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West Jordan’s year of initiating change

Jan 01, 2018 08:33PM

Jim Riding and his wife, Kathe. In November, Riding was voted the next mayor of West Jordan City. (Courtesy Jim Riding)

Gallery: Year of Change [7 Images] Click any image to expand.

It was a year of movement for West Jordan in 2017. From the elections and a city manager retiring to the city’s form of government and its new facilities, West Jordan continued to upend the status quo. Here are some of the city’s biggest stories from 2017.  


Change of Government vote

In what was a hotly debated topic for the majority of 2017, residents voted to change the city’s form of government, by a 63-vote margin, from council-manager to a council-mayor, more commonly known as the “strong mayor” format. 

“It was such an unknown,” said Mayor-elect Jim Riding on how the vote would turn out. “I had friends on both cases; I could not get a good feel for how it would go…there (were) so many people on both philosophies.”

Under the city’s current council-manager form, a professional city manager hired by the city council acts as the CEO of the city, carrying out its day-to-day tasks, while the mayor serves as chair of the city council. 

In 2020, under what will now be the city’s council-mayor form, West Jordan’s mayor will serve as CEO, becoming the head of the executive branch of municipal government. The mayor would implement ordinances passed by the city council, appoint department heads and officers for the city departments and has veto power subject to the council’s ability to override the veto. 

This form of government would remove the city manager position but create a city administrator position that would perform administrative powers and duties under direction of the mayor.  

While conversation of changing the form of government has surfaced in years past, it wasn’t until 2017 that it really picked up steam.  

January saw a 4-3 vote in favor of putting the change of government option on the November ballot. The resolution, brought forth by Councilman Dirk Burton, initiated a process that would last the next 10 months. 

“I desire to let the public have the choice,” Burton said at the time. 

The measure received pushback, however, with concerns including the lack of options (only the council-mayor form was on the ballot) and the inability to return to the council-manager form. 

While the council-manager form is the most popular government form in cities throughout the United States, it was removed from state law in 2008, though cities that had that form were permitted to continue the practice. Now that it’s changed, it cannot return without state law being changed. 

The question was removed from the ballot in March after residents asked for more time and education on the subject. A Forms of Government Ad Hoc Committee, made up of nine members, was created to study the forms of government before making its consensus recommendation in August to remain with the current council-manager form. 

The committee’s report expressed concern about the amount of power the new form of government gives the mayor and placed emphasis on the “quality and temperament” of elected officials as “the most critical element in the successful operation of a city.” 

Despite the recommendation, the city council voted 5-2 to include the measure on the ballot, which became known as proposition 10. 


Elections

Of the seven elected positions in West Jordan’s city government, three will see new faces in 2018. Riding, Kayleen Whitelock and Chad Lamb will be sworn in on Jan. 3. 

Riding defeated incumbent Kim Rolfe 64-35 to become the 13th mayor in West Jordan’s history. It also continues a trend of one-term mayors that dates back decades. 

“My anticipation was that I would probably win, but I thought the margin would be a lot closer,” Riding told the Journal in November. “And so, I was very, very surprised at the margin difference.” 

Rolfe wrote in his final mayor’s message in the city’s newsletter that it’s been an honor to serve the city. 

“I love the City of West Jordan,” he wrote. “I’ve lived here for 40 years and have two businesses here. It’s been a great place to live and work, and I’m honored to have served on both the city council and as your mayor.” 

Rolfe highlighted creating an ethics ordinance for the city council and passing an ordinance that caps higher-density housing at 23 percent in the city. He said that will allow a balance of housing that “meets the needs of people throughout different stages of life.” 

Normally, Riding would serve a four-year term; however, with the change coming in two years, another election for mayor is required prior to the form of government change. 

Riding opposed the change, saying the city manager is a position usually held by someone with the proper education and experience. A mayor would not necessarily have the qualifications, only the majority of votes. 

The mayor-elect said he’d be prepared to run again in two years. 

Because the mayor would take on a completely new position, the salary would be different. 

But, the way the resolution is written, this would mean if Riding was defeated for reelection in 2019, he would still receive payment for the next two years. 

Riding told the Journal it was “very unlikely” he would accept that money, saying he would probably “just retire and let the city pay the new mayor.”

Kayleen Whitelock and Chad Lamb were elected to the at-large city council seats, respectively, with Whitelock capturing 33 percent and Lamb 26 percent to defeat Jay Thomas and Hyrum Smith Matthews. 

West Jordan had almost 32 percent voter turnout with 13,872 of a possible 43,727 registered voters casting their ballot. 


Groundbreakings

West Jordan bookended the year with two groundbreakings on major facilities in 2017: a public works building and arts facility. 

Called a “manifestation of hope” by public works employees at the groundbreaking on Feb. 16, the $26.5 million public works facility will be built at 7960 South 4000 West. 

Since 1986, the public works department has used their current building. Back then the city had a population of about 35,000, about one-third of today’s 114,000. 

Public works is responsible for storing and maintaining 450 vehicles, including street sweepers, vacuum trucks, plow trucks, police vehicles, fire trucks and other automobiles.

“We don’t spend that much time in the building, but my equipment needs a place to reside that is properly adequate for its needs, and we don’t have that,” said Justin Rayl at the time. Rayl is the wastewater operations supervisor. “I can’t meet the needs of a growing city now, but this new facility and will really make that possible.”

The new facility is being built on the site of the old facility, and the 10 acres of city-owned land that’s adjacent and to the north, bringing the full site of the facility up to 17 acres. The old building has remained operational while the new building is under construction.

Its completion is tentatively scheduled for spring 2018. 

November saw the officials break ground for a new Cultural Arts Facility in Veterans Memorial Park (1955 West 7800 South). 

Jen Crabb, arts council chair, said they’ve performed in various venues over the years, from school auditoriums and the old sugar factory to the performing arts center in Midvale. “West Jordan has a long history of community arts that has enriched our city as well as neighboring communities,” she said.

It makes another addition to West Jordan’s Civic Center, which includes City Hall, County Health Center, County Library Headquarters, State Third District Courthouse, West Jordan Justice Center, Fire Station 52, District Attorney’s Office, Gene Fullmer Rec Center and West Jordan Senior Center. These facilities are located adjacent to the 100-acre Veterans Memorial Park where the arts facility will be built.

“An arts facility fits nicely into this mix and provides a much-needed home for the arts,” Rolfe said at the time. 

The $9.2 million facility is scheduled for completion in spring 2019. 


City manager retires

For the fifth time in six years, West Jordan replaced its city manager. It will be one of the last times it does as the city does away with the position in 2020. 

Mark Palesh retired in July, having come out of retirement in 2015 and was approved to be interviewed for the position in Cedar City, South Jordan and West Jordan. He cancelled the South Jordan and Cedar City interviews. 

During his time as city manager, Palesh helped get West Jordan a seat on the Salt Lake Airport Board and initiated planning, design and financing for the new arts facility and public works buildings being constructed. In November, residents voted down plans for the third building, a rec center.  


Former mayor fills council seat

Jeff Haaga resigned from his city council at-large seat in March, which meant for the second time in under a year, the city council had to vote in another member. 

Haaga cited “personal family matters” as the reason for resignation in a letter addressed to Rolfe. The former city councilman was known most notably for being involved in a hit-and-run crash at a local bar in South Jordan. 

Councilman David Newton, who served as the city’s mayor from 2006 to 2010, was elected to serve the remaining eight months of the term out of 31 applicants. Newton did not seek reelection. 

The selection process by the mayor and city council involved a question-and-answer section, which was then narrowed down to three candidates for the second round. After the third candidate was eliminated, Newton won a 4-2 vote earn the council seat. 

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