In a socially distanced inauguration ceremony, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, a Democrat, officially began her first full term as the County Council became a veto-proof Republican supermajority.
The county’s elected leaders have plenty of issues to juggle in 2021, especially the pandemic. Coronavirus infections show no sign of slowing despite new vaccines that the County Health Department began administering last month.
“This is the year we will return to health, vitality and a level of normalcy in our community. But COVID-19 is proving to be as tenacious as a president not wanting to leave office,” Wilson said, taking a jab at President Donald Trump. “With new partnerships, working across party lines, we will continue to fight this virus all the while fighting other pressing needs in Salt Lake County.”
Wilson was the first person sworn in during Monday’s ceremony, which only permitted officeholders and their immediate families in the County Council chambers.
The 2020 election brought the first mayoral challenge to Wilson. After serving as a longtime County Council member, Democratic Party delegates elected Wilson to her current office in 2019 in order to replace Ben McAdams after he left to serve in Congress.
Along with the pandemic, the mayor said she intends to focus on building more housing in the county, protecting people experiencing homelessness and developing more strategies for economic recovery.
Republican Laurie Stringham, the first at-large council member elected from the county’s west side, said after her swearing-in that the long-term impacts to mental health are chief among her pandemic concerns.
“There’s so much the county can do to promote mental health and recovery,” Stringham said. “Our parks and recreation services act as a hub for public health. They are the pound of prevention when it comes to staying fit, active and social.”
The new council member, a longtime board member of the Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center, said she intends to push a prescription program helping doctors to connect patients with parks and recreation to address both physical and mental health needs.
Dave Alvord, the former mayor of South Jordan and now the council member representing District 2, also said recreation was a priority, including new trails in Butterfield Canyon. Because his district has some of the most undeveloped land in the county, Alvord said he also intends to focus on careful planning for growth and development.
“Sustainable growth will require thoughtful stewardship as we balance our housing needs with economic growth and recreation,” Alvord said. “We must get this right.”
Dea Theodore, who unseated incumbent Max Burdick in the Republican primary and now represents District 6, said she was already delivering on her campaign message of “doing more with less.” She said she has coordinated with Stringham, Alvord and council member Richard Snelgrove to share policy advisor staff, which will cut personnel costs for the council.
Theodore, a member of the Cherokee nation, added that one of her main goals in office is to remove the town of Brighton from the Mountainous Planning District and Commission and allow the town to form its own planning commission.
“Native Americans know the consequences of heavy-handed government determining and controlling one’s future,” she said. “In my district, we have the Town of Brighton that currently cannot control its own destiny. ... This rings familiar with outsiders making decisions for the Cherokee people not consistent with their wishes and needs.”
Democrat Ann Granato, who went unchallenged in her reelection bid for District 4, was not able to attend the inauguration ceremony and will be sworn in Tuesday, at the County Council’s first formal meeting of the year. Recorder Rashelle Hobbs, a Democrat, as well as Assessor Chris Stavros, Treasurer K. Wayne Cushing and Surveyor Reid Demman, all Republicans, were also sworn in Monday.
Alvord called on the six Republicans now on the council — including Stringham, Theodore, Snelgrove, Aimee Winder-Newton and Steve DeBry — to consider their new supermajority a mandate from county residents.
“I know that the voters expect big things from us,” Alvord said. “We will look to reduce the county government footprint by fostering policies which will allow economic and population growth to outpace government growth.”
The new council member also asked the mayor and Democratic members of the council — Granato, Arlyn Bradshaw and Jim Bradley — to “stay open-minded and flexible.”