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It didn't feel like a part-time gig — not after spending her fourth day in a week responding to work emails until 3 a.m.

It had been a grind for Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jani Iwamoto. With her husband traveling for work, and two children at home, Iwamoto found herself in the middle of a controversy about the future of 3900 South.

With fears festering about the road being widened and homes being destroyed, Iwamoto logged 15-hour days doing the kind of constituent service that has come to characterize her first term as a councilwoman.

"I said this would not be a part-time job for me," Iwamoto remarked. "Boy, was that not a lie."

Iwamoto's tenure has been marked by a series of high-profile issues in a district that includes one of the county's most politically active suburbs: Millcreek Township. She has dealt with monster homes, backyard hens and a movement to make Millcreek the county's 17th city.

She has tackled dust problems at a foothills gravel pit, advocated redevelopment in a dilapidated section of west Millcreek and helped secure funding for upgrades on 2300 South.

While Iwamoto hasn't always pleased her constituents — incorporation advocate Anna Clare Shepherd says the councilwoman doesn't seem to grasp the reason why some Millcreek residents are agitating for better representation through a city government — few question her work ethic.

Indeed, Iwamoto has quickly defined herself as a hard worker with a desire to interact with constituents directly. Even Shepherd concedes Iwamoto "tries to represent us." The incorporation drive, Shepherd says, is a referendum on the county's form of government, not on Iwamoto.

Iwamoto — now into her third year on the council — has made constituent service a priority. She answers constituent emails with phone calls. The Democrat attends community council meetings, even when it means bringing her 11-year-old daughter. And she routinely sifts through stacks of constituent complaints with the public works director about issues ranging from potholes to sidewalk cracks.

"She goes the extra mile so many times on so many issues," said Aimee McConkie, a former Canyon Rim Community Council chairwoman who received an unsolicited update last month from Iwamoto about air-quality issues at an area gravel pit. "She is super thorough in the way she addresses issues and in the way she manages them."

Iwamoto, an attorney who received a law degree from the University of California at Davis, has distinguished herself through community advocacy. She served on then-Gov. Mike Leavitt's bipartisan coalition opposing the storage of high-level nuclear waste in Utah and helped lead the Japanese Community Preservation Committee as it fought to keep Japantown intact amid the expansion of the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center.

She has pushed for smoke detectors and asbestos abatement in schools and promoted child safety as an instructor for radKIDS, a national program that seeks to empower children against harm.

Some of that advocacy continues.

Iwamoto successfully pushed a resolution last year opposing the transportation of depleted uranium through Salt Lake County. And she remains closely involved in redevelopment efforts in downtown Salt Lake City that could threaten the remaining pieces of Japantown.

"She is not only a champion [of Japantown], but a knowledgeable champion," said Dale Carpenter, the county's economic-development director.

Former Democratic Councilman Joe Hatch praised Iwamoto as "very bright." One of her strengths: She does her homework. Hatch — who once sat beside Iwamoto at the council table — remembers the scribbled appearance of his colleague's council packet. Text was underlined, with copious notes in the margins.

"She is clearly the best-prepared council member," he said, "past or present."

Although Millcreek has occupied much of Iwamoto's time, it hasn't occupied all of it.

She was instrumental in solving trash-can troubles in Emigration Canyon. Although hardly a glamorous policy issue, it won her support among residents who had been trying to get trash cans off the streets for years.

"Any time we need her," Emigration Canyon Community Councilwoman Joan Gallegos said, "we call and she produces."

Iwamoto now faces a prickly initiative in the heart of her district, Millcreek. At the request of petitioners, the county is studying the feasibility of making this unincorporated suburb of about 62,000 residents — where neighborhoods rise from the shores of the Jordan River to the slopes of Mount Olympus — a city. That report is due out in early summer.

Supporters say the township needs better representation than Iwamoto, alone, can give. The community has only one direct representative — not counting the three elected to represent the entire county — on the nine-member County Council.

Iwamoto, who lives in Holladay, says she has moved beyond being offended by talk of inadequate representation, but she visibly bristles at the suggestion. She sees the accusation as inaccurate.

"When you say they don't have representation, you really have to look at the votes," said Iwamoto, pointing to an expansive community center rising in East Millcreek. "I'm not saying that everybody will like every vote, but [the council] has always been supportive of the unincorporated area."

Initiatives such as the police fee on unincorporated areas had led some backers of the incorporation movement to think otherwise.

"Honestly, if they want to become a city, great," Iwamoto said. "It is whatever the constituents want."

Despite criticism of the county's representation, Rita Lund, a liaison between the county's east-side unincorporated communities and the council, says Iwamoto has been "really, really, really, really" involved in township issues.

"For somebody who is a part-time council member — whoa — she has really done a great job," Lund said.

Iwamoto pledges to continue that, serving full time on a part-time council.

And logging more late nights at her computer. —

Jani Iwamoto

Party • Democrat

Age • 51

Family • Husband, Steve Fukumitsu; two children

Education • Bachelor's degree in mass communications from the University of Utah; law degree from the University of California at Davis

Political position • Salt Lake County councilwoman