Erin Mendenhall: City Hall experience is crucial for new Salt Lake City mayor

Erin Mendenhall

It’s fitting that experience has become the central question of the race for mayor.

After 12 years of mayors who were former state legislators, I’m glad that voters are questioning whether experience on Capitol Hill — instead of in City Hall — is the right experience to get our city where it needs to go.

I entered the race for mayor because I was tired of our city not living up to its potential, in part because our mayors have come from the Legislature instead of our community councils. The issues facing the city can’t wait for another mayor to figure out how city business works.

The experience of serving in the super-minority in the Legislature is very different than the experience of serving on Salt Lake City Council. It’s difficult to get things done on Capitol Hill and I’m grateful for the work our legislators do for us, but there are no “message bills” or throwaway votes on the council, where we face tough decisions that have direct impacts on our residents every week.

In August, the City Council voted to comply with a city contract to reimburse developers for $28 million in infrastructure work in the northwest quadrant. I do not support the construction of the state’s inland port and am committed to doing everything I can to protect Salt Lake City residents from the harm it will cause. We were warned that if we rejected the reimbursement, the state would be legally able to assume certain authorities over that land, the same way it did the other 16,000 acres now controlled by the Inland Port Authority.

I listened and weighed the reality before us. I took the tough vote to protect our city instead of forfeiting 7,000 more acres to the state, knowing it could cost me the mayoral election because it was the right thing to do for Salt Lake City.

Contrast that with when in March the Utah Senate took up a massive transportation bill that included $28 million for construction in the Inland Port Authority area. Instead of speaking against it, or even voting against it, my opponent literally walked out of the room to avoid taking a politically tough vote. You can watch the video on the state’s website.

Which is the kind of leader you would rather have running this city?

As a member of the City Council and its former chair, I have more first-hand experience with the city government than many of its departmental and division directors. Most of our government’s institutional knowledge was wiped out when Mayor Jackie Biskupski fired many professional department and division directors upon taking office. We have spent four years trying to recover from that self-inflicted wound and the left hand still rarely knows what the right hand is doing in City Hall.

My city government experience is how I know that projects designed by one city department call for materials that workers in another department can’t reasonably maintain. At least two units of the administration are not fully transparent with their budgets, which is terrible for taxpayers’ accountability. The administration has given back $3.2 million in impact fees to developers because it didn’t have a plan to spend them, even after the council appropriated funding to build a plan. How long would it take a new mayor without experience in city government to identify those problems and stop them?

Having the right experience should matter because the job of being mayor is hard work. On the City Council and in the mayor’s office, you don’t work banker’s hours. We need a mayor who will wake up every day with the energy and enthusiasm to ask, “How can I make my constituents’ lives better today?” That’s what I’ve done these last years on the City Council and why I’ve earned the endorsements of the chairs of the community councils in my district.

We need a mayor with the right experience for a change. A mayor who will stay at the table to fight for us and who won’t walk away when the going gets tough. That’s the kind of mayor I will be for Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake City Councilmember Erin Mendenhall is a candidate for mayor of Salt Lake City.