A controversial Black Lives Matter mural is overshadowing crucial issues in Park City’s mayoral race, Robert Gehrke writes

Local governments tackle important tasks and local elections should revolve around serious issues.

While more than a year of rain and snow has washed away a Black Lives Matter mural that was painted in the middle of Park City’s Main Street, but the controversy it ignited certainly has not faded.

Indeed, it has become a pivotal issue in the city’s mayoral race, receiving intense coverage from the local media in the run-up to the election. The local newspaper, The Park Record, has published five stories on the dust-up since ballots were sent to voters this month.

Here’s the back story: In the aftermath of the George Floyd murder and the ensuing protests and unrest that swept across the country, Mayor Andy Beerman said he was looking for a way to be part of the conversation around civil rights and social justice without escalating simmering tensions.

So instead of protests or marches, the city commissioned four murals to be painted on Park City’s Main Street. One was titled “Peace, Love and Unity,” one was “Solidarity” and one “Justicia Para Todos.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Artists painted “Justicia Para Todos” on Main Street in Park City over the weekend, Monday, July 6, 2020.

And one read “Black Lives Matter.”

You might think that the sentiment wouldn’t be enormously contentious in what is the most progressive enclave in the state. And you’d be wrong.

After the murals were painted in July of 2020, residents and some City Council members complained that Beerman and the city administration didn’t adequately involve the council and the public. One of those who was upset was Nann Worel, a city councilwoman now challenging Beerman to be the next mayor of the upscale resort town.

“I think it comes back to transparency. I think our voters deserve to know what their city government is doing,” she told me this week. “For something that large, the public should have known about it. The council didn’t have a chance to discuss it. The police department wasn’t aware of what was about to happen. Our Main Street merchants weren’t aware of what was about to happen.”

The council had been notified of the plan in a written memo on June 18. City officials worked with the Summit Arts Council to find artists and on June 30, the council was informed that four had been chosen. Beerman said local merchants were notified of the plan, as well.

A total of $15,000 in funds allocated for general activities were used to buy supplies and pay the artists. And, on July 4, the murals went up and the backlash ensued.

Beerman has apologized for not communicating better with business owners and the police department. The city has changed the process so, in the future, submissions would go to the Public Art Board for approval. But the mural issue lingers.

“I think my opponent saw an opportunity,” Beerman said, and for the past year has been hammering the message “that we were deliberately trying to divide the community and the local media here has eaten it up like candy.”

The latest flurry of news coverage was prompted by the release of Beerman’s emails regarding the project, which were obtained by a local activist and critic of the episode through an open records request.

“I think it definitely has impacted my candidacy. I’m in an incredibly tight race right now,” he said. “If I lose, I think this will be a big part of it.”

From Worel’s standpoint, she said the public process was lacking, that conversations that should have been had up front were lacking, and perhaps that is true.

But Park City is a town where the average home sells for $3.2 million and has less than a quarter of the affordable housing units residents need.

Growth is clogging roadways and straining services and threatening open space.

The local economy built largely on the back of the ski industry is faced with shorter, warmer winters thanks to climate change.

Like every city in the country, Park City is working to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic.

Chances are your community is facing similar challenges — homelessness, crime, managing development and so forth — or maybe there is some particular issue unique to your community.

My point is that voting in these local elections is incredibly important. They should not hinge on trivialities, like who knew what about a mural and when did they know it?

This is not an endorsement of Beerman. Nor is it an endorsement of Worel. It is an endorsement of taking these critical issues seriously when you vote — if you haven’t already — and of doing as much homework as you can about the candidates in these often-overlooked elections.

Because ultimately the decisions the winners of these races make will have a lot longer-lasting effects than a mural on a road. They will shape the future of the communities where we live.

Oct. 28, 1:47 p.m. • The story has been updated to correct the spelling of Councilwoman Nann Worel’s last name.