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Rolly: Who’s giving tips to Utah reps for the Koch brothers? A former foe’s sister

First Published      Last Updated Jun 12 2017 11:02 pm

Call her the maestro.

It appears Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton collaborated with the conservative Americans for Prosperity to thwart funding to preserve scenic open space slated to be sold to developers for an exclusive gated community.

Newton has made no secret of her opposition to a proposal to spend $1.5 million of county funds to help meet the $38 million sales price to buy from developers the scenic 1,350 acres in Wasatch County, known as Bonanza Flats, that is enjoyed by hikers and skiers accessing the top of Brighton Ski Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon and is a critical watershed area.

Newton and other council Republicans have argued that Salt Lake County taxpayer funds should not be used to buy land in another county. But a coalition of surrounding governments, businesses and environmental groups has raised most of the money to buy the land and preserve it as open space.

The deadline is Thursday.

There seems to be widespread support for the county's participation. Only one organization testified against it in March when the GOP-controlled County Council was asked to approve a $3 million appropriation. The council rejected it in a 5-4 party-line vote.

That organization was Americans for Prosperity (AFP), an advocacy group supported by the billionaire Koch brothers that advocates for small government and low-tax policies.

A thread of text messages obtained by the environmental group Save Our Canyons shows that when the council was considering the earlier proposal, Newton encouraged Utah AFP officials Evelyn Everton and Heather Williamson to testify against the proposal and provided them with talking points to use before the council.

The collaboration is interesting since the exchange occurred just a few days after the AFP filed a criminal complaint with the Utah attorney general's office against the Utah Values political action committee (PAC) Newton shares with her brother, Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City.

The complaint alleged that Mike Winder broke the law in an attack robocall by showing a false source number on recipients' caller IDs.

The number displayed was Everton's personal cellphone. The call lambasted AFP as "an out-of-state special interest group."

The complaint alleged Winder used the Utah Values PAC to make the robocalls in retaliation for AFP mailers to constituents of Winder and other legislators, urging them to call those lawmakers to oppose a proposed online sales tax bill and making available their cellphone numbers.

AFP withdrew the complaint after Winder apologized. Right after that, Everton and Williamson suddenly became best buddies with his sister and engaged in emails strategizing how to stop the funding for Bonanza Flats.

A little inconsistency • While Save Our Canyons has obtained more than 2,300 signatures from Salt Lake County residents on a petition asking to approve the funding to save Bonanza Flats, Newton, in her arguments against the subsidy, has said legislators in the county oppose it because it would be spending county taxpayer money for land that is outside the county.

Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, said the same thing in a Facebook post responding to a newspaper op-ed piece advocating for the funding.

These legislators would be the same folks who voted to commit $53 million in Utah taxpayer money to back a proposed coal port in Oakland, Calif.

Time running out? • Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams recently called for the resignation of County Recorder Gary Ott amid persistent questions about the latter official's mental competency.

There is no mechanism to oust an independently elected official on grounds of incompetence. Republican activist Jeremy Roberts has asked the County Council to investigate whether Ott is being manipulated by his top deputy, Julie Dole, and others in the office so they can keep control.

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