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South Jordan City Councilman Steve Barnes got an unexpected day off from work last month when his fellow council members formally banned him from attending a June meeting concerning Mulligans Golf and Games.
In the June 3 meeting, council members selected The Boyer Co. as a development consultant to research options for the city-owned golf course, driving range and mini-golf center. Barnes was directed not to participate because of a conflict of interest with his uncle Kem Gardner, whose agency the Gardner Co. was also under consideration for the bid and who had previously been a partner in The Boyer Co. The City Council feared Barnes would create a public appearance of favoritism.
Barnes, who has served on the council for 2½ years, said he disclosed his conflict of interest long before the meeting and offered to recuse himself from a vote and from speaking on the issue. He wanted to attend in case any other measures, unrelated to his uncle, came up in the conversation so he could weigh in and represent his constituents.
"My concern wasn't Kem Gardner," he said. "My concern is the one-fifth of the city that I represent."
Council members voted to ban Barnes at a June 2 executive session, 24 hours before the meeting regarding Mulligans. Barnes left the session early, upset because "it was past the point of being productive and there were threats lobbed at me." The motion passed unanimously and was emailed to Barnes the next morning, instructing him "to refrain from attending meetings of the City Council" while his conflict of interest existed.
Because the council chose The Boyer Co. instead of The Gardner Co., South Jordan Mayor David Alvord said the conflict is resolved and Barnes is able to attend meetings again. The resolution was intended to be a "strong suggestion" to Barnes, said Alvord, adding Barnes previously indicated his intentions to participate in the Mulligans discussion a point Barnes disagrees with.
"It was kind of his attitude about it that led to the resolution being passed," Alvord said. "He was pretty strong that he wanted to be there and he wanted to speak."
Mayor: ban not enforced • Alvord said despite the formality of an executive session and vote, the city never planned to enforce the ban and would not "have our police chief or anybody escort him out."
Several South Jordan residents contacted Barnes and state Rep. Rich Cunningham, R-South Jordan, questioning the legality of the resolution, which Barnes calls "heavy-handed" because it sets a dangerous precedent. Cunningham plans to draft legislation to outlaw city councils from banning elected members.
Utah law requires members of the Legislature to disclose conflicts of interests, but then requires them to vote on any bill in question no abstentions allowed. Individual city laws can be more restrictive. South Jordan's Code of Ethics states a council member "shall abstain from participating in deliberations and decision-making where conflicts may exist."
City Attorney Robert Wall said the council acted well within its rights to "interpret" the Code of Ethics. Most of the time, he said, "self-policing" by individual council members is sufficient, but the council can "impose sanctions" it believes necessary.
Barnes, however, believes the council overreached in the resolution and says it may have been fueled by personal disagreements.
"It could be because of my sympathetic ear to the Save Mulligans crowd," Barnes said. "It could be the fact that I ran against the mayor last year for the position of mayor. I don't know. It certainly seemed more personal to me than based on any logical reasoning."
Developing Mulligans • The Mulligans site, 67 acres by the Jordan River, has been a contentious issue for South Jordan. The city subsidizes the property and says the company loses more than $240,000 per year when overhead costs for bond payments, water and insurance are factored in. But company financial documents show more than $200,000 profit.
The council hoped to use the Mulligans property for an expansion of the Hale Centre Theatre, but the bid went to Sandy. Now, Alvord says, there isn't as much pressure to make a quick decision. The council plans to hire a professional survey company to determine how residents would prefer to use the land and will publish the results in about 12 months.