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The South Jordan City Council has approved a scaled-back $20,400 contract with a professional research group to conduct two focus groups and a citywide public-opinion survey on the future of the 67-acre Mulligans Golf and Games complex near the Jordan River.

Questions outlined by Mayor David Alvord would range from gauging whether citizens know the city owns a golf course and are aware that it is subsidized by taxpayers to whether they would prefer developing the property, improving the existing facility or leaving it alone.

The council authorized the agreement on a 3-2 vote Tuesday night after a spirited discussion that showed some members favored a more extensive $90,000 public opinion and education campaign proposed by political consultant LaVarr Webb and Y2 Analytics, while others opposed spending any money on the project.

Councilman Donald Shelton argued the focus groups and email poll would accomplish something that has been lacking in Mulligans discussion to date — public participation.

"The message that resonates clearly in my mind is that we need to involve the public in a big way," Shelton said. "Let's create a plan that occurs in the daylight of public meetings. No more closed meetings on Mulligans, in my view."

The mayor agreed, but suggested scaling back the contract from what the council had originally discussed.

"There's some reluctance on the part of this council and myself to committing large amounts of money to Mulligans if we're not certain where the people stand and where each of us stand in relation to the people," Alvord said. "We've got a golf course that's used and beloved by many people. We're not in a rush. We want to do right by the people."

He acknowledged that city leaders may have rushed things previously without adequate public involvement because they were attempting to entice the Hale Center Theatre to build a new playhouse on the Mulligans site. But that urgency disappeared, Alvord said, when Hale decided to go instead to Sandy.

Councilman Steve Barnes urged the council not to "act rashly" and argued against hiring an outside consultant. "A lot of residents are already upset at how much money we have spent without getting their opinions."

Councilman Mark Seethaler pointed out that the draft contract they were debating was presented to them at 7:28 p.m. Tuesday, well after the council meeting had begun. Also he noted that Webb and his team were not on hand to present their plan before the vote.

Seethaler believes the council action will only add to the turmoil over the city's handling of Mulligans.

Authorizing a poll would be fine "if we're all sitting here as clean as Sunday school boys," but because of all that's gone before he warned it would ignite a new wave "of the political adrenaline we seem to have going in this city and that we seem not to be able to live without."

Meanwhile, Councilman Chuck Newton pushed unsuccessfully for approval of the full public opinion/public education campaign. "I'm not in a rush, but let's do this the smart way," said Newton. "What you're asking for is just to do a poll and then we stop. We stop the car and get out and do a Chinese fire drill and decide what we're going to do then."

Newton made the point several times that the proposed consulting contract had been discussed extensively with Webb and the council in an Aug. 5 public meeting that Mulligans development critics had not bothered attending.

But a review of city records shows that meeting's public notice and agenda failed to mention that Mulligans was the topic of discussion. Also, while the review of the proposal from Webb and Y2 was on the agenda of the council's study session that afternoon, it was pushed back by other matters until late in the regular council meeting that night, finally wrapping up a few minutes after midnight.

Twitter: @danattrib

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