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Brigham City mayor should resign

Published December 15, 2012 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It has happened again. A publicly elected official admits to having an affair, then says he has repented to his wife, family and church leaders, and has received their pardon. Then he releases a very public apology and asks for forgiveness followed by: "I feel I have an obligation to the citizens who elected me to finish out my term," implying that he is indispensable and, if he doesn't stay in office, the city will implode. Sound familiar?

But wait, there is more. This individual happens to be local: Dennis Fife, the mayor of Brigham City, a man of impeccable character when he was elected, a former bishop in his church, with an outstanding career in the Air Force and at Thiokol, now ATK.

And then he reveals that he has had this affair and has been repenting for the past seven months after confessing to his wife and ecclesiastical leaders. He probably thought that he had fulfilled what had to be done and could continue as mayor. However, once the story leaked, he has to issue a public confession.

A City Council meeting follows, with the familiar parade of people speaking for and against him staying in office. As expected, some came to his support with "Who would be willing to cast the first stone?" Another, "If residents judge him harshly, then it sets a high standard for all of us because we all live in glass houses."

These are probably the same people who no doubt were demanding Bill Clinton's resignation for having had an affair. Their argument now is, please treat Dennis Fife fairly. We all make mistakes. He needs to be forgiven. He may have been immoral, but he can still be a moral mayor.

One commented that we shouldn't compare this lapse in judgement to a Brigham City police officer fired by the mayor because, unlike the officer's lady, the mayor's lady was not a city employee but just a member of his ward.

Give me a break! The mayor's office is a public office, not an ecclesiastical one. What Fife has done has demeaned the office — just as President Clinton or Kevin Garn, former Republican majority leader of the Utah House of Representatives, or others have done.

Fife has lowered the standard for those who aspire to the office. And he has put the Brigham City Council in a terrible position, with four out of five apparently having asked for his resignation. The thought of his presiding over a council meeting might be awkward and frustrating.

And what about the decisions he has to make in the future when another city employee does wrong? What will he say to the ones whom he has already fired for their indiscretions? (The lawsuits are coming.) And what about the city employees who do not want to work for him anymore or are fearful of speaking up? When his church has deemed him unfit to lead in his ward, we wonder why he thinks he can lead a city.

This is not about forgiving Dennis Fife. We all forgive him and we accept his apology. The issue is far bigger. It is about governance and the public trust of residents and property owners like me.

The other interesting thing that has come to light as a result of this affair is that Utah laws are silent on how to remove a mayor from office. Council members and the public who want to see the mayor resign are not sure what to do.

So what has the mayor achieved? A divided public; unnecessary ridicule and humiliation upon himself and his family; unplanned, significant expenses for the city to defend upcoming lawsuits, which it can ill afford; lack of respect from many of his city employees and residents; and uncertainty for the remainder of his time in office.

On a positive note, hopefully there will be quick action by the Utah Legislature to define how to remove a mayor from office for undesirable acts.

Suresh Kulkarni retired in 2003 as vice president of Thiokol (now ATK). He serves as chairman of the Brigham City Community Hospital board of trustees and as a member of the Perry Land Use Board. He writes as a private citizen residing in Perry.






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