Tuesday morning, a motion by Councilman Jim Bradley to provide $137,500 in one week’s emergency aid was discussed and adopted by a broad bipartisan vote. About half the money would purchase food supplies for the Utah Food Bank to distribute to local food pantries, where WIC recipients could trade an emergency receipt from the WIC clinics for food.
At a time when a dysfunctional federal government has lapsed into a frustrating display of gridlock and partisan bickering, Salt Lake County elected officials are leading by example. Do we always agree? No. But our approach is to treat each other with respect and civility. We walk across the hall between our offices every day, to discuss problems and propose solutions. Sometimes the conversation becomes animated. A 15-minute agenda item stretches to 45 minutes. Occasionally an issue gets tabled for another agenda. But we share common values of dedication to serving the public, openness, transparency, and commitment to civil discourse.
We know from listening to our constituents that they expect no less. They want us to operate in a fiscally conservative manner that spends their tax dollars wisely. But they also expect the government services they are paying for to be delivered. One of the competitive advantages we have as a region that seeks to attract private businesses is our quality of life. Our crime rate is low. Our infrastructure is modern and well-maintained. Our neighborhoods include parks and open space and community gardens where families and friends can gather and unwind.
We are also inclusive. Salt Lake County is more than a million people that come from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. We’ve learned to reach across religious, social, racial and economic line to share knowledge and create growth. In the halls of county government we’ll keep the lines of communication open and the dialogue a respectful, two-way street. That’s because in Salt Lake County — instead of “my way or the highway” — we recognize we are all traveling the same road together.
Ben McAdams is mayor of Salt Lake County. Steve DeBry is chairman of the Salt Lake County Council.