The Salt Lake City Council sent a letter to House Speaker Greg Hughes, Sen. Jim Dabakis and Gov. Gary Herbert late Tuesday, praising them for their effort to kickstart stalled negotiations to address the city’s concerns about the future of an inland port.
The move came hours after Hughes and Dabakis announced that they had hammered out an agreement — albeit only between the two of them — that addressed several of the city’s chief objections to the Legislature’s creation of the port authority to run what is envisioned as a massive shipping hub for the Western United States and a major driver of Utah’s economy.
“The Salt Lake City Council unanimously stands in support of the renewed discussion,” the council wrote. “We are ready and willing to work with the state on behalf of all of our constituents.”
But Hughes and Dabakis have also taken considerable heat for trying to find an agreement — especially since Dabakis really doesn’t have any authority to negotiate for the city — at the exclusion of so many others who have a stake in the outcome.
Look, I don’t begrudge Hughes and Dabakis for trying to work through some of the issues. More conversations are, generally speaking, a good thing. But there were other parties who really need to have an active role. That includes the representatives in the Legislature for the area near the airport and Great Salt Lake that would make up the inland port — Sen. Luz Escamilla, Rep. Angela Romero, and Rep. Sandra Hollins.
And if Hughes feels like he and Mayor Jackie Biskupski have reached a spot where more talking is a waste of time, it would make sense to at least bring City Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall into the mix.
The legislators were understandably upset that they were shut out, especially since it was Dabakis, a fellow Democrat, who kept them in the dark.
Escamilla said she first heard about Dabakis’ involvement from an announcement late Monday afternoon that there would be a news conference the next morning. She spoke to Dabakis not long after that and the conversation started with him apologizing and then, Escamilla said, it “soured” from there.
Mendenhall found out the same way and got a few details of the Hughes-Dabakis proposal in a hurried briefing just minutes before the news conference.
“We were blindsided by this,” Hollins said. “It is my constituents who will be directly impacted by the Inland Port, but they didn’t include us in any of these conversations.”
It’s worth noting that the elected officials who represent Ground Zero for the inland port — Biskupski, Romero, Escamilla, Hollins and Mendenhall — are all female. Maybe that’s not the reason they weren’t included, but it sure looks bad — given all the lip service paid to encouraging women to run for office.
“The battle is there all the time, just being at the table. We may be elected officials, but we are always undermined in a way,” said Escamilla. “[Tuesday] was one of those moments where you see it still happens.”
On Twitter, Dabakis dismissed the criticism from his fellow Democrats as bruised egos. Tuesday night, Biskupski sat down with the female legislators for an impromptu meeting, to talk through how far they would be willing to bend on some of the lingering issues.
It wasn’t really a new discussion. Escamilla, Hollins and Romero have been participating in community meetings at 7 a.m. every other week, where they listen to the actual people who live closest to the proposed port.
But if the discussions are really going to be successful, the right people need to be involved and that has to include the officials elected to represent the ground where the port may someday be, whether they’re male or female.
It also is going to have to include the governor, the county, and Sen. Jerry Stevenson, who sponsored the bill in the first place.
Perhaps, when we look back on this latest episode, these discussions between Hughes and Dabakis will be seen as the act that pulled the bus out of the ditch and got it moving toward a productive end. But to reach that destination, it should have everyone on board. And ultimately it will probably take the governor to lead that effort.