Sandy’s Civil War - A former city councilman sheds some light on city dysfunctionMar 28, 2019 02:46PM ● By Justin Adams
By Justin Adams | [email protected]
Amid the well-publicized water contamination crisis in Sandy City, only the most engaged of Sandy residents would have noticed that a second crisis—which has been building for over a year—was culminating at the same time.
Several local news reporters who attended the Feb. 26 Sandy City Council meeting to continue their coverage of the ongoing water crisis were surely surprised when they first had to sit through two hours of internal political squabbles made public as the city administration and the city council made accusations of lies, leaks and illegal behavior against one another.
It wasn’t a pretty sight, and multiple residents walked away calling it an embarrassment to the city.
Any Sandy resident in attendance that night would have asked how this happened, and what’s being done to improve the relationships within Sandy City’s government.
Those are the questions the Sandy Journal asked both the mayor’s office and the city council via email the very next day. In response, Mayor Kurt Bradburn sent an email to all members of the council saying he wouldn’t be responding to those questions, and encouraged all council members to do likewise.
“We owe it to those we serve to treat each other with dignity and respect and resolve our differences professionally,” said Bradburn in the email.
The request worked, as every sitting council member declined to answer questions from the Sandy Journal about the situation. While the silence may be a sign that all parties have resolved to keep their disputes private, it still doesn’t answer the core question that concerns many Sandy residents: Is the current Sandy government capable of doing its job effectively? While a certain degree of tension between branches of government is good and healthy for democracy, at a certain point it negatively impacts that government’s ability to do its job.
“I believe Sandy is past that point and both branches have difficulty performing their responsibilities,” said Steve Smith, who was a Sandy City councilor until last year and now frequently attends meetings as an engaged citizen. He agreed to give the Sandy Journal some insight into how these problems arose and whether or not he thinks they can be fixed.
“The current tension is, in my opinion, a direct result of prior councils ceding too much legislative authority to (former Mayor) Tom Dolan. This was facilitated by the city attorney and Dolan's senior staff under the guise of allowing flexibility and not burdening the council with hard decisions,” he said.
While Smith said he fought to reverse these changes during his tenure, they remained in place “because a majority of the council trusted Tom Dolan and were unwilling to risk his ire.”
Now, according to Smith, Bradburn is using the same authorities granted to the administration, and the same council members who empowered Dolan now resent Bradburn for doing the same things.
That analysis is echoed by a memorandum issued by Mike Applegarth, the executive director of the city council office.
“Encroachment from the executive into the legislative is not new,” reads the memo. “Many, but not all, past and current council members operated with a high level of trust in the previous administration. As a result, council oversight was not rigorously exercised, and the administration filled those gaps … It seems that the decision to exercise oversight is largely dependent on the trust in the person who occupies the mayor’s office.”
The memo goes on to call city council members to “put personality aside and exercise its authority based on the demands of the law, not who occupies” the mayor’s office.
Why any current city council member dislikes Bradburn is a question only they can answer. However, Smith said that from his knowledge, distrust of the mayor stems from some of the new administration’s earliest actions.
According to him, the administration “froze out” city council office staff from cabinet meetings, “which had been used to coordinate things happening in the city with the council and to confirm the agenda for that week.”
Evelyn Everton, Sandy’s deputy mayor, said that after Bradburn learned of the city council staff’s exclusion from cabinet meetings, “he asked city council staff to resume attending cabinet meetings. They did for a time but are currently choosing not to attend.”
Smith also said there was a real, or at least perceived, us vs. them culture in the mayor’s office “that viewed anyone who had a good relationship with Tom Dolan as the enemy.”
Everton disputed this characterization, noting that Bradburn’s “first act as mayor was to recognize the service of Mayor Dolan by naming the River Oaks Clubhouse in his honor.”
“(Bradburn) has asked for meetings with each individual council member to resolve differences instead of airing grievances publicly. He has apologized on the record for any mistakes he has made. He has been more than willing to meet with any council member who requests a meeting to discuss any issue,” she said.
As for whether or not the dysfunction will be resolved in the near future, Smith said he’s doubtful, based on the current and projected future makeup of the city council.