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Politics & Government

A Digital Billboard Swap Has Some Millcreek Residents Worried About Conflict Of Interest

A photo of a tall billboard.
Amy Fowler
/
KUER
A billboard on 1333 E. 3300 S. in Millcreek is impeding the development of a big municipal project.

Billboards draw a strong reaction from Utahns. Some people see them as a useful marketing tool. Others see them as a blight on the state’s landscape.

The potential for digital billboards in Millcreek led to a heated debate at the city planning commission meeting Wednesday night.

There’s a traditional billboard sitting on land that’s earmarked for a new development called Millcreek Common. It’ll be the new city center and will house Millcreek City Hall, as well as residential and commercial space.

But Millcreek Economic Development Director Mike Winder said state law makes it hard to take the billboard out without the green light from Reagan Outdoor Advertising. He’s also a Republican state representative from West Valley.

So, Winder struck a deal. Reagan will remove this and three other traditional billboards if they can replace them with three digital ones. The city will get 40% of the advertising time on the signs, and Reagan decides what to do with the rest. Millcreek would own the billboards and lease them to Reagan for 40 years.

Winder said the digital signs will benefit the city and its public engagement efforts.

“There’s different pop-up markets we’ll be having in Millcreek Common, planning commission meetings and whatnot,” Winder said. “So there’s a real need to get the word out to passerby traffic of what’s going on.”

To make the swap, the city needs to amend an ordinance related to billboards as well as the master plan for the Millcreek Common development.

But some community members don’t see the bright side of the illuminated signs. They’re worried about light pollution, traffic safety and the city administration’s ties to Reagan.

Financial disclosure records for Mayor Jeff Silvestrini show he received more than $16,000 in in-kind contributions from Reagan in 2016.

His wife, Leslie Van Frank, also provides legal counsel for the company and was a registered lobbyist for them from 2012 to 2021.

Resident Lynette LaMar said that’s a big red flag for her.

“These deals were backroom, secret deals made by people with conflict of interest,” LaMar said. “I think that what is in the best interests of the taxpayers is to give honest, true [and] fair information by looking at the other options.”

Silvestrini said he has always been transparent about his wife’s association with Reagan. He also said he wasn’t involved in the negotiations and has recused himself from voting.

“I hope that residents of Millcreek can see from my dedication and commitment to our city and our accomplishments to date,” Silvestrini said in an email to KUER, “that I would never — and have never — put the interest of Reagan, or any campaign contributor for that matter, over the interest of Millcreek residents and doing what is best for our whole city.”

On Wednesday, the Millcreek Planning Commission declined to make a recommendation to the city council about changing the Millcreek Common master plan and city billboard ordinance. They asked staff for more information before making a decision.

The commission previously sent a letter advising the city council to “slow down” on this process.

“There are rational and thoughtful alternatives that are well within the control and financial resources of the city,” the letter said.

However, if the planning commission doesn’t make a decision soon, the city council may consider that a recommendation against amending the ordinance and master plan and move ahead with a vote. Silvestrini said it could likely come before the council in late October.

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