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Sparks fly as councilman grills Becker ally about conflicts

Salt Lake City » Councilman suggest possible conflict of interest; other council members say candidate is competent.

First Published Apr 08 2014 09:32 pm • Last Updated Apr 23 2014 02:41 pm

Perceptions of conflict of interest or not, Matt Lyon, the executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, looks to be the next member of the Salt Lake City Planning Commission

A spirited exchange between Lyon and City Councilman Luke Garrott raised the temperature at the council’s work session Tuesday evening. Garrott challenged Lyon’s appointment, based on his close ties with Mayor Ralph Becker, who nominated Lyon for the position.

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Lyon had served as Becker’s campaign manager and worked in Becker’s office until 2011. Garrott cast the relationship as one that provided the appearance of conflict because the Planning Commission serves as a regulatory body for initiatives coming from the mayor’s planning department.

On a number of occasions, Garrott asked Lyon whether the mayor had used the Democratic Party offices for fundraising during the past 12 months.

Several times Lyon replied, "Many candidates used the office for fundraising."

At one point Garrott replied: "You are quite a bullshitter, Matt. You need to answer the questions."

Lyon told the council that he holds himself to a "high standard" and would have no trouble voting against any project that he felt didn’t meet Salt Lake City’s standards.

Eventually, Lyon said he had not done any fundraising for Becker since 2011. Pressed further, he said that none of his staff had raised funds for the mayor during the past 12 months.

Council Chairman Charlie Luke interrupted at one point to calm the tension, saying he didn’t want any badgering of the nominee — Lyon.

The council chairman also noted that it’s difficult to find qualified people to serve on the unpaid, volunteer board.

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"I think you are a well-qualified candidate for the role," Luke told Lyon. "But there is a perception that you have access and will be a shill for the mayor. I think that is very unfair to you."

Councilman James Rogers enthusiastically endorsed Lyon.

"I don’t hesitate to endorse Matt," he said. "I think he will serve District 5 and the city well."

Council members Erin Mendenhall and Lisa Adams also signaled approval of Lyon. And Councilman Kyle LaMalfa had earlier said Lyon’s activities from year’s past weren’t enough to keep him from serving on the Planning Commission.

The council will vote on Lyon’s appointment at its regularly scheduled April 15 meeting at 7 p.m. in Room 315 at City Hall, 451 S. State.


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