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Nothing has proved easy about restructuring Utah's approach to homelessness from choosing locations of proposed new shelters to a schedule for shuttering the current downtown shelter. Now there's some squabbling over adding members to the nonprofit board that will run the facilities.
Shelter the Homeless Executive Director Janell Fluckiger said about 10 people had expressed interest in four open spots on an expanded 15-seat board as of Wednesday afternoon.
Those include Josh Romney, the son of former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who is regularly mentioned as a candidate for political office and whose alignment with the Pioneer Park Coalition has raised the hackles of one area service provider.
Other prospects include representatives from shelter-affected South Salt Lake and Midvale and former Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis.
For nearly three decades, the Shelter the Homeless board met infrequently and with little fanfare to act as nonprofit landlord to a handful of properties near downtown Salt Lake City that include a 1,100-bed emergency shelter in downtown Salt Lake City and a 300-bed family shelter in Midvale.
But the nonprofit is poised to take charge of a valleywide network of homeless shelters and associated services, owning three new 200- to 300-bed shelters and selecting and supervising the service providers who will run them.
On Tuesday, the board increased its ranks from eight to 11 with the addition of Jean Hill, director of government relations for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, and Mikelle Moore, senior vice president for Intermountain Healthcare.
Choosing to depart were former Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, former state Homeless Task Force Director Lloyd Pendleton and retired businessman Jeff Polychronis.
Newly revised bylaws say the board can have up to 15 members, who will serve three-year terms.
"[C]onsideration shall be given to representatives from health care, philanthropy, faith-based organizations, housing developments and the general business community," the bylaws state.
Romney hasn't been formally nominated, Fluckiger said, but buzz about the developer's involvement drew a rebuke from leaders of the Crossroads Urban Center, a nonprofit that supports low-income Utahns.
"There are people in the city and in the county who are a hell of a lot more qualified, in any way, either personally or professionally, than Josh Romney ever would be," said Crossroads' Tim Funk.
Romney is a member of both the county committee that has spent two years envisioning a better-coordinated services system and the Pioneer Park Coalition, which consists of developers, business owners and residents who pushed for a commitment to close the shelter at 210 S. Rio Grande St.
Last month, the coalition endorsed a 21-point plan from Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder that called for a reduction in the shelter's population to 200 by June 1 and a permanent encampment nearby, along with other lifestyle restrictions that some stakeholders have branded draconian.
Romney said he doesn't agree with every coalition stance and that of Winder's recommendations, "about half of them are really good and the other half need some work and, I think, are aspirational and maybe not realistic."
"You just have to make sure that in the short run you're not doing any harm to some of our most vulnerable citizens," he said.
Romney said he owns a 3,000-square-foot office on Pierpont Ave. that he worked out of for more than four years until about December 2015. His next-closest property to the Rio Grande area is at 4500 South, he said.
But even those associated with the county's service programming arm have questioned Romney's motives.
In a March email obtained by The Tribune in response to a records request, Shaleane Gee, the county's director of special projects, wrote to Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams after a meeting that "the volume of personally negative emails/texts I get, especially from staff, whenever Josh Romney says anything at all is really disheartening. Most of it is very personal in nature."
Romney said he gained an appreciation for homeless people and their problems while working out of his former Pierpont Ave. office and through ridealongs with Salt Lake City police, though, "I'll be the first to admit I can't begin to understand what it's like to be homeless or what these people are going through."
Coalition leader Scott Howell said Wednesday he was "shocked" to learn that Romney had not been nominated and accepted during the board's closed session Tuesday.
Howell said the coalition also recommended another member, Cicero Group CEO Randy Shumway, who Howell said could inform the board's discussion as a seasoned data analyst. Cicero Group last year moved its headquarters to the north end of The Gateway mall.
Shumway said Wednesday that he didn't want to appear to be lobbying for a spot against other deserving candidates but that he is "willing to serve in any manner that's going to help our homeless population."
"It's an issue and it's an audience that I care about passionately," Shumway said. "I have some experience with the less fortunate and I'm a strategist by training and by profession. ... I don't have an inherent bias in any particular direction."
Funk, meanwhile, said Crossroads supports a group of potential nominees that includes DePaulis, Ronald McDonald House Intermountain CEO Carrie Romano and the International Rescue Committee's Patrick Poulin.
"Our whole position is get people who want to serve and who know something about the peril of people who are homeless," said Funk.
There was also discussion in Tuesday's closed session about the appropriate role of elected officials on the board, given that it already includes both city and county mayors and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.
Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini said nobody has contacted her, but that "I think it's very important that the communities that the facilities are located in have a voice on any board."
Current Shelter the Homeless board
As many as four spots remain open on the board, which can have up to 15 members who serve three-year terms.
Jackie Biskupski • Salt Lake City mayor Robert Bradley • attorney
Spencer Cox • lieutenant governor
Bill Crim • president and CEO of United Way of Salt Lake Jean Hill • government liaison for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City Jon Lear • attorney
Ben McAdams • Salt Lake County mayor
Kris Mecham • LDS Church Humanitarian Services
Mikelle Moore • senior vice president at Intermountain Healthcare
Jon Pierpont • executive director of the Department of Workforce Services
Harris Simmons (president) • chairman and CEO of Zions Bancorporation