SLC brain drain: Christensen, Love and Simonsen depart
The new year will bring something of a brain-trust exodus from Salt Lake City Hall as three veteran City Council members depart.
Come Jan. 6, District 1 Councilman Carlton Christensen will exit after four terms 16 years. Joining him on the way out will be District 5 Councilwoman Jill Remington Love, who served three terms, and District 7 Councilman Soren Simonsen, who held the post for two terms.
Colleagues credit the trio with helping guide Salt Lake City through good times and bad to a new renaissance.
The Gateway retail and residential center was built, followed by City Creek Center, a revitalization of Sugar House is well under way and the Sugar House Streetcar is up and running. Not least, the Utah Performing Arts Center will soon be built on Main Street near 100 South.
Christensen • What a difference 16 years can make: When Christensen took office, it was still the 20th century, Main Street ran through to North Temple, Deedee Corradini was mayor and the Winter Olympics was four years away.
"I'm a Rose Park kid," the 47-year old Christensen said in a recent interview . "I was raised and grew up there. I'm just grateful to the residents who gave me a chance to serve."
Christensen is known as a budget wonk and financial whiz he was the go-to guy when the council had its back to the wall in tough budgetary times.
"Carlton has an encyclopedic knowledge of funds and agreements made over the years," said Council Chairman Kyle LaMalfa. "He also has a knack to find money. He will be a big loss to the city."
Christensen's talents are such that County Mayor Ben McAdams recently hired him as director of regional development.
Through various administrations, Christensen and Love provided a steady keel for Salt Lake City and the council. And they often voted together.
A notable exception occurred earlier this year when Love, along with a council majority, voted to raise property taxes against the wishes of Mayor Ralph Becker, and then voted to override the mayor's veto. Christensen was in the minority during that showdown, along with Councilman Stan Penfold.
Love • Love is known among colleagues for her support of local groups, youth sports and parks and for her common sense. She also likes to preserve the city's idiosyncrasies and was the one vote against closing the right-turn lane on 2100 South at 1100 East to make way for a larger plaza there.
"The great thing about local government is that whether you are out in the neighborhood or at your child's soccer game, people come up and want to talk about the issues," she said. "Local government is about how can we calm traffic on this street ... or how can we help our local businesses. ... It's immediate and possible."
Still, Love is proud of the big stuff, too. Most notably City Creek Center.
"For the first time in 30 years, our town is starting to revitalize," she said. "And I think City Creek is a big part of that."
What many residents might not realize is that part-time council members work a lot, Christensen explained.
"If you are going to do it right, it requires a lot of availability," he said of a seat on the City Council.
Regular Tuesday meetings can go as long as eight hours. There is a lot of reading to do, and then there are meetings with various community groups and, of course, phone calls and face time with constituents. It can add up to 20 or 30 hours a week or more.
Simonsen • Simonsen agreed. "It's a big commitment," he said. "When I thought about running for a second term, I had to stop and think. I didn't know if I could keep up the pace."
Simonsen, whose District 7 encompasses Sugar House, has long been a community booster. And he looks at the new Sugar House Streetcar, the upcoming completion of Parleys Trail and the renewal of Sugar House, in general, with a bit of pride.
"That's been rewarding," he said. "The Sugar House metamorphosis will continue for 30 years."
Along with his penchant for planning, Simonsen is seen by colleagues as the one who can "imagine the future," LaMalfa said. "His commitment to high-quality design and the urban experience fits together. ... That will be difficult to replace on the council."
Although City Council meetings have a reputation as being somewhat dry, Simonsen and Love provided periodic relief by jousting over topics from how to spend the budget to where the Sugar House Streetcar line should go next.
"Debate is healthy. I actually like that we don't agree on everything," Simonsen said. "The council has behaved in a very respectful way. But it can be frustrating when you don't get your way."
Nonetheless, Simonsen said he is leaving office a happy man. "I feel the weight of the city lifting from my shoulders," he said. "I won't have to worry as much. That will be nice."
But Love, the mother of three school-age kids, fears departing her post of 12 years may leave an empty place in an otherwise-busy life. "I have been cautioned by so many people that it will be terrible for me," she said. "I leave with mixed emotions. It will be bittersweet."
By contrast, Christensen's new job at Salt Lake County may satisfy his appetite for local government.
"Some people wondered whether I would ever quit," he said. "I think I will miss the decision-making aspect of government [at the council]. But my job at the county is pretty intense."