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Newly installed Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski has ousted D.J. Baxter, longtime executive director of the city's Redevelopment Agency.
Having demanded last month that all city department heads and mayoral staff resign and reapply for their jobs, the Biskupski administration notified Baxter late last week that it accepted his resignation.
"After speaking with D.J., the mayor opted to go in a different direction," Matthew Rojas, Biskupski's director of communication, said Tuesday. "We wish him well and thank him for his service to the city."
Baxter, who was RDA executive director for eight years under former Mayor Ralph Becker, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Salt Lake City's RDA is Utah's largest urban-renewal agency, charged with revitalizing blighted and underinvested neighborhoods by tapping special financial and policy tools. Hired in 2007 to head the powerful agency, Baxter was a top aide to Mayor Rocky Anderson when he took over the RDA just as the Great Recession loomed.
Baxter has played pivotal roles in a host of high-profile redevelopment projects in Utah's capital, including the downtown 2,500-seat George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater going up on Main Street and the newly revamped Monument Plaza in Sugar House.
Trained in environmental law and urban planning, Baxter is known for his collaborative and inclusive style, expertise on transit and an ability to put together complex deals with developers.
News of his departure sparked sadness and worry among some City Council members, who make up the RDA Board and were told of his ouster Friday.
"I'm concerned about losing his leadership," said Councilwoman Lisa Ramsey Adams, new chairwoman of the RDA Board. "We've got huge projects in the pipeline right now."
Adams also raised a possibility that other RDA staffers might bolt in the aftermath of Baxter's departure.
"I know how much loyalty there is to D.J.," she said.
Fellow Councilman Stan Penfold said he was troubled by a possible "loss of knowledge and momentum" as Baxter leaves. "A lot of the projects coming online right now," Penfold said, "are a direct result of his hard work at the RDA.
"He's got great vision of what our city can be," Penfold said Tuesday from an all-day council retreat. "It's a concern to me that we're regrouping without that articulated vision."
With a yearly budget approaching $83 million, the RDA employs about 15 people project managers, coordinators and support staffers. State records for 2015 indicate Baxter earned about $161,382 in salary and benefits.
Rojas said the vacancy would be posted on city employment boards, launching what he described as "a thorough, most likely national search" for a replacement.
"The mayor wants to ensure we find the right person," said Rojas, who reaffirmed Biskupski's view that the RDA is a crucial tool "in building an inclusive city for everyone."
Rojas said Biskupski would welcome City Council input during the interview process, in keeping with the legislative body's "advice and consent role" in hiring city department heads.