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The City Journals

There’s a new mayor in town: Looking back at Mayor Bradburn’s first year

Jan 08, 2019 03:05PM ● By Justin Adams

Mayor Kurt Bradburn listens during a city council work meeting. (Justin Adams/City Journals)

By Justin Adams | [email protected]

2018 welcomed Sandy’s first new mayor in 24 years into office. Kurt Bradburn, a young and charismatic attorney, had just defeated long-time mayor Tom Dolan in the November election. Bradburn promised a variety of changes, like increasing government transparency, opening up new avenues of communication with the public and moving Sandy into the 21st century by investing in new technology to make the city more efficient. Now one year later, the question is: how has he done?

If you ask Bradburn himself, he’ll tell you that he kept most, if not all, his campaign promises.

“On the pillars I campaigned on, I feel like we’re delivering on every single one,” he told the Sandy Journal. “And there’s still so much more coming in the next few years.”

Even the most ardent skeptic of this new mayor would be hard-pressed to argue that Bradburn hasn’t done a lot this year to increase the administration’s availability to the public.

Early in the year, the administration convinced a somewhat reluctant city council to upgrade the audio-visual equipment to allow video live-streaming of the council’s weekly meetings so residents can watch from home. 

“We can’t expect people to drive out here every week just to stay informed about what’s happening in their city,” said Matt Huish, the city’s chief administrative officer, who was appointed by Bradburn.

The mayor also instituted a town hall tour, where multiple times throughout the year he made himself and his administration available to the public so they could come and voice any concerns or as questions. Or, for a more 21st-century version of a town hall meeting, the mayor conducts monthly “Ask Me Anything” sessions on Facebook Live. Residents can ask the mayor a question in the comments of his livestream video, which he answers in real time. 

The city has also introduced new ways for residents to give their feedback and suggestions. This fall they launched a new app called CityServe. It allows residents to make service requests (like to fix a broken street lamp or clean up graffiti) or pay city fines.

City officials have also introduced a new tool to help residents get involved in the annual process of creating a city budget. Balancing Act gives residents an interactive and simple interface where they can alter the city’s income by changing different taxes or fees, and then try to balance the budget by cutting various expenses within the city. Once a resident has a balanced budget that they think would be beneficial, they can submit it so the finance department can take a look. 

Speaking of city finances, Bradburn also says he has kept his promise to be more efficient and responsible with the city’s money.

First, he points to the elimination of the water fund transfer. According to him, the previous administration used to raise water fees, then transfer that money from the city’s water fund to the general fund. 

The mayor also said he’s proud of the fact that he was able to cut the city’s lobbying budget in half (from eight contracts to four) yet was still able to achieve $5.3 million in grant money ($200,000 more than the previous year). 

City officials also invested in a new software that has moved the city away from a paper-based records management system to a digitized one. The software, which carried a price tag of over $100,000 this year, will save the city millions of dollars in efficiency and man-hours in the years to come, according to the mayor.

Despite these and other accomplishments by the new administration, it hasn’t been completely smooth sailing. 

Bradburn pointed to the firing of former Police Chief Kevin Thacker over accusations of sexual harassment as a particularly difficult moment in his first year.

“That was a really hard thing for me,” Bradburn said. “It was a difficult situation where we had a guy who had given a lot of time and effort to the city, but we had some employees who felt a different way. I felt like the decision I made was in the best interest of the city and I stick by that decision, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t difficult.”

The first-year mayor has faced other hurdles, ranging from self-inflicted scandal to downright bizarre. 

Within his first few months in office, Bradburn raised his salary, his justification being the increase was just a fraction of the amount he was saving the city by cutting the aforementioned lobbyist contracts. But word got out, and the ensuing public pressure forced Bradburn to reverse the raise.

Or there was a moment this summer when a then-employee of the city got up in front of the city council and expressed concerns about low employee morale under the new administration. The mayor dismissed that notion as the isolated feelings of a single disgruntled employee (whose employment with the city ended soon after). 

There has also been some friction and a lack of communication between the new administration and the city council, best exemplified in a bizarre series of events dubbed by the mayor as “Picturegate.” But there’s not enough room in this article to tell that whole story.

Despite these challenges, Bradburn said he wouldn’t change anything about what he did in his first year. 

He noted that although he hasn’t been perfect, he’s learned a lot of lessons throughout the year.

Two of which were the importance of managing expectations and clear communication.

“I think the thing everyone realizes when you go from being a resident to serving is that you can’t make everybody happy,” Bradburn explained. 

“As a resident you don’t have all the facts or information so you think, ‘Oh this is what I need to solve my problem. We really need a sign or a crosswalk here to fix this.’ And then once you’re here and you have all the input and advice from the subject matter experts, you realize we’ve tried a sign or crosswalk there before and it’s not as successful as this other thing.”

It’s a difficult maneuver communicating to residents that their request isn’t actually going to work or be good for the city. For that reason, Bradburn said his administration has made a concerted effort to proactively educate the public about various issues. For example, the city will soon be rolling out an education campaign to help residents better understand the future of the Cairns district development. 

The mayor said he’d like to avoid a situation where they get “too far down the road” of development before residents learn about what’s going on and then resort to various means of opposition, similar to what recently happened close by in the city of Holladay.

“That’s a great example of the wrong way to do it,” Bradburn said. 

To help get that dialogue going, the city has started seeking resident input with regular surveys through Citizen Connect, a Qualtrics-powered tool that lets the city poll residents about a variety of issues.

One survey has already been done about the Stadium Village zone of the Cairns district. Residents were able to provide their suggestions and concerns for the area. That feedback is now being used by the company, contracted by the city, to help come up with a master plan for the area, a plan which will ideally reflect the desires of a majority of residents. But no matter what happens with the Stadium Village, or any other action taken by the city, it’s not going to please everybody, and Bradburn knows that.

“I’m happy to take the heat, and that’s why I’m in this job. I ultimately will do what I feel like is in the best interest of the city, regardless of what the optics are or if I’ll take heat for it,” he said.

“With four young kids I’m often out at our parks or at our schools. I go grocery shopping, I go to the bank, I go to my gym. I’m very accessible in the community so I do hear from my bosses (the voters) on a daily basis. That’s something I relish.” 

“I want people to come up to me. I don’t shy away from suggestions or criticism. I care deeply about what they think and feel and it matters to me.”