This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Two-term incumbent Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker stood his ground Wednesday afternoon under withering criticism from four challengers who jabbed at him for dismissing former Police Chief Chris Burbank, transportation woes and a perceived lack of transparency at City Hall.
Former state legislator Jackie Biskupski, City Council Chairman Luke Garrott, community activist George Chapman and businessman Dave Robinson took turns deriding the mayor on the state of homelessness downtown, drug trafficking, and what some said was a lack of police officers in a debate televised on KSL and sponsored by the Pioneer Park Coalition.
Through it all, Becker remained unruffled, returning time and again to what he described as his administration's successes. The mayor noted that when he took the helm in January 2008, Salt Lake City was on the brink of financial disaster. Seven years later, he said, the capital city is undergoing a growth boom, is a top job creator and is leading out on such things as sustainability and the fight to clear the Wasatch Front's dirty air.
"I want to build on this tremendous momentum we have been developing as a city," Becker said.
While the challengers had varying takes on that pronouncement, they all had similar reactions to the dismissal last month of the popular police chief.
The dust-up resulted from an earlier sexual harassment claim by three female officers against then-Deputy Chief Rick Findlay. Those allegations were confirmed the city's Human Resources Department and by the Police Civilian Review Board by January 2014.
Burbank put Findlay on administrative leave until he retired in June 2014 with full benefits.
When the women gave notice of claim to sue the city last month, the matter became campaign fodder. But Becker has maintained his action was not politically motivated.
Biskupski called Becker "disengaged" and said she would have dealt with the controversy one year ago. "If I had been mayor, we wouldn't be here today," she said.
Garrott added that "the mayor called [sexual harassment] unacceptable but sat on it."
Robinson conceded that he didn't know the details of the sexual harassment case, but said he didn't trust the mayor because of other things he's done.
And Chapman said Becker waited to fire the chief until it was too late for Burbank to run for mayor, himself.
But the incumbent told the live audience in the KSL studio that the chief had agreed to demote Findlay one year ago and didn't.
He added that he gave Burbank time to institute additional training to rein in harassment in the police department but the chief fell short. "It was the right decision for Salt Lake City," Becker said.
The challengers also ripped the mayor on homelessness downtown and the drug trafficking that follows it.
"For seven years, Ralph Becker has been ignoring homelessness and drug dealing downtown," Chapman said. "If he hasn't solved it in the last seven years, he won't solve it."
Biskupski, who is a top administrator for Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, called for a separation of women and children from men at the homeless shelter. "I can tell you that women and children are subjected to drug deals and violence," she said. "The law enforcement model we have been using in the area is not working."
Salt Lake City must rethink its strategies for caring for the homeless, said Garrott. The Road Home shelter is too big and the large numbers of homeless people staying there "overrun the neighborhood."
Garrott said he would make smaller facilities and put them in neighborhoods, as the YWCA and Odyssey House have done successfully. He also called for more police on the street.
For Robinson, much of the problem comes down to drug addiction and mental health. He said he would strengthen programs for those who are "falling through the cracks.''
But Becker noted that Salt Lake City has found homes for almost all of the veterans who were on the streets and has come close to eliminating chronic homelessness defined as being homeless for more than one year or becoming homeless repeatedly over three years.
Those programs, however, were spearheaded by the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
Nonetheless, late last year Becker created a commission to analyze how well services are provided to the homeless in Salt Lake City.
The commission's findings are expected by year's end. And the mayor said solutions will be found.
Nonetheless, he conceded that issues surrounding the homeless need more work. "It's not enough and we know it. We'll do more until the problem is solved."
A primary election will be held Aug. 11. The two top vote-getters will be on the Nov. 3 ballot.