Salt Lake County Mayor McAdams settling in after post-election flurry
By Mike Gorrell
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Apr 22 2013 01:01AM
Until last week, Ben McAdams had not decorated the Salt Lake County mayor’s office he inherited Jan. 7 from Peter Corroon.
He hadn’t had time, not that it mattered much since he was rarely there, having been steadily on the go since even before his inauguration.
Right away, McAdams launched a series of meetings across the townships, following up on a campaign commitment to pay closer attention to unincorporated communities.
Then the former Democratic state senator was up on Capitol Hill, lobbying the GOP-led Legislature for county-related bills, most notably seeking state funding for a convention-center headquarters hotel (he failed) and an environmental study of transportation in the Wasatch Mountains (he succeeded).
Along the way, he also did what mayors do — building his staff, attending County Council and other meetings, going to dedications, traveling to national conferences.
"There’s not enough time in a day to do everything we want to do," McAdams said in an interview Wednesday, the 100th day of his term. Still, he added, "We hit the ground running and feel good about where we are. We’ve accomplished a lot of things right out of the gate."
Two veteran county councilmen, Republican Michael Jensen and Democrat Jim Bradley, have been impressed with McAdams’ debut.
"Overall, I’d give him a pretty decent grade," said Jensen, a Magna resident and Unified Fire Authority chief.
"In our [Republican] caucus, we feel like we have a good working relationship with the mayor," he added. "We’re not going to agree with everything he wants. We have different ways and styles of doing things. But we all feel he’ll listen to what our side wants."
Bradley, who has been on the council as long as Jensen (since 2001) and was a county commissioner before that, said, "I can’t think of anything to complain about."
While he had initial concerns about McAdams’ age — he’s 38 — Bradley said the mayor quickly bridged the generation gap with older bureaucrats and councilmen. "He didn’t let the age difference bother him," Bradley said. "He is very bright, thoughtful and understands the strategies of politics and getting things done. And his hires have been excellent."
Both councilmen praised McAdams for retaining Nichole Dunn from the Corroon administration as deputy mayor, guiding a smooth transition between Democratic executives.
They also were pleased by the mayor’s first new hire — selecting Taylorsville Mayor Russ Wall, a Republican, to run public works and shifting former department director Patrick Leary into a new post as "township executive," essentially the city manager for 160,000 unincorporated-area residents.
"Being an unincorporated-area resident myself, I really like that," said Jensen. Added Bradley: "It’s a terrific strategy and responsive to the needs of unincorporated people who now feel they have a relationship with the county."
McAdams said last fall’s unsuccessful effort to make Millcreek a city convinced him that "We could do a better job giving [unincorporated-area residents] more direct representation."
Besides making Leary a point person to handle their concerns, McAdams embarked on his township tour to learn about the disparate issues that concern people from Copperton to Emigration Canyon. "It was a great opportunity to listen," the mayor said.
Joan Gallegos, of the Emigration Canyon Community Council, said residents there appreciated McAdams’ responses to their bicycle-safety and trash-collection concerns.
"I guess the honeymoon phase continues because he has paid attention to our issues," she said, particularly citing Leary’s appointment. "We now have a voice and better communication and a person we can address our concerns to and hold accountable."
McAdams also has actively promoted economic development across numerous fronts, completing a couple of initiatives begun under Corroon.
The county signed ownership and operating agreements with Salt Lake City for the downtown Utah Performing Arts Center. Another agreement guaranteed the lucrative, twice-yearly Outdoor Retailer markets will continue coming to the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center through 2016.
In addition, the county agreed to participate in a Community Development Area (CDA) around Draper’s FrontRunner station, giving up as much as $36.4 million in new sales-tax revenue from the site over the next 20 years in return for the prospect of developing a complex of high-rise office towers for high-tech companies that could be worth upward of $1 billion.
"Something special is starting to happen in Draper," McAdams said, noting that performance and accountability provisions he inserted into the CDA contract also should apply to talks about moving the prison out of Draper and redeveloping its acreage.
He has asked Gov. Gary Herbert for a seat on a board examining prison relocation, insisting "the decision about whether to move the prison needs to be driven by data and not by development interests."
While McAdams could not steer the controversial megahotel bill through the Legislature — "I was impressed he got it as close as he did," Jensen said of the four-vote loss — the mayor is not giving up.
He believes he developed a conservative financing model that avoids competition with other private-sector hotels, protects taxpayers and ultimately could succeed in meeting Salt Lake City’s need for a convention-headquarters hotel and more meeting space.
"This has been a subject of conversation for 20 years," McAdams said. "That conversation has moved forward and will continue."
McAdams was clearly pleased legislators appropriated $2.9 million for an environmental impact statement (EIS) of transportation issues in the heavily visited canyons between Parleys and Little Cottonwood. The Utah Transit Authority likely will oversee that effort, with assistance from county, state, local and federal officials.
With that process in the offing, McAdams said he asked Utah’s congressional delegation last week to refrain from pursuing other legislation — namely SkiLink, the proposal to connect Canyons resort near Park City with Solitude Mountain Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon — until the EIS is done.
"I specifically said the best decisions are driven locally," he said. "I would hope our federal delegation respects that and allows that [EIS] process to move forward."
McAdams also is about to unveil several other initiatives.
A "sustainability council" he assembled to promote environmental efficiency will meet for the first time Friday. In a few weeks, he expects to approach the council with a plan to hire a senior adviser for regional development, dealing in part with an ongoing effort to provide public-works services across multiple jurisdictions.
The mayor also is formulating a plan to expand the county’s after-school programs to help community youths.
"This is not something we can accomplish overnight," he said. "We want to get it right. We don’t want to just put money into it. We want to find programs that work and amplify our success."