David R. Ibarra: Hollywood leadership style not working for Salt Lake City

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) City Hall in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

Recently Erin Mendenhall announced she wants another term as mayor of Salt Lake City. I submit my “No, thank you.”

I’m not better off now than I was a few years ago. Salt Lake City is measurably less better off than it was a few years ago. This administration has raised taxes almost 5% and has also asked for record high investments through bonding. I support using my taxpayer money to make investments in our city, but not with a mayor who’s demonstrated she has trouble making decisions and one who is having a hard time maintaining the infrastructure we currently have.

She’s failing at the basics. Her take on three recent critical issues: Homeless: She doesn’t even acknowledge it as a city problem anymore, let alone advance problem-solving solutions. Ballpark neighborhood: At the end of last year she announced her plan to build around a baseball stadium, three months later she’s saying goodbye to baseball; then a couple weeks after that she’s telling us she wants an MLB team in Salt Lake City but not the “ballpark” neighborhood — where’s the vision? Following other people’s ideas is not leading our city. Policing: Fox 13 Utah recently did a three-part story about corruption and lack of leadership at SLCPD. No progressive city in America would allow this level of incompetence and use of force, but Mendenhall chooses to cover up poor policing once again. Those are just three things from the last few months.

What Salt Lake City has been experiencing became clear to me when a friend called our mayor a celebrity politician. Mayor Mendenhall has a task force of public relations people. From my seat the Mendenhall administration is more focused on looking good, than doing good work. There is no shortage of photo ops work, filling potholes has even been turned into a press event for the mayor. Showing up on a rented GREENbike while her security follows in a SUV, out of camera view. She seems to lack the action of work.

This election brings Salt Lake City residents a clear choice. Rocky Anderson is a former mayor who brings experience and wisdom which doesn’t get old. The other choice, Mendenhall, is someone deeply invested in being liked — the test of modern popularity — which is different from wisdom.

It’s worked — I’ve joined others in “liking” Erin Mendenhall, in fact I endorsed her for mayor in the last election. Public service, however, is not about being liked. Public service is about making hard choices, and doing the right thing for the most people, especially when it’s unpopular. Mendenhall has proven she cares more about a photo op and pandering to the well-off, than rolling up your sleeves and making the tough choices. I want to be better off in 2027 than I am today as a resident in Salt Lake City. I’m saying “No” to the Hollywood style of Mayor Mendenhall.

David Ibarra

David R. Ibarra is a leadership consultant, entrepreneur, speaker, and author with a background in the hospitality, automotive, and talent development industries. He lives and works in downtown Salt Lake City.

Correction: At the end of last year the mayor announced her plan to build around a baseball stadium, not to build a AAA stadium, as this op-ed previously stated.