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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini stands in her office, which she has mostly moved out of so it can be painted and prepared for the incoming mayor, at Midvale City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017. Seghini is retiring after more than 30 years of public service.

MIDVALE — More than three decades worth of documents that were once strewn across Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini's office had been packed into boxes and taken away.

All that remained was her desk, her computer, a few office supplies, and her coffee mug.

The smell of paint and plaster lingered in the air. The wall she had once chosen to be painted forest green was being prepped to be painted blue for Midvale's newly elected mayor, Robert Hale.

Seghini — the city's first-ever woman to run for public office — surveyed what remained of her office late last week, days away from when she would step away from her 32-year career as a public official.

Twenty years as mayor. Before that, 12 years as a councilwoman.

"It's a new day and a new time for somebody else," Seghini said as she looked at the now bare walls of her office. "It's really not mine. The people of Midvale have allowed me to have it for 20 years, and I'm really grateful."

Midvale's 'queen'

A few feet down the hall, Seghini's black-and-white photo hangs at the end of the line of 19 other pictures of Midvale's mayors throughout its 109-year history — all men except for her.

Seghini pointed to the picture hung above hers: former Mayor Trent Jepson.

"This is the man that called me and told me to sign up (for the City Council)," she said.

At the time, Seghini was serving on the Midvale Planning Commission, with a 36-year career in education — first as a teacher, then as an administrator — behind her.

"I said, 'I already have a job. I don't want to run for council, I'm just happy as can be."

But after Jepson called her again 15 minutes before the filing deadline and repeated his plea for her to sign up, she said she decided on a whim to give it a try.

Fast-forward to the 1985 election night, Seghini said a reporter was "amazed" when she won.

"How in the world did you win?" Seghini remembers the reporter saying.

"I said, 'I got more votes,'" she said simply, smiling.

Since then, Seghini won all of her elections with more than 60 percent of the vote, until she decided not to run again this year.

Seghini, now 80, said she never specifically aspired to be Midvale's first city councilwoman or its first female mayor. She said she learned the importance of public service from her father, who was a city attorney, and her mother, who was involved in nonprofits like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

Now, Seghini said she'll be taking more time to "do the things I think are important," including her work on the board for the Boys and Girls Club of Murray/Midvale, the State Homeless Coordinating Committee, the Humane Society of Utah, and others.

She plans to spend time supporting nonprofits like LifeStart Village, a family support organization that offers single parent with services like a free crisis nursery, daycare and other services.

"At 80, you need the time to do what you want," Seghini said, adding that she decided not to run again "because I felt like there are others who could do the job very well."

Seghini supported Hale, who — like her — had also served on the City Council and planning commission before he ran for mayor.

"I've got some big high heels to fill," Hale said Friday. "She has been a queen in our city."

The incoming mayor lauded Seghini for addressing tough issues throughout her 32 years — from "taking on" the Road Home's Midvale homeless shelter to the creation of numerous social programs, to overseeing the city's commercial development.

Earlier this month, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and the Salt Lake County Council adopted a joint resolution honoring Seghini, a longtime Democrat, for her 32 years of public service.

"Mayor JoAnn Seghini has been a champion for education, a role model for women in politics, and a beacon of compassion for underserved populations," the resolution says.

McAdams said Seghini has been a "role model for me and an example for many of us for her approach to public service."

Seghini told the council "it's wonderful to be honored," but noted she plans to continue her public service in other capacities.

"You don't stop being a voice for people when you stop sitting in the chair of leadership," she told the County Council. "We all have to be leaders in everything we do in our communities, whether it's serving in a government capacity, serving as a volunteer, or just being a good neighbor. I've been fortunate to be able to do all those things and to love the people that I serve — not to always agree with the people that I serve — but to love the people that I serve."

Accomplishments

Throughout her career in office, Seghini said she has taken pride in making tough decisions.

One of the most prominent issues facing Midvale in recent years has been the Road Home's family homeless shelter — which began in 1998 as a winter overflow, but has since transformed into a full-time homeless shelter.

Seghini was there to help lobby the Utah Legislature for funds to help support the shelter.

"The city, with all the responsibilities that have been put on us by the Legislature — God bless them — has done everything we can to support the homeless program, which was not easy," Seghini said. "We have been gracious — grudgingly gracious. It's been a tough thing to carry, but there was nobody else."

Seghini said the shelter has had a "tremendous impact" on her community — but it's by far not been the most controversial issue she's had to face in her role as mayor.

"The most controversial thing any mayor is facing in America today is high-density housing," she said.

As the Wasatch Front and the nation faces a housing shortage, Seghini said she felt strongly about increasing the city's housing stock, even though that angered certain neighborhoods.

"Does the public always like what government does? No. Is government always right? No," she said, but added that she tried to prioritize transparency and give all Midvale residents "a voice."

Her proudest accomplishment, she said, is an issue that dates back decades for Midvale.

In her first meeting as a councilwoman in 1986, Seghini learned that Midvale had two areas being designated as "Superfund" sites — the term the federal government applies to contaminated areas that must undergo a long-term cleanup process.

Since then, the sites — the Bingham Junction and Jordan Bluffs project areas — have been cleared for development.

"To the angst of many," the Bluffs development will have high-density housing, Seghini said. But that's a tough decision she takes pride in.

As a present at her retirement party, city officials announced they would be naming one of the new streets in the Bluffs development (near 8020 South off of Main Street) Seghini Drive.

The one regret the now former mayor says she has from her experience in public office is the "negative position of many people who aren't willing to look at both sides," pointing to neighborhoods that protest high-density housing as one example.

"To some people, it's their way or the highway," Seghini said. "They come and speak and shake their fists and complain. They're not really concerned about the good of the community as a whole or people of the future."

She often points out if residents expect their children to live in their basements when they can't find housing, where will their grandchildren live?

Under Seghini, several big businesses have established headquarters in Midvale, including Overstock.com, FLSmidth, the regional distribution center for Intermountain Healthcare, and Savage Industries.

Seghini was also in office for the 1996 annexation of Union Fort and South Union Fort, which doubled the size of Midvale — at the time, the largest annexation in Utah's history.

"In my 20 years as mayor, the city has grown a great deal," she said, crediting city staff — from the legal department to public works — for handling it all with grace.

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As for Hale and other future Midvale public officials, Seghini said she has "great respect" for those willing to step up to deal with the "overwhelming problems" like the need for high-density housing, affordable housing and population growth facing cities across the Wasatch Front.

"I love my community," she said. "I encourage everybody to make sure that the voice they hear is the voice for all of us, not just some of us."

Sunday marked Seghini's last day as Midvale's mayor. Hale is slated to be sworn in on Tuesday.