This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
In the highly charged prison-relocation debate, state Sen. Mark Madsen is an anomaly. He sees no problem with moving the prison to Eagle Mountain, a city he represents, and he feels little need to talk to constituents who feel otherwise.
Among those on the other side of the issue are state Rep. David Lifferth, Eagle Mountain Mayor Chris Pengra, the entire City Council and an active community group. Madsen has shunned each of them, ignoring phone calls and emails for more than 10 weeks.
All the while, resentment builds.
These people have noticed that Madsen lists Eagle Mountain Properties as his employer on his Senate profile page and his conflict-disclosure report. That company, controlled by controversial developer John Walden, has proposed putting the prison on its land at the south end of this growing Utah County city.
"Maybe I'm naive but I thought representatives were supposed to represent the people and not their own interests," said Jan Memmott, a leader in the No Prison in Saratoga Springs/Eagle Mountain group.
Eagle Mountain City Councilman Adam Bradley said it sure seems like a conflict of interest.
"In my pipe dream, I would like Mark Madsen to come out publicly to say: 'I'm for the prison, here is why, this is my stance.' That's what I want out of my representative," he said. "We just don't have that from Madsen, we just don't have that point of view. It is frustrating."
The Salt Lake Tribune ran into much the same problem. It sought to interview Madsen since early December, when the Eagle Mountain site was first identified as a finalist for the prison. The two others on the short list are a parcel west of the Salt Lake City International Airport and one near the Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele County.
With the help of Walden and a Senate aide, The Tribune finally reached Madsen in January.
The notoriously hard-to-reach senator said he hasn't worked for Walden for five years and won't make a dime on any transaction related to moving the prison from Draper. While he said he hasn't made up his mind on the prison, he expressed frustration with those who oppose moving it to Eagle Mountain.
"I wouldn't say just because it is my district it can't come here. People are saying, 'I don't want it in my city.' Eagle Mountain is 47 square miles," he said. "That takes 'not in my backyard' to a whole new level."
Madsen, an attorney in private practice, said he wasn't aware people thought he worked for Walden. He said he doesn't read much news coverage, so he's missed the repeated references tying him to the developer. And he said he hasn't seen the connection mentioned in emails to him, even though people, such as Pengra, say they have raised it.
"I didn't know it was any part of the brouhaha," Madsen said.
He chalks up his listing of Eagle Mountain Properties as an employer to an oversight. He said he did a few hours of legal work for Walden in late 2012 and early 2013 on an immigrant-investor application, which the federal government eventually rejected. He was paid $1,250 for the work, far below the $5,000 threshold to list the company on his disclosure report. He mistakenly left the company on his 2013 and 2014 reports, he said.
Whether he works for Walden or not, Madsen has maintained a close relationship with the developer and has sought to use his elected position to help him.
The founder • Without John Walden there might not be an Eagle Mountain. The developer from Florida was the first to build on this Cedar Valley land and he was the driving force when the city incorporated in 1996. The next year, city leaders approved a master-development plan giving Walden unusual authority over his 6,500 acres. He can change the zoning at will. Also, if the city dawdles in responding to one of his development plans and misses a deadline, his proposal is automatically approved. No other developer or property owner has such power.
Over the years, Walden has used his clout as Eagle Mountain's land baron to help get friendly politicians elected and keep development fees low. He's developed a reputation as a bully and is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the city over a housing development.
Pengra's watching the calendar. Walden's master-development plan is set to expire in October 2017. The Eagle Mountain mayor's plan essentially is to wait him out, giving the city more leverage in negotiating any future development plans. The mayor refused any money from developers like Walden for his 2013 campaign and acknowledges a tense relationship, but it's one he must maintain as the city continues to grow.
Madsen was an Eagle Mountain city councilman before he was elected to the state Senate in 2004. And two years after that, he left a job with the real-estate arm of the Larry H. Miller companies to work for Walden. That three-year stint ended in 2009.
Foresight • Walden said that while he sees Madsen a few times each year, his former attorney had nothing to do with his company's prison application, which it filed last July. But Madsen did contact him shortly afterward to congratulate him.
"I thought that it showed foresight," Madsen said. "[The prison] is something that site may be quite well suited to."
That 640-acre parcel sits along Eagle Mountain's southern border about three miles from current housing developments. Walden owns the land to the north and east of this property, while The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns the parcel to the west. If the Prison Relocation Commission picks this site it will likely have to build a road that bypasses the city traffic. But the land is flat and has no known environmental concerns.
When Pengra learned that Walden had filed the application, he tried to contact Madsen to seek his help in fighting the effort, not realizing the connection between the two men. Madsen never responded. Then Pengra called the developer and the two had a tense 90-minute conversation.
Walden told Pengra he had more to lose than the mayor or the average resident.
"He has one house and I have 22,000 more houses to build out here. I have 22,000 more interests in not having the prison out there," Walden said. "I have a lot more at stake in this community than the city does. Again, I own half the town."
He said his first thought is similar to the sentiment he hears from prison opponents.
"I don't want a prison in my backyard. The thought of it makes me just as goofy feeling as everyone else. The sound of it, it just sounds awful," he said. "But I wanted to have information behind me and not just knee-jerk emotion… this is about business. It is not about emotion."
Soon after the conversation, Walden called Madsen and the senator finally contacted Pengra to try to change his mind. It was the first time Madsen had ever spoken to the mayor, who took office in January 2014. Following that conversation, Madsen organized a tour of the Tooele County Jail, a far more modern correctional institution than the state prison in Draper. Lifferth, Madsen's counterpart in the state House and his friend, joined the Oct. 16 tour, during which Madsen argued a prison doesn't have to be an eyesore and could be an asset, bringing in steady jobs.
Pengra was impressed by the jail, but he told Madsen that the tour didn't change his mind about putting a prison in Eagle Mountain.
He's worried that it would harm the reputation of the city, one of the nation's fastest growing; stunt future economic opportunities; and eventually be surrounded by development, similar to the current Draper site.
"Since that day, I've never been able to get hold of him for anything and I sent him an email asking about his association and any arrangement he had with the developer," Pengra said.
Lifferth hasn't heard from Madsen since then either. The only other person they know has talked to Madsen about this issue is Heidi Balderree, a member of the No Prison group who cornered the senator at U.S. Rep. Mia Love's Nov. 4 election victory party.
Madsen told her how "inexperienced" the community activists were and that they were trying to turn away "this great opportunity," she said.
"He proceeded to try to educate me about why the prison was a good thing." Madsen still feels he has some educating to do, which is why he has been crafting an op-ed piece explaining why he thinks relocating the prison makes sense and why putting it in Utah County wouldn't be such a bad thing. He hopes it will appear in local newspapers soon and change the mind of the No Prison group.
"To the extent that I can set the record straight and calm them, I would like to do that," he said. "If we are going to have reservations or fears let them be based on the facts and the truth."
No-brainer • Madsen has also reached out to Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, the co-chairman of the Prison Relocation Commission, in an attempt to broker a meeting between the commissioners and Walden. Stevenson declined and suggested Walden talk to the state's consultants, who are analyzing the potential prison sites.
Walden wants to talk to the commission about the look of the prison, which is of prime importance to him and his future housing developments on nearby land.
"If it looks like a college campus, it won't hurt us," he said. "If it looks like Alcatraz, it would kill us."
So far he's met with just two members of the Prison Relocation Commission Sen. Karen Mayne and Rep. Mark Wheatley, both Democrats who came out on a site visit last week.
Walden complains the forces criticizing him and opposing the prison relocation namely city leaders and the community group don't represent Eagle Mountain.
"When I go out, there are 40 people who hug me and say good things, this is a city of 22,000 or 25,000 and 90 percent of them actually love me. There are 13 people out here who scream and yell," he said. "The best people I have ever met in life I've met in Utah and the worst people I've ever met in life I've met in Utah."
He also considers Pengra inexperienced and somewhat out of touch.
"The mayor's voice is the mayor's voice but it is not what the community believes," he said. "I have a following that is ten times or a 100 times bigger than the mayor's."
Pengra and the City Council held an emergency meeting about the prison on Dec. 10, when they unanimously approved a resolution opposing the relocation efforts and allocating $50,000 to fight them. They also allowed dozens of residents to air their views, and all but two opposed moving the prison to the city.
Lifferth attended that meeting and had previously sought voter input on the issue through hiswidely-read blog and email. He found that 96 percent of respondents opposed a prison in Eagle Mountain, so as their state representative, he says he'll oppose it too.
"It's a no brainer," he said. "I think it is political suicide to support a prison in our area, but people can make up their own minds."
Madsen feels none of this pressure from voters. He won't be seeking a fourth term in 2016, he says, leaving him open to pursue whatever position he thinks makes the most sense regardless of the public outcry.
"Twelve years is enough," he said of his time in the Senate. "I've been happy to serve and I'll be happy not to serve."
He believes the Prison Relocation Commission and its detailed analysis should carry the day more than the overstated concerns of residents.
"I want to let the facts speak for myself," he said. "Hype and emotion are never a good basis for public policy."