As the executive committee for the Utah Association of Community Services, we stay out of electoral politics. Sadly, recent “whisper campaign” attacks directed against Charlie Luke, our executive director and a member of the Salt Lake City Council, make it necessary to break our normal silence.
There are two reasons:
1. At a time when our national political dialogue has degraded to what some now call a “post-truth era,” we hope to keep Utah’s discourse from following suit, and
2. In attacking Luke, his antagonist is attacking by association all of us, our organizations and the very important and good work we do. Both are unacceptable.
As private, independently owned and operated agencies providing community-based day and residential services for Utahns with intellectual and developmental disabilities, we are dependent on the state of Utah for our contracts and funding. Our association’s membership provides roughly 80% of the disability services contracted by the state of Utah. Our services are funded by the state of Utah and matched with federal Medicaid money. Our staff and services depend on ongoing legislative funding.
Most Salt Lake residents would agree that the developmentally and physically disabled individuals deserve a “safety net.” Well, we are that safety net. Unfortunately, social services of the type our clients require is seldom top of mind for most legislators. These needs would slip by below the radar without education and advocacy, both functions of lobbying, which are provided to legislators at a very high level by Luke.
A person who wishes to replace Luke on the City Council has leveled the sneering charge that Charlie is a “lobbyist.” That is true. As our executive director, Charlie does an excellent job representing us (lobbying) at the Legislature seeking the funding we need to carry on our vital work. Yes, Charlie is a registered lobbyist on our behalf, which is just part of his job as director.
One example of his success is his hard work that directed nearly $50 million in state and federal funding to increase the average starting wage of our direct care staff from $8 an hour to nearly $11.50 an hour. That has reduced our high turnover rate from 86% to 60%. Better-paid staff and less turnover directly benefit the clients we serve. Without “lobbying,” that would not have happened.
It is lazy and devious to malign every lobbyist as unethical. Lobbying is a necessity for us, just as it is for environmental and other social organizations like the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and teachers. We would expect someone seeking public office to at least take time to learn and understand the facts, but perhaps we are overly optimistic.
Charlie has worked with us for more than 15 years. We are grateful for his integrity and effective representation, and we respect the community service he also provides to the residents of District 6 and Salt Lake City.
Dustin Erekson is president of the Utah Association of Community Services.