Salt Lake City does not lack intelligent residents with expertise or knowledge that would be useful if they were to be appointed to the city’s volunteer Planning Commission.
So it seems odd that Mayor Ralph Becker would feel it necessary to nominate a close ally and political fundraiser to a seat on the planning board.
The appointment of Matt Lyon, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party and former campaign manager for Becker, rightly raised questions from one city councilman, Luke Garrott. Garrott raised the possibility that Lyon’s Democratic Party office had been involved in fundraising for Becker during the past 12 months, which Lyon denied.
Such questions are valid, and it’s fairly certain the public will wonder about the answers.
We wonder why the nomination didn’t spark concern from other council members. If they don’t feel comfortable opposing the mayor on such a questionable nomination, that itself is worrisome.
It’s essential to a balance of powers that the city’s legislative branch is not a rubber stamp for the executive.
The role of the Planning Commission to pass judgment on initiatives from the mayor’s planning department also must be free of undue influence from the mayor’s office. Some city residents might consider Lyon just a bit too cozy with the mayor to be considered objective on controversial planning matters. In addition to his position in Becker’s campaigns, Lyon worked in the mayor’s office during his first term, and his wife, Bianca Shreeve, worked for Becker’s chief of staff, David Everitt.
Lyon’s appointment could put a cloud over the commission’s recommendations and raise objections of cronyism.
We are not suggesting there is anything underhanded in Becker’s choosing Lyon, who obviously has the mayor’s respect and is a qualified candidate. But appearances count, especially in politics. And the Planning Commission must consider initiatives on their merits, without raising questions of bias.
Residents must be able to trust in commission members’ objectivity.
It would be in the city’s best interest if the mayor nominated someone whose ties to Becker are not so close, politically and personally.
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