SALT LAKE CITY — While supportive of Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams' announcement that the county will be suing pharmaceutical companies for their alleged role in the opioid epidemic, some County Council members didn't like being caught off guard.
"Quite frankly, I was very surprised when I got the notice the same time as the media," Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton said during Tuesday's council meeting.
"It seems odd to me that we weren't notified or given the option to participate," she said.
She and Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, who both sit on a county opioid task force, told McAdams and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill they would have liked to be included in the discussion of litigation — and would like to be included in the future.
"I would wonder if there is not a recognition by the mayor and the D.A. that the policymaking body and the appropriating body has a hand in something that I would think is quite an enormous undertaking," Wilson said.
Wilson said she would imagine that the lawsuit won't be a "six-month deal," but rather a "multi-, multiyear investment."
"Is it your position the council has no role?" Wilson asked Gill.
Gill said state law gives the county executive — the mayor — authority in making decisions in litigation matters, so McAdams had the power to make the decision. If the lawsuit does result in a settlement, then the County Council would have power in deciding how the money would be appropriated, Gill said.
Newton asked McAdams if he would consider allowing the county's opioid task force to give input on the suit, but McAdams said he doesn't think the task force is the right place for a discussion of litigation strategy, which is usually done behind closed doors.
But, McAdams said, "We'd be happy to update the opioid task force on (the suit) from time to time."
Wilson also questioned whether the county would have the capacity to challenge an $11 billion industry with a yearslong lawsuit.
Gill said that's why the county would contract with an outside firm. When Wilson asked how much of a cut the outside firm would take, Gill said that hasn't yet been decided.
Wilson continued to be concerned.6 comments on this story
"I support moving forward (with the suit)," Wilson said. I just think that this is a very, very complex initiative. I would question that you don't need more resources. I would question to do it effectively we're going to need to do it differently," she said, adding that attorneys can be "predatory" in lobbying for contracts that have the potential for a high reward.
However, Councilman Jim Bradley said he is confident in the county's resources.
"I have full confidence in our D.A. and full confidence in our mayor that they're going to be able to handle this," Bradley said.