Biskupski Makes a Rocky Transition into SLC Mayor's Office
Salt Lake City Mayor-elect Jackie Biskupski has encountered a few obstacles and she prepares to be sworn in next month. But some say that’s to be expected considering the unique circumstances surrounding her victory.
The race for Salt Lake City mayor was competitive, ultimately leading to a close win for Biskupski after a two-week canvas.
“It’s a contentious race and it’s carried over into interregnum or transition period,” says University of Utah Political Science Professor Tim Chambless. He says it’s an environment that’s not previously existed at city hall. Biskupski is the first person to oust an incumbent mayor since the city adopted the mayor/council form of government in the 1970’s.
“Change itself is unsettling and it has a ricochet effect, not only upon the long-term city employees but their spouses, their family, their friends, colleagues,” he says.
The Salt Lake City council recently denied Biskupski’s request to fund her transition after they found out she continued to fundraise after the election. There’s a three-month time-frame between when office-holders are elected and when they are sworn in. That’s an awkward place to be if, like Biskupski, you’ve quit your job and you’re learning how to be the next mayor of Utah’s capital city. She spoke to KUER about the issue last month.
“You know, I’m working very hard on behalf of the city to make sure that we hit the ground running,” Biskupski said. “I know that the council members are doing the same. They want to come in extremely prepared and ready, putting in a lot of time and hours that takes you away from your current employment.”
Biskupski worked for Salt Lake County prior to being elected. She pointed out elected officials there are paid to transition into public office. But that’s not the case at city hall.
“I had it in my head that this would be an obvious budget item and did not thoroughly look into which I regret and should have,” Biskupski said.
Councilwoman Lisa Ramsay Adams said she wasn’t comfortable funding Biskupski and her team during the transition.
“I’ve been a candidate twice, and you plan to win and you think, okay, if I do win, what’s going to happen to me? What is in that transition period? Am I going to have to quit my job? If so, have I put money away so I can meet my expenses? And to me that’s an important planning thing that you do,” she said.
According to Salt Lake City Attorney Margeret Plane, money raised in that period isn’t necessarily subject to disclosures or limits. Outgoing City Councilman Luke Garrott argued during debate on the transition measure that public funding prevents a new mayor or councilmembers from being forced to fundraise after the election.
“There are a lot of implications about ethics when you’re making incoming office holders raise their own salary,” Garrott said. “Speaking from experience, it feels like your shaking someone down frankly.”
The council last week agreed on a plan to give future mayors and city council members elect, 50 percent of their salaries moving forward. The new measure will take effect in 2017. Councilman Charlie Luke says Biskupski still has to pay her bills and that means she’s going to have to accept private money.
“Doesn’t mean that it’s right. Doesn’t mean that it’s wrong,” Luke says. “That’s just the way that things have happened. But at least the council has now addressed this issue so that in the future we won’t have to do it under such a compressed time frame.”
But at least the council has now addressed this issue so that in the future we won't have to do it under such a compressed time frame. -Councilman Charlie Luke
In a statement, Biskupski called the vote a disappointing turn in [the city’s] efforts to ensure a mutually respectful transition. Biskupski has also called for resignation letters from roughly 30 department heads and political appointees. Shakeups are typical with new administrations, but some including former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson criticized Biskupski’s actions.
While a majority of the city council endorsed Mayor Ralph Becker for re-election, Charlie Luke says he has high hopes that both branches of government can work together moving forward.
“Once mayor Biskupski has her staff in place, once her transition team starts making recommendations and we start seeing some of the folks that are going to be coming in and working with mayor Biskupski, I think that will be a calming effect,” Luke says. “It’s just right now, there is going to be a lot of angst.”
Biskupski and two new members of the Salt Lake City Council will be sworn in January 4th.