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Reaching deep inside for meaning from a personal family tragedy, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams transformed a traditional swearing-in ceremony Monday into a testimonial to the value of public service.
After a dozen elected county officials took their oaths of office, McAdams related how the unexpected death of his 68-year-old mother last week gave him several reasons to reflect on how local governments enhance the quality of life for residents.
On the night before she died, Susan Erickson McAdams accompanied her son and his family to "The Nutcracker" in the newly refurbished Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre. "I wanted to show it off to my mom," he said of the $33.4 million face-lift to the downtown landmark owned and operated by the county. "I had many memories shared there with mom, memories that were possible because of the leadership of Salt Lake County."
The next day, the mayor continued, his mom was eagerly preparing for a big sleepover night with a bunch of her grandkids. One of her daughters spoke with her at 2:30 p.m. But when one of McAdams' brothers showed up at 3 p.m. to drop off his kids, he found grandma on the floor, unresponsive.
"When my brother dialed 911, emergency medical technicians were there in a few minutes," McAdams said, thankful for the county's role in providing dispatch systems that make it possible to save people's lives, even if those efforts don't always succeed.
He was reminded once again upon putting out her garbage can, relieved at knowing without doubt it would be collected the next morning. One last bit of reinforcement came from a glance at a calendar his mom kept on her refrigerator door, with daily listings of all of her grandkids' soccer games and other activities, check marks noting all the events she attended so she could be sure to treat all evenly.
It's good to know, the mayor said, "that when you go to the soccer field, the grass will be cut" and that local governments come through to ensure "games are played, memories are made."
Then he sat down in the crowd next to his 9-year-old daughter, Kate, who gently reached over and held her dad's hand.
Recognition of the important roles played by families in supporting elected officials through the travails of campaigning was a common refrain throughout the ceremony in the County Council chambers. It was echoed by 11 of the 12 elected officials who were sworn into office from seven-termer Sherrie Swensen, the longtime county clerk, to a first-timer, auditor Scott Tingley (Recorder Gary Ott was absent; his oath will be administered separately).
Returning to the council for a second time, Jenny Wilson said she was motivated by many of the same considerations later cited by McAdams.
"We work on a bipartisan basis here. We move initiatives quickly," she said. "From Meals on Wheels to law enforcement, this is government that matters."
Wilson joins Aimee Winder Newton as the only women on the nine-member council.
Wilson said she was determined not to be as emotional at this swearing-in as she was a decade earlier, when she came aboard at the same time fellow Democrat Peter Corroon became mayor. But her resolve faltered when she paid tribute to the man she succeeded, veteran County Commissioner/Councilman Randy Horiuchi, who received several commendations from colleagues upon his retirement from the council.
"Randy, we're going to miss you," she said, breaking into tears that she quickly stifled.