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The City Journals

Fact Check: Digging into the allegations in a controversial postcard

Oct 07, 2019 02:24PM ● By Erin Dixon

By Erin Dixon | [email protected]

Before the primary elections this year, two postcards were mailed to residents. City Journals decided to fact check each of the claims on the first postcard. 

The first mailer was titled: Top 10 reasons to vote for a new mayor this month. This postcard was sent out before the primary election in August to persuade voters to choose Alan Anderson or Dirk Burton over incumbent Jim Riding. The second postcard gave voting records of the three mayoral candidates.

Claim: Money is disappearing fast. When the current mayor took office there was over $101 million in the City’s fund accounts. The balance is now down below $79 million.

City response: Danyce Steck, city finance director said, “In December 2016, the City bonded for $27.3 million for the construction of the Public Works building. This accounted for a temporary increase in the city’s funds which as of the audited financial statements dated June 30, 2017 were $104.1 million. Payments for the design and construction of this facility were made from these bond funds over the next 18 months which accounts for the decrease in city funds.”

Councilmember Alan Anderson said, “That’s a pretty bold statement considering there’s multiple people looking at the financials so it would have to be a conspiracy between multiple employees and it would have to include the outside auditors.”

Analysis: Claim is misleading. While the reserve balance may be lower than when Riding took office, reserve funds are meant to be used and replenished over time. This particular spending was approved by a previous administration. 

Claim: Funds are down despite the current mayor’s vote for the single largest property tax increase in West Jordan.

City response: Steck said, “I researched back to the year 2000 and found the City has had two property tax increases since that year. In 2012, the City increased property tax by 17% and in 2018 increased property tax by 18%.”

Analysis: Claim is misleading. And, there may be larger tax increases further back in West Jordan history. 

Claim: The current mayor also voted to increase water rates 43% in one year, creating a $7.4 budget surplus in the water fund.

City response: On June 30, 2018, before the water rate increase, the reserve funds had $11.2 million, $9.73 million were in bond proceeds. Steck said, “As of June 30, 2019, the Water Fund had [negative] reserves of $1,260,190. In addition, the Water Fund has $7.8 million of bond proceeds dedicated to the construction of two water storage tanks. The tanks are collateral for the bond and these funds cannot be spent for any other purpose.”

Analysis: Claim is misleading. In June 2019, the city was in debt for a time. While the mayor did vote for the water rate increases, for legislation to pass there must be a majority vote from the council, which there was. Surplus money in a government fund is used as emergency, or rainy day money if there is a disaster, etc., which is desirable in a city. In this case, the increase in water rates were to make up for a deficit and to pay for needed improvements. 

Claim: In 2017, six council members voted to earmark $8 million for the arts building, only $5 million is still in that fund. No council votes have taken place to move the money.

City response: Steck reconfirmed that: “Yes, the FY2020 (Fiscal Year) budget includes $3 million for the first part of the design and construction on the community center and the 5-year plan (included in the budget) includes $3 million in FY2021 for the completion. The funds are being held in the Building Capital Fund and are approved.” 

Analysis: Claim is false. As the City Journal reported in June, “June is budget season, and the West Jordan City Council approved to put $3 million toward the center and promised an additional $3 million next fiscal year to finish the project. Danyce Steck ensured council that the funding is available.” (https://www.westjordanjournal.com/2019/06/24/202204/will-west-jordan-finally-get-a-theatre- )

Claim: The current administration destroyed the Wild West Playground before reaching out to the citizens that funded and built the playground. The full funding that was set aside to repair and or build a new playground is no longer there.

City response: A public meeting was broadcast live on Nov. 12, 2018 about the need to tear down the structure. The tear down took place after this meeting. At the meeting, Mayor Riding said, “We want to ... talk about this wonderful playground that’s been here for 15 years. I just want to recognize a couple of people that are here. Melissa Johnson, and Jennifer Scott and Jennifer’s sister, Cynthia. These ladies worked very closely in getting this thing built around 15 years ago.” These are the people who were responsible for getting the playground funded and constructed. Johnson was voted for mayor after this project was completed. 

Analysis: The claim is false. The people who created the structure were notified and present at the meeting to discuss the new playground. The City Journal reported in December 2018, “Melissa Johnson, a ... former West Jordan council member and mayor, contributed extensively to the project. ... she functioned on the publicity and fundraising committee.” Johnson is later quoted in the article as saying, “I got to use a hammer and nails and actually put it together.” and “It’s time for us to replace it with something that’s more modern.” (https://www.westjordanjournal.com/2018/12/11/185425/wild-west-jordan-playground-is-no-more-new-structure-to-be-built)

The playground is near completion and will open late October. 

Claim: City council members are no longer provided with monthly financial statements to show fund balances or budget vs. actual expenses.

City response: Tauni Barker, West Jordan communications officer said, “The West Jordan City Council is regularly updated regarding the City’s financial status. Traditionally, monthly reports have been issued to each Council Member via the City Manager. In 2019, as the City transitioned to a new finance director, monthly updates were prepared, but not distributed for April and May. Distribution of the monthly reports resumed this summer with the June report.”

“In a move toward even greater transparency, city finance director, Danyce Steck, will be issuing a formal quarterly financial report, on the record, during council meetings. The first of those reports will occur in September.” 

“Members of the city council may request a financial report at any time and will be accommodated.”

Analysis: Claim is false. Reports are available. 

Claim: The current mayor voted to select a vendor that was NOT the low bidder for trash removal. His campaign sign is now in the yard of the winning bidder.

City Response: Deputy Director of Public Works Justin Stoker said, “An RFP (request for proposal) for the City’s solid waste contract was issued in 2017-2018. Scoring on that particular RFP was based on experience, ability to work and communicate with the City, reputation and price. After scoring was done, it was compiled and provided to the City Council for review. Following their review, the City Council awarded a contract to the highest scoring bidder.”

Mayor Riding confirmed that his campaign sign was in the yard of a friend whom he has known for 15 years that is also an Ace employee. 

Analysis: Public Works did the research and cost analysis for the waste removal and presented the possibilities to the council. The contract was awarded to the company who provided the best service for the best cost. While Ace was not the lowest cost, it was the best price for the highest quality service. The mayor's approval was in part of the majority vote with the rest of the council and the friendship with the employee was a coincidence.

Claim: More high density on the only residential development that has come up on the city council agenda during his term, the current mayor voted for higher density.

City response: Development Services Director Scott Langford said, “In response to high demand for housing, cities along the Wasatch Front have seen a rise in the construction of all housing options, including multi-family housing. The City of West Jordan is no exception. However, what sets us apart from most cities, is that we have proactively adopted ordinances that help maintain a balance between single-family and multi-family housing choices.”

“Due to the fact that previous City Councils approved many multi-family developments, the current City Council (elected 2017), in an effort to re-establish a balanced housing stock, have only approved one standalone multi-family development; which was a small senior housing development.”  

The development was Ordinance 18-41, discussed on Dec. 12, 2018. There was an attempt to decrease it by one unit (59) and a few less parking stalls. This motion failed with the following votes: Councilmember Anderson, No. Burton, Yes. Jacob, Yes. Lamb, Absent. McConnehey, No. Whitelock, Yes. Mayor Riding, No. 

Second motion retained 60 units and 90 parking stalls was approved with the following votes: Councilmember Anderson, Yes. Burton, No. Jacob, Yes. Lamb, Absent. McConnehey, Yes. Whitelock, Yes. Mayor Riding, Yes. 

Analysis: Approval for developments takes a majority vote from the council, not just the mayor. The “higher density” referred to on the postcard was one unit in a 60 unit senior housing development. 

Claim: Questionable Activity — The current mayor has placed his campaign signs on public property as well as other areas that are illegal, even after signing an agreement not to do so.

City response: Barker said, “Illegally placed campaign signs tend to be an issue in every election, throughout the state. During this election cycle West Jordan City’s Code Enforcement Department has impounded signs from each of the candidates running for office.”

Anderson said, “I [also] had five signs that were confiscated because they weren’t 11 feet back from the edge of the road.” 

Analysis: Many signs are placed illegally, and it is routine for them to be taken down. The mayor told City Journals that he knew some of his signs had been taken down. 

Claim: The current mayor has improperly disposed of city property, assets that should have been sold for additional city funding.

City response: Steck said, “The City’s assets are reviewed annually during the independent audit. Both acquisition and disposal procedures as well as policy compliance are reviewed and verified. To date, our independent auditors have not returned a negative report related to assets.”

Mayor Riding said, “It says I got rid of surplus illegally. I have no idea what that is about. I might have bent a paper clip and threw it away, didn’t surplus the paper clip.”

Analysis: There is no evidence for this claim. 

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Primary election candidate reactions: 

Councilmember Dirk Burton and current candidate for mayor: “[Regarding the Top 10], that was the first I saw it when it got mailed to me. I knew something was coming, but I hadn’t seen it. I didn’t like it, I was afraid it would hurt me. And I feel bad for my opponent. I felt bad for me too actually. It was so negative, and I think it hurts all of our campaigns.”

Councilmember Alan Anderson, voted out of the mayoral race in the primary election in August: 

“The bigger issue for me was, obviously there’s something to hide because no one wants to fess up to it. State laws says that if you spend or bring in $750 you have to file as a PAC (Political Action Committee) if you’re going to do something that is pro or against a candidate. It cost me $5,000 to print and mail 7,000 election cards, which is on my campaign disclosure. It’s just this unknown entity that is trying to influence an election which is what we get angry at Russia for. Here we just have an angry group of residents.”

Mayor Jim Riding, and candidate for mayor: “Call me and ask if it’s true. I would be happy to talk to anybody. People look so much at the federal government, even the state or county and they think it trickles down to their own municipality and it doesn’t. We are nonpartisan. The only thing that usually, and I say usually, people are trying to do the best they can for the city. I didn’t have to do this. I could have retired 5 years ago. I’m not looking for power, I just wanted to be of service to the people.”