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Murray • He's a Utah original. A high-energy whirlwind with a handlebar mustache, who for the past 16 years has been the unabashed mayor of Murray.
After four terms as the elected chief executive of the town of 47,000 in the heart of the Salt Lake Valley, Dan Snarr is cleaning out his City Hall office and heading smack dab into the future which, over the past 64 years, has never caused him much anxiety.
"I'm the longest tenured mayor in the history of Murray," Snarr observed in an interview during his final week in office. . "It wasn't intended that way there was just always one more thing that needed doing."
During his administration, the giant ASRCo (American Smelting & Refining Company) chimneys came down and were replaced by Intermountain Healthcare's 100-acre campus, the UTOPIA fiber optics network was adopted, Willow Pond Park was completed, Costco came to town, State Street got a face-lift, and Fashion Place Mall underwent a major expansion, among other things.
But more than anything, the Murray mayor is known for his 22-inch handlebar mustache. He's chopped it off once or twice for charity, but it keeps coming back.
A cowboy poet by avocation, Snarr has even written a lengthy poem about it. One verse goes like this:
"I have a simple goal/ Based on ancient folklore./ To grow a mustache, oh so long,/I'll have to walk sideways through the door."
Snarr said he got the notion to grow the handlebar from a Frederic Remington painting. "He looked like me but he had an outrageous mustache. I said to myself, I'm going to grow myself a manly mustache."
But such facial hair, when waxed, can be hazardous, he explained. Recently, while having his picture taken with Gov. Gary Herbert and his wife, Jeanette, Snarr turned his head suddenly and his mustache poked the first lady right in the eye.
The Murray mayor also has a hard time saying "no" to people who want him to marry them. He says he's probably married more couples than any other Salt Lake County mayor. He's married them on Ferris wheels, trampolines and even motorcycles. But most, he explained, were married standing on the ground.
He's always had a sense of humor, said his sister, former state legislator Trisha Beck. "And he's always been a hard worker."
It's something they learned growing up after their father was incapacitated with multiple sclerosis.
"When we were growing up, we didn't think we were poor, but we probably were," she said. "We all worked."
And when she was appointed to a vacant seat in the Legislature, her brother's competitive nature kicked in. "That does it," she quoted him as saying in 1997, "I'm running for mayor of Murray."
Snarr drove semi-tractors and worked his way through college. Upon graduation, he started Snarr Brothers Landscaping with his cousin, Ron Snarr. The operation grew and grew and was tremendously successful. After he was elected in 1997, he sold the business. Nonetheless, he still carries landscaping equipment and a weed sprayer in his rusty '91 Chevy pickup, Beck said, relating a story about his hands-on approach as mayor.
"An elderly lady called the city offices and he answered the phone. He told her his name was Dan. She said her neighbor's property was about to be condemned because of all her weeds. He went over and told the lady he was Dan from the city and cut down all the weeds."
Snarr admits he has trouble sitting still. "I like results," he said. And results he got as mayor. But he concedes he bruised some sensibilities along the way.
"People hated my guts for tearing down those chimneys. They were icons in the sky," Snarr recalled. "But they weren't safe in any way and were preventing us from having a future."
With the coming of Intermountain Healthcare and Costco, Snarr stands vindicated for that. But UTOPIA may be another matter. It continues to be the most controversial of his efforts.
And while the fiber optic network is a bite from taxpayers' wallets, Snarr says it is paying dividends for the Murray School District, Murray Power, and it continues to attract new businesses. It's all worked to keep property taxes relatively low, he said.
"People criticize me for spending money," he said. "But I say, 'No. I'm investing it.' The future of this state and county is to stay up with the rest of the world in technology."
The UTOPIA criticism has been withering, he said. "It's tough, no doubt about it. But I've never backed down from what I thought was right."
UTOPIA notwithstanding, Snarr's accomplishments will be long lasting, said City Councilman Dave Nicponski. "I expect his legacy will last, and economic development has been very successful under his leadership."
The crazy mayor with the mustache isn't so crazy, said state Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, who is Snarr's second cousin.
"He's a man of vision," she said of his accomplishments. "He's a hands-on guy and he's very persuasive and very determined."
And he's accessible, too, she noted. He holds court at Costco and takes youngsters for Slurpies when they win awards. "That personal touch is what really makes a difference in a public servant when they are out and about."
Snarr has never been about half measures. He makes no secret of the fact that he's a "rabid" University of Utah sports fan. He even built a 17-foot by 21-foot block "U" with red and white lights on the roof of his house.
"I turn it on during the holidays and when the Utes win," he said.
No one seems to be worried that the outgoing mayor will have too much time on his hands as he leaves office. During the past year he refurbished an 87-year-old house and said he's thinking of building a few new ones. And if he's got any time left, he might run for County Council, he said.
"I've never liked politics. It's a mean, dirty business," he said. "But I do like progress."