Both practically and politically it made sense. From the practical standpoint, the mayor really had to stand up for the city’s right to self-determination, to make decisions within its boundaries that affect its residents.
It doesn’t take a team of political wizards to see how her opponents are going to try to pin the port on the mayor: Mayor Biskupski failed to protect the city and now we’re stuck with a lousy, air-polluting port.
With a crowded field that is likely to get more crowded if state Sen. Luz Escamilla jumps into the mix (she will decide after the legislative session, and my guess is she will enter the race) Biskupski had to exhaust every option.
And the clock was ticking for Biskupski to file her lawsuit.
Also, the bill originally would have prevented any city from going to court to challenge any decision by the port authority. Gibson walked that back a little bit, so now a city can only challenge if the city council and mayor are in agreement.
And, if you’ve been paying attention, you know that Salt Lake City’s mayor and council couldn’t agree on ordering a pizza these days.
Again this session, the council worked with Gibson and ended up supporting HB433, which passed Wednesday morning — after the ban on lawsuits against the port board was stripped out in the Senate.
“I want to reach out a hand to all those people who are critics of the inland port and help address their concerns,” Gibson told me Tuesday. “But it’s difficult to work with people when their stance is ‘no inland port.’ ”
(By the way, how much fun must it be working in the Salt Lake City Attorney’s Office right now, when you’re representing both the mayor and council members, who could end up suing each other? Perhaps that’s why Margaret Plane, a universally respected fixture in the city attorney’s office, bailed for a job with Park City.)
“Salt Lake City is already the Crossroads of the West and a prime location for an inland port,” she said at the time, “but the northwest quadrant will catapult Salt Lake City’s economic place in the western half of the United States for the foreseeable future.”
Last year, when the bill creating the Inland Port Authority was making its way through the Legislature, one of the chief arguments against it was that the city was already headed down that very path. It just wasn’t fast enough for Gibson and then-House Speaker Greg Hughes.
The problem the mayor had — and it is a valid complaint — is that she didn’t want the state coming in and taking over, making land-use decisions, levying taxes and basically acting like a city.
Which goes to the heart of Biskupski’s lawsuit. The Utah Constitution includes a rarely-tested clause that prohibits the Legislature from granting the powers normally exercised by a city to a “special commission.” Does the Inland Port Authority fit the definition of a special commission? And if so, is the authority unconstitutional?
It really is a question the courts should decide. That’s what they’re there for. And now, with Biskupski’s lawsuit, maybe we will get an answer.