Year in Review: West Jordan City Has Highs and Lows
Jan 04, 2016 02:09PM ● Published by Bryan Scott
By Taylor Stevens
West Jordan - It’s been a trying, dramatic year for the City of West Jordan, as the divide within the city council has come into sharper focus and allegations of bullying, retaliation, hostility and sexual harassment have swirled around city hall.
In April, the city escorted its ex-city attorney, Jeff Robinson, from his office, ousting him from the city in a controversial move that has left some questioning its legality. Five months later, Robinson filed a notice of claim of a lawsuit against the city, alleging wrongful termination and conspiracy, among other things.
The lawsuit was not the only one of its kind this year. In August, Mayor Kim Rolfe again demonstrated the depth of contention at city hall when he filed a lawsuit that would have prevented the city council from making changes to his authority and pay—a claim that was rejected in a Salt Lake City courtroom soon afterward.
In October, the personal emails of city council member Sophie Rice, which contained an account of sexual discrimination at the hands of the mayor, were released in an email sent to the entire city. Rice said that Rolfe had asked her illegal interview questions when she was elected to the council; Rolfe denied all accusations of sexual discrimination.
To round off the year, council member Jeff Haaga filed a notice of claim of a lawsuit against all of the council members and city staff at a city council meeting held in November. The nature of his claims included violation of civil rights and abuse of the judicial system and violation of the first amendment, among others. He later withdrew the notice of claim, saying at a city council meeting that he would never sue the city of West Jordan.
Although West Jordan has had its fair share of contention in 2015, the year wasn’t all drama for the city.
After a year of instability following the resignation of the city’s permanent city manager and the appointment of interim city manager Bryce Haderlie, the city council approved the appointment of new city manager Mark Palesh in early September in a rare 6-0 vote.
Aside from placing a permanent fixture in the city manager position, the city council approved some big development and improvement projects around the city that are currently in process.
In May, the council approved development on the Big Bend area of the Jordan River Trail, development that will focus on habitat restoration and the development of an urban fishery and a wildlife-viewing platform, with an estimated completion date of 2030.
More controversial than the development on the Jordan River trail was the approval of a 224-unit apartment complex at 1206 West 7800 South at Gardner Village. While many residents argued against the high-density development, those council members who voted for the approval of the plan said the multi-use space would integrate the “historic fabric” of the area and increase pedestrian connectivity.
Along with approving new development, the council also approved measures to better older aspects of the city this year. The city implemented a plan to replace all of the old streetlights in the city with LED lights to provide better light, save costs and help the environment. The council also approved the purchase of new playground equipment at 10 parks across the city to improve the safety and quality of the parks.
Although the year is not quite over, members of West Jordan’s newly-elected city council are already looking ahead to next year—and many are hoping to create a seamless transition from one council to another, with less contention than city hall has seen in months past.
Next year’s council will be comprised of council members Dirk Burton, Jeff Haaga, Zach Jacob, Chris McConnehey and Sophie Rice, with Kim Rolfe acting as mayor. Next year’s representatives are composing their goals for the upcoming year.
“My main focus is to listen to the citizens and hear what their concerns are,” Dirk Burton, a newly-elected face to the council from District 2, said.
To this end, he wants to create a tradition of holding monthly meetings with residents in his district to hear their concerns and needs and come up with solutions.
“I don’t want to tell [the residents] what we should be doing; I want them to tell the city council what we should be doing,” Burton said. “I want to listen twice as much as I talk.”
For Mayor Kim Rolfe, some of the main concerns going forward will be keeping West Jordan off the prison list and getting construction started on a recreation center on the west side of West Jordan.
Rolfe said that getting “the council working together with staff professionally” is another of one of his major goals.
Resolving the contentious atmosphere at city hall and getting West Jordan out of the media spotlight is also a goal that many of the incoming council members share.
“It’s been kind of crazy that a lot of this time has been spent on the arguing and the fighting and the he said/she said kind of thing has kept some of the stuff from happening that needed to happen,” incoming District 3 council member Zach Jacob said. “The communication wasn’t there. I’d like to work on that communication—being open to hearing from all sides and getting together and talking about things so we can make progress instead of pointing fingers.”
Other goals council members cited for the upcoming year include increasing park maintenance, adding more streetlights, hiring more city staff and doing all of this without raising residents’ taxes