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Sugar House Journal

‘We are Salt Lake County: We are here for you’
 Mayor Jenny Wilson’s State of the County Addresses
 regional growth, communication, challenges and successes

Mar 27, 2019 09h09 ● By Jennifer J Johnson

A political centrist, new Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson pairs the eastside political leanings of liberal policy advisor Weston Clark (shown here) with those of conservative southwest policy advisor Ryan Perry (not pictured).

By Jennifer J. Johnson |  [email protected]

A speech that lasted 23 minutes boiled down to 10 words, according to Mayor Jenny Wilson: “We are Salt Lake County. We are here for you.”

Tuesday, March 26, thanking a room full of County Council representatives, county employees, dignitaries, family members, and “even media” for their attendance, Mayor Jenny Wilson—now on day 49 of her administration—addressed a packed room in the Salt Lake County Council Chamber with her “State of the County Speech: We Are Here for You.” The speech tackled issues such as valley growth, environmental improvements, and county kudos.

Wilson assumed the Salt Lake County (SLCO) mayoral mantle Jan. 29, having been voted in by Democratic special election, following the departure of former Mayor Ben McAdams, who was elected to the United States House of Representatives.

Salt Lake County’s 18 municipalities? Mainly MIA

Not in attendance for the mayor’s State of the County were many mayors and/or policy advisors of the 18 communities under the umbrella of county leadership and relatively few representatives of the municipalities. 

Single delegates from Millcreek, Salt Lake City and Taylorsville appeared to be the only municipal representatives attending the speech.

Wilson, however, indicated she will buoy communications with municipalities by hosting a series of town halls over the next few months at a variety of county facilities. “Listening and engagement are core principles of my time in office,” she said. She also stated commitment to near-term delivery of “apps” and a more navigable website to help citizens connect with county services.

Staying committed to her mayoral campaign pledges to air quality and matters of environmental concern, Wilson indicated the need to “double down” on challenges through the creation of the Office of Environmental Services.

About three-fourths of the way through the speech, the mayor addressed the 800 pound elephant in the room, “explosive growth” across the county, she described, asserting “we need to assure growth is our friend, not our enemy.”  

Paving the way to that hopeful “friendship,” Wilson asserted, is the County, which has “the duty, as a regional government, to drive regional solutions through planning, resource management, and transportation solutions.”

Shout-out to the Southwest

“Southwest valley residents – I have heard you!” she declared.

In follow-up press discussion, Wilson cited the need to “have conversations” and engender greater “engagement” with residents and leaders of the Southwest Quadrant, comprising Bluffdale, Copperton Township, Herriman, Riverton, South Jordan, and West Jordan.

Without specifically mentioning last summer’s proposed-and-failed Olympia Hills and its hopeful successor, Olympia Hills II, Wilson indicated the need to communicate that “density is not a four-letter word.”

“We have to have planned communities,” she said. “Olympia Hills does have a mix.” This “mix” is a positive, she asserted, citing the community’s plan to include a host of centers and amenities to help it thrive as a community.

SLCO smile file

Wilson’s address touted numerous accomplishments or “recent successes” such as a voter turnout of nearly 82 percent in 2018 mid-term election; successfully lobbying for SLCO Recorder office funds to ensure fast tracking technological advancement; and SLCO District Attorney Sim Gill spearheading the recently passed Utah Hate Crimes Bill. Other successes cited by Wilson include:

‘Certified Welcoming’ for immigrants as economic-development factor
In summer of 2018, Salt Lake County, became the first county in the nation to achieve “Certified Welcoming” status. In bestowing the honor on the County, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, Welcoming America, concluded an “intensive evaluation” of the County. The certification is touted as a competitive advantage for SLCO in economic development.

Expanded low-income health services and heightened ‘opidemic’ combat
Last month’s opening of the new 40,000-square foot downtown Public Health Center will provide services for low-income families.
Additionally, SLCO has responded vigorously to the “opidemic” – or county residents’ lifelong challenges with addiction to opioid drugs. Utah has the seventh-highest drug-overdose rate in the country. Wilson cited SLCO’s establishment of new clinics in Murray and West Jordan and amped-up treatment in downtown Salt Lake City as key accomplishments.

Enabling self-sufficiency among low-level offenders

SLCO’s ushering in the “expungement bill” during the legislative session will provide automatic record clearance for low-level offenders who have paid their debt to society. Expungement is, traditionally, a complex and potentially expensive process for individuals looking to clear their criminal records. Clearing such records makes it easier for them to obtain self-sufficiency in housing, employment, and access to education. Salt Lake County has routinely hosted one day a year to help with this process, and now makes expungement a given, once signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert.

‘It was Draper’s Turn’
SLCO Parks and Rec is partnering to bring a 60,000-square foot acquatic facility to Draper in 2020. “It was Draper’s turn,” Wilson told reporters, following her speech.

In-the-room impressions

“This was the best ‘State of the County’ delivery we have ever had,” noted Lisa Hartman, “and I have been to many of these.” Hartman, who is senior policy advisor for County Councilman Michael Jensen, later told the mayor directly – “It was written beautifully, and it was interesting.”

“Mayor Wilson laid out a vision for Salt Lake County, where housing and transportation are coordinated and where residents continue to enjoy a high quality of life,” observed Andrew Gruber. Gruber is executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC), which provides a forum for collaboration among cities, counties, transit partners, and other public, private and community stakeholders. “We look forward to collaborating.”