As she took the oath of office Monday on the steps of City Hall, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall outlined her vision for a strong and inclusive city and pledged to bring community members together to secure that future.
“We are about to embark on an ambitious work of love for this city — an effort guided by our fundamental desire to make Salt Lake City a better place for everyone who lives here: housed and unhoused, young and old, immigrant and native, families of all sizes, races and cultures," she said, looking out over a crowd of around 500 people. "We need each other. None of us can do this work alone. Not a citizen, not a council member, and not a mayor.”
Mendenhall has a background in air quality work and plans on her first day in office to take “immediate steps” on that issue. On Monday, she announced that all city decisions will now be made with environmental impacts in mind and said she will direct all departments to submit suggestions within the next 30 days of how their departments and divisions could reduce their environmental impact.
“There are so many ways we can improve,” she told reporters in an interview after the ceremony.
Among the swearing-in ceremony attendees were Gov. Gary Herbert and former Gov. Jon Huntsman.
The inauguration was held with a heavy police presence, likely in response to a demonstration at Washington Square over the weekend that led to the arrests of more than a dozen people calling on the city to do more to address homelessness.
But there was little sign of the campers who often set up tents in the Library Square area or of protesters at the inauguration, save for one woman with a sign that read, “Shelter for all, Mendenhall!”
Mendenhall, who during the campaign advocated for the downtown emergency shelter to stay open through the winter, told reporters after the ceremony that she and protesters “want the same solution, which is that no one is turned away from shelter when they seek shelter, particularly during these winter months.”
Amid ongoing concerns about capacity within the Salt Lake City area’s new homeless resource centers, which replaced The Road Home, Mendenhall told The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday that she plans to take immediate steps to address gaps within the system, including exploring options for a temporary low-barrier emergency shelter available in the cold winter months.
During the election, Mendenhall promoted her City Council experience as a boon to a City Hall that has been led in recent years by former state legislators — a sentiment she reiterated during her remarks Monday while pledging to improve the experience for residents who interact with City Hall.
“I’ve seen what works and I’ve seen what isn’t working,” she said. “We need to listen to the civil servants who work day in and day out to take steps to tear down walls and silos where they exist and prevent us from working at our best. Residents don’t look to City Hall and see dozens of departments and divisions. They see one government starting today.”
Three council members also took the oath of office Monday: Newly elected District 6 Councilman Dan Dugan, who beat incumbent Council Chairman Charlie Luke in the November election; District 4 Councilwoman Ana Valdemoros, who was appointed to that seat last year to replace now-state Sen. Derek Kitchen; and incumbent District 2 Councilman Andrew Johnston.
Valdemoros, an immigrant from Argentina who is the first minority candidate elected to the council since it changed forms of government in the 1970s, received cheers from the audience when she began her speech in Spanish — possibly the first remarks shared at a Salt Lake City oath-of-office ceremony in a language other than English, she said.
The councilwoman pledged to continue to represent the city’s ethnically diverse populations and to “work hard for all residents of our city.”
“Because of this great city, I have been given so many opportunities to succeed despite my accent, my skin color or my gender,” she said. “I’m truly honored and grateful for all the opportunities this amazing country has afforded me. The American dream is still alive."
Editor’s note • Jon Huntsman is a brother of Paul Huntsman, Tribune publisher and owner.