Salt Lake City’s new public services director quits after less than a month

Priorities • April Townsend quits after less than a month, says she wants to focus on earning a doctoral degree.

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Jackie Biskupski answers a question during a Salt Lake City Mayoral debate with Ralph Becker at the Main Salt Lake City Library in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, October 28, 2015.

After less than a month on the job, April Townsend has resigned as Salt Lake City's director of public services.

Mayor Jackie Biskupski accepted the resignation and issued a news release Friday morning, saying: "April expressed to me a need to devote more attention to other areas of her life, and I respect that decision."

In a prepared statement, Townsend said she had come to "realize that at this point in my career, my focus is upon furthering my academic interest and completing my doctorate."

The abrupt and unexpected departure revived questions about Biskupski's decision to replace former public services Director Rick Graham, who had been with the city for 35 years and was widely respected.

City Council members said Friday afternoon they were surprised and disappointed at Townsend's resignation.

"This is less than professional," Councilman Charlie Luke said. "There is a level of individual responsibility when you're applying for a job."

In terms of the administration vetting Townsend to determine whether she could handle the workload while pursuing a doctorate, Luke said Townsend should have known what she was getting into.

"I don't think you can put this on Mayor Biskupski," he said.

Townsend, who came to the city after several years in county government, is the second of Biskupski's nominees to falter. Earlier, Mike Reberg pulled his name from consideration as director of public utilities when council members questioned his expertise. That vacancy was created when 25-year city veteran Jeff Niermeyer resigned. Reberg, who most recently had been over animal services at Salt Lake County, was later approved as director of the city's community and neighborhood development department.

Biskupski herself came to the city from the county, where she had served as a top assistant to Sheriff Jim Winder. Her new team also is led by two former county administrators: chief of staff Patrick Leary and assistant chief David Litvack.

Public services is by far the largest department in Salt Lake City. And Townsend faced some tough questioning at her March 1 confirmation hearing. Some City Council members were displeased that Biskupski had gotten rid of Graham.

"Rick Graham leaves very big shoes to fill," Councilwoman Lisa Adams said at the time.

Townsend acknowledged she did not have much experience in public services, but her résumé with Salt Lake County included a variety of management positions.

She was director of administrative services from 2005 to 2012 under former Mayor Peter Corroon. Since 2012, she worked as director of finance and operations for the county's Library System.

"April is highly qualified and an excellent choice to lead the department of public services," Biskupski said in the news release announcing the resignation. "But this department requires enormous commitment and responsibility from its director."

In her statement, Townsend said she expressed her regret to the mayor. "Both the mayor and the city need a leader in this position fully devoted to serving the residents of this great city."

The resignation is effective immediately.

Councilwoman Adams said the timing of Townsend's resignation "is terrible because we are coming into our [annual] budget session and that will be difficult without a director."

Although the council was apprised of Townsend's educational aspirations, it did not delve into whether she could handle the director's post while pursuing a degree.

"It didn't cross anyone's mind to ask that," Adams said, promising that "whomever the mayor nominates next will be more thoroughly questioned."

Lisa Shaffer has been named interim director. Shaffer has been deputy director of administrative services within the public services department, which has four deputies.

A search soon will be launched for a new director, said Biskupski spokesman Matthew Rojas.


Mike Gorrell contributed to this story.

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski is joined by a group of business, community, education, and arts leaders as she announces a national search for Salt Lake CityÕs new Business and Economic Development Director during a press conference at her office in the Salt Lake City and County Building in Salt Lake City, Thursday, February 11, 2016. The group is supporting her commitment to appoint a leader to guide the city in building and sustaining a dynamic, diverse and robust economy for everyone.