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It's a good thing Mark Palesh likes a challenge.

The newly hired city manager of West Jordan has taken on the task of getting a local government that has long operated like a demolition derby to move in the right direction.

A former member of the National Guard who retired from the Air Force Reserve as a lieutenant colonel and has managed six cities, Palesh believes he's up to it.

On Thursday, just a few hours after the City Council approved his appointment and OK'd his $160,000 salary, he was hopping from meeting to meeting with some of the 550 employees now under his supervision.

"I don't know how long my honeymoon is going to be, but I have an opportunity. Every one of them has said, 'Look you're the boss, you tell us how you want to do this.' Well, I'm going to take advantage of that."

Indeed, he has been making the rounds for the last week without pay, learning names, scoping things out and brushing up on the budget.

Palesh says he came into the job with his eyes wide open. He's read the news stories from the past year detailing the infighting, lawsuits and power plays that have turned West Jordan City Hall into a sort of free-fire zone:

• His predecessor, Rick Davis, resigned abruptly and without explanation a little over a year ago, and Davis' acting replacement has had plenty of clashes with some of the elected leaders.

• Less than a month ago, the council proposed stripping Mayor Kim Rolfe of many of his responsibilities and slashing his $89,500 salary to less than $10,000. Rolfe responded by going to court to seek, unsuccessfully, a restraining order.

• On Wednesday night, just after Palesh took the oath of office, council members had scheduled, but at the last minute postponed, a vote on paying the former city attorney $103,000 in exchange for his promise not to sue over the way he was treated leading up to his resignation.

• One councilwoman, in a recent letter to the editor, said the nasty feuding on the council boiled down to "mental-health issues and vendettas."

Palesh's response to the long list of well-publicized clashes: "I've been gored by more bulls than this one."

"The mayor and council, every one of them is capable and intelligent, and they're informed, so it's kind of like, 'Well, are they all [type] A personalities and that's the problem, or what?' They're capable of getting along. I guess they just haven't found the right mix, and hopefully I can help them do that."

He pointed to the 6-0 vote approving his contract.

Palesh says open communication is the key to fixing what's broken in the government of Utah's fourth-largest city.

"Be upfront. That's the most important thing," he says. Part of the job is "to make sure that the mayor and the council do their job as a legislative body and they allow me, as the executive, to do mine. Where things might cross, then we need to have a meeting on it and make sure. "

If history is any guide, Palesh is in for many meetings.

"I have a lot of strings that are pulling me. I have seven bosses [on the council], I have department heads that want to do things a certain way and then all the employees used to a certain way. ... And then you have the general public, and they like to say, 'You work for us,' and generally, I do, yes."

Palesh is brimming with confidence that he can succeed in juggling all these demands and putting West Jordan on a forward-looking course.

He points to his experience in the military and managing previous cities, including Juneau, Alaska; Niagara Falls, N.Y.; and Riverton and Centerville in Utah.

"I guess if I can't do it, man, I don't know who else can."