Erin Mendenhall announces plans for taking over as Salt Lake City mayor

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mayor-elect Erin Mendenhall discusses the transition to her administration at the City and County Building, nov. 7, 2019.

As Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall prepares to become Mayor Mendenhall in January, she promised Thursday that her administration will be “ready on day one.”

At a news conference outside City Hall that came the day after her opponent, state Sen. Luz Escamilla, conceded in the race, Mendenhall outlined her process and goals for the transition in leadership, including that it be as seamless as possible for residents and businesses and that she retain as much institutional memory as possible.

“I will not be requesting the blanket resignation of department and division heads” as her predecessor, current Mayor Jackie Biskupski, had, Mendenhall promised.

Her transition committee will be co-chaired by two leaders: Maria Garciaz, now the executive director of NeighborWorks Salt Lake City, and Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah. Rachel Otto, director of government relations at the Utah League of Cities and Towns, will serve as chief of staff for the transition.

Mendenhall said she expects the women “will bring their deep breadth of knowledge, vast relationships and diversity of experience to the table.”

The mayor-elect plans to work with community councils and to begin holding office hours after the final canvass on Nov. 19 at library branches around the city to give residents the opportunity to share ideas for what they want to see out of her administration.

After that point, she said, the transition committee will take that feedback to prepare “guidance documents” for how to move forward, including on “urgent” issues like air quality, homelessness and building a tech ecosystem across the city.

“We’ll get into more details over the next few weeks," she said, “but what’s important for Salt Lakers to hear today is that the transition committee is already up and running and is working to ensure a smooth transition for our city.”

Mendenhall plans to give her resignation to the City Council on Jan. 1, after which the process for filling her District 5 council seat will begin.

The mayor-elect also said she plans to meet with Escamilla in the next few days “to talk about where we can immediately begin working together” on critical issues facing the city. She will meet with Biskupski next week.

The mayor had endorsed Escamilla in the primary, but Mendenhall said they “both want what’s best for the city" as new leadership takes over.

In a tweet Wednesday, Biskupski pledged that her office “will work diligently to ensure a smooth transition."

As she enters the next few weeks, Mendenhall also reflected on her wide-margin win over Escamilla.

While knocking on more than 32,000 doors an average of four times in the general election, she said in an interview after the news conference, she heard people wanted a candidate with “the right experience to get results on air quality in particular."

Mendenhall has a background in air quality work and during the election promoted her City Council experience as a boon to a City Hall that has been led in recent years by former state legislators. She plans on her first day in office to take “immediate steps” on air quality issues, she said.

“I really can’t wait to get started,” Mendenhall said with a laugh at the news conference. “Like right now.”