The questioning was nothing like Chuck Hagel endured earlier this year when he was grilled by U.S. senators during his confirmation hearing to become secretary of defense.
But on Tuesday, Michael Ongigko became the first McAdams administration official put on the hot seat since the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing inspired Salt Lake County Council members to become more diligent in providing “advice and consent” to mayoral appointees.
Ongigko, Mayor Ben McAdams’ selection to be the county’s human-resources director, was asked his views on collective bargaining and dealing with employee unions in a right-to-work state.
Council members wondered how he handled employee-compensation issues through the hard times of the Great Recession in his recent position with Cincinnati Metro and his relationship with trustees of the Ohio city’s mass transit company.
He was even asked if he knew much about Utah’s unique culture and whether he had a political affiliation.
Ongigko answered all but the last question, posed by Democratic Councilman Randy Horiuchi. “I’d like to pass on that,” he said, supported by McAdams and council members on both sides of the aisle in his stance of neutrality.
“You’ll get to know Councilman Horiuchi” and his quirky sense of humor, Republican Chairman Steve DeBry advised Ongigko, whose appointment was approved unanimously by the council.
Republican Councilman David Wilde pushed for greater council scrutiny of mayoral appointments after watching Hagel’s confirmation process.
“This is not intended in any way as a slight to the new mayor,” he said, but “we need to be more assertive and talk to … people who are going to be very involved in the day-to-day operations of this government and have far more power than we do … and get more information about them.”
So on April 30, the council amended its advice-and-consent ordinance to require the mayor to give more details about nominees for deputy mayor and department directors for administrative services, community services, human services and public works. The ordinance also required nominees to be questioned before the council.
Although Ongigko is not a department head, his position is of enough importance in county government affairs that he became the first official put to that test.