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The City Journals

Riverton in review: Looking back on 2018

Dec 17, 2018 01:29PM ● By Mariden Williams

“Majestic,” sculpted by Brian Keith, sits at the heart of the Mountain View Village’s John Ward Plaza. (CenterCal Properties)

By Mariden Williams | [email protected]

Lots of changes came to Riverton City in 2018, which is perhaps to be expected, given that it was the first year in office for Mayor Trent Staggs and City Council members Tawnee McCay and Tish Buroker. 

They weren’t the only new city officials appointed this year. In April, Riverton found a new city manager in Konrad Hildebrandt, who brought with him 18 years of experience as a city manager or assistant city manager, and 30 total years in the public sector. He most recently worked as an assistant city manager in Odessa, Texas, and has previously worked as a city manager in both Cedar Hills and Washington Terrace, Utah.

“My family and I feel extremely honored to be here in Riverton,” said Hildebrandt in an official Riverton press release. “I look forward to working jointly with elected officials, staff and residents to make Riverton an even greater and more vibrant city where people can live, work and play.”

The city had been without a formal manager since June 2017, following the retirement of previous city manager Lance Blackwood and numerous delays in the selection of a new manager. In that time, City Attorney Ryan Carter acted as the interim city manager, to the general approval of the city council. 

On June 15, the first phase of Riverton's much anticipated Mountain View Village shopping center officially opened for business. Built by CenterCal Properties, the development is comprised of 85 acres in one of the fastest growing areas in Utah. When completed, tentatively planned for spring of 2019, it will include retail, restaurants, an office complex, a gym, a hotel and a full luxury theater.

"This is the first phase of what will be a much larger project. The second phase will be starting construction next spring, and at the end of the day we hope that we'll have created a gathering place that the community can be really proud of," said Fred Bruning, CEO of CenterCal Properties. 

Throngs of people attended to take advantage of the numerous opening-day sales, and to see the unveiling of the massive bronze eagle sculpture set at the heart of the development — although the wind playfully pulled the sheet away long before officials could, allowing attendees several sneak peeks of the statue while various speeches were made. Later, the central plaza of the development was dedicated to John Ward, a friend of Bruning’s and the chief financial officer at Harmons Grocery until his sudden and unexpected passing in early 2017.

"This project is really the culmination of quite a bit of work. It's a storied timeline that goes back a good ten years or more," said Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs. "The fields that were here previously, over the years they sustained many of us through bountiful harvest. And I believe they will continue to provide sustenance, albeit on a different level."

In his first year as mayor, Staggs has dramatically increased the city's official social media presence, most notably through the release of a new and improved city app, the usage of Facebook's livestreaming capabilities and the production of numerous informational videos.

It started with the Mayor's Minute, a weekly one-to-two minute video where Staggs gives residents a quick briefing on current city events. In August, he also introduced LIVE with the Mayor—a longer 30-minute interview between Staggs and a local leader, livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube to all the city's followers. Prior to each interview, residents are invited to submit any questions they may have for the interviewee, who will then bring up some of those questions during the interview.

"We've been doing Mayor's Minutes for the last few months, and we felt like it would be a great idea to invite some business and community leaders into the mayor's office, and just have a conversation about some of the things they're doing and how they might impact all of our residents," Staggs said.  

The very first guest to be LIVE with the mayor was Congresswoman Mia Love, who represents Riverton City and all the other residents of Utah's 4th congressional district. One of the issues discussed by Love and Staggs was the lack of civility in today’s political climate, and the importance of meaningful, respectful discussions.

“We're supposed to be able to debate, and talk about different ideas,” Love said. “And maybe, just maybe, if we're able to have a conversation where two adults get into a room and they talk about what they’re for, maybe we'll witness American democracy at its best."  

Two adults in a room having a civil conversation is exactly what LIVE with the Mayor aspires to be.

But Riverton’s 2018 administration haven’t been satisfied with just increasing the city’s official internet presence — they also sought to help parents and kids be more mindful of their own social media usage.

On Sept. 17, hundreds of parents packed into the auditorium of Riverton High School for a workshop about the effects of excessive screen time on teens. Entitled “Live In Real Life,” the workshop featured keynote speakers Collin Kartchner, a TED speaker and social activist, and Katey McPherson, TED speaker and children’s advocate. The workshop also featured booths run by many local mental health support and teen advocacy groups. 

“We live in a world where you put your front stage forward, and…you create worth based on your followers and your likes and what other people think of you. Our children don’t know what their self worth is yet. They’re still forming that,” McPherson said. 

“If they feel like they’re not getting the connection and emotional support they need from you, the parent, they will seek it on social media.” She continued. “They say things they don’t mean. They use words they would never use in front of you. They absolutely lie about your family and what’s going on, because they’re just transmitting their pain.”

According to McPherson, communicating well with your kids is the best way to keep them from acting out on social media, and there are two things that will improve your communication with your children: “You getting really vulnerable about what’s going on, and you validating what’s going on with them. Vulnerability plus validation equals connection. That’s what our kids need. Connection.”

But perhaps Riverton’s biggest talking point of the year was city officials’ ongoing struggle with the Unified Police Department. This reached a climax on Oct. 23 when Riverton officials formally decided to leave UPD in favor of creating their own in-house Riverton Police Department. 

The Riverton City Council first declared the city’s intent to leave UPD in an emergency meeting on July 19, the day after city officials received information about an important decision that would be made at a UPD Board of Directors meeting the very next day. This decision would make changes to an agreement between the UPD and its member communities. City officials said nobody was told about it until the very last minute — when it was almost too late to do anything. 

“It made me really nervous to know that the UPD Board would be considering such substantial changes to our agreement during a time when we are actively trying to resolve some very important concerns,” said Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs. 

The proposed changes would have seen the assets and resources Riverton has invested in the UPD over the years distributed in an unfair way across the UPD service area. Taxpayers would not receive the bang for their buck that they reasonably should. City council members think that creating their own police department will be more cost-effective.

 “The decision to form our own police department has been a difficult one for us,” said Councilman Sheldon Stewart. “Ultimately, the decision was made based on what direction could provide the best level of service in our city at the best cost. The move to create our own police department allows more Riverton taxpayer dollars to be invested in law enforcement service right here in our own community.”

According to the city’s financial analysis, the new department could hire up to 38 officers and five civilian employees without paying more than what is currently paid to UPD for 28-30 officers in the city. The total projected 2019 budget for the Riverton Police Department is $5,167,656; $500,000 of that will be one-time startup costs, and it also includes 10 more permanent officers than Riverton is currently allotted by UPD.

Others, however, are not so sure that this is how it will play out. Back in August, officials held a town hall meeting on the matter, and the vast majority of speakers — many of them Riverton residents, police officers, or both — warned against leaving UPD. One resident described the proposed Riverton Police Department's budget as "a pipe dream."

"I've seen Draper do this. I've seen it three times, and every time, it was over budget. I saw Taylorsville do it, and it's over budget. I saw Cottonwood Heights do it, and it's over budget. And you show us your numbers… it's gonna go over budget," said Ray Lopez, a retired UPD officer.

Some argued any cities that leave UPD end up coming back in the end for precisely that reason. "I was part of the Taylorsville Police Department, and we had a lot of struggles,” said Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera. “Although we had a lot of great people trying to make it work. The budget was just too much, and we came back to UPD."

Regardless, Riverton officials remained optimistic, and confirmed Don Hutson as the new chief of police on Dec. 11. Officials had hoped to have a chief of police in place by Jan. 1, 2019, and they got their man. 

“We are thrilled to welcome Don Hutson as the new chief of police in Riverton,” Staggs said in a press release. “He brings with him the experience, skill set, and network needed to set up a thriving police department. I have no doubt he will serve the citizens of our city exceptionally well in this role.”

Hutson will oversee the formation of the new department, including the hiring of officers, the acquisition of equipment, the creation of a budget, and the development of policy. 

“The opportunity of starting a police department from the ground up is something that I couldn’t pass up,” Hutson said. “I look forward to creating a department that proactively serves the Riverton community, places high value on our officers, and provides the best law enforcement service for our citizens.”

Hutson, who was selected out of a pool of nearly 60 candidates, currently as the City of Holladay precinct chief in the Unified Police Department (UPD), a role he has held since 2015. Prior to serving as precinct chief, Hutson served in a variety of roles with UPD and the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office including as professional standards division commander, investigations division commander, media services unit administrator, and public information officer. Additionally, Hutson has been a drug enforcement task force officer, narcotics unit detective, gang unit detective, S.W.A.T. Team member, and patrol deputy.

“As we begin the process of forming our own police department, I’m confident Chief Hutson will help us achieve our goal of becoming the best police department in the state, bar none,”  Hildebrandt said. “We don’t take this effort lightly. Under the leadership of Chief Hutson, the Riverton Police Department has a very bright future.”

It is anticipated that other officer and civilian hires will take place between January and June 2019 to ensure the department is fully staffed to take over operations from UPD at some point in July 2019.

“We appreciate the service of the UPD officers who have served our community so well for many years,” said Councilwoman Tawnee McCay. “We hope to see many of those who serve here currently, whether as officers or as crossing guards, apply for positions in the new Riverton Police Department when that time comes.”