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Taylorsville mayor's campaign finance veto raises questions

Taylorsville mayor's campaign finance veto raises questions

By Katie McKellar | Posted - Nov. 15, 2016 at 9:31 p.m.

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TAYLORSVILLE — Under Utah law, municipal elected officials can collect donations for more than 3 ½ years before filing their first campaign finance reports.

That is, unless a city or county passes its own ordinance to build upon the state law.

Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County are the only Utah municipalities that have campaign finance laws that differ from state code, which requires candidates to file disclosures during their own election years, seven days before primary and general elections, and 30 days after a general election.

That fact — along with grumblings that Mayor Larry Johnson's campaign sponsored a golf tournament earlier this year, even though he's not up for re-election until next year — has stirred an effort to increase the frequency of reporting deadlines and transparency in Taylorsville city government.

But when the Taylorsville City Council voted 3-2 earlier this month to pass a new ordinance to require all elected officials and candidates to file campaign finance statements on a yearly basis, in addition to what's required by state law, Johnson vetoed the ordinance.

In his veto statement, the mayor argued the ordinance "seeks to correct a nonexistent problem within the city."

"There is seemingly no public support for the city to change its campaign finance disclosure requirements," Johnson said. "No one from the public has asked the city to amend its (requirements); no one from the public has brought up campaign finance disclosure requirements as an issue within the city; and no one from the public has spoken in favor of the city adopting more stringent (requirements)."

But now, City Council members and Taylorsville residents are questioning the mayor's veto.

"Why would our mayor not want to be transparent unless there is something to hide?" Valerie Colby said in a post on the Taylorsville Residents for a Better City Facebook page.

Former Taylorsville Mayor Janice Rasmussen, who did not seek a third term in 2006, called the mayor's veto a "red herring."

"What's the harm of increased transparency?" Rasmussen said in a phone interview Tuesday. "Why wouldn't we want more transparency? Name one good reason why. And so far I haven't heard one."

Councilman Brad Christopherson said the City Council initially began discussing campaign finance deadline requirements when it started a routine review of the city's ordinances, and several members wondered if the city could benefit from more frequent reporting.

"Seven days before the election is not enough time to inspect and digest (the reports)," Christopherson said. "And if there's something important, it could be too late."

In a City Council meeting earlier this month, Johnson said he'd heard that the proposed ordinance may be related to a golf tournament his campaign sponsored several months earlier, and he welcomed council members to discuss the issue with him.

Christopherson said the council didn't begin discussing the ordinance because of the golf tournament, but when the mayor mentioned it, it raised questions about whether some donations have occurred that the public should know about.

"It's interesting to me that the mayor has so adamantly fought this when, candidly, it wouldn't have been an issue had he not vetoed it," he said.

Christopherson said he's requested a list of financial disclosures from the mayor, but he hasn't seen one yet.

Tiffany Janzen, Johnson's spokeswoman, said the mayor was not available for comment Tuesday, but she referred to a prepared statement shared on Facebook in which the mayor said reactions to his veto "misrepresent a transparency issue" in Taylorsville.

"I said on record I support adding additional campaign finance disclosure dates, but the dates must be workable," the mayor said, referring to an earlier council meeting when he'd spoken in support of a July deadline rather than a winter deadline.

In the ordinance the mayor vetoed, the City Council chose a deadline of 30 days after every November election.

"It makes the most sense to require the disclosure after a candidate has filed their declaration of candidacy (in June) rather than in December," the mayor said.

Councilman Dan Armstrong, who voted against the ordinance, agreed. He said the December deadline could give challengers an advantage over incumbents because they wouldn't be required to submit any reports until after candidacy deadlines in June.

Armstrong added that he believes the ordinance "doesn't have anything to do with transparency."

"It just has to do with timing," he said. "Everything that's reported would already be in reports required (under state law)."

The City Council is expected to discuss the ordinance again at 6 p.m. Wednesday, when the council can either vote to override the mayor's veto with a minimum of four votes or send the mayor a revised ordinance.

Christopherson said he expects a crowd of city residents to attend, gauging from public input he's received since the mayor's veto.

Councilwoman Kristie Overson said she's "not sure what will happen (Wednesday), but my goal is for the ordinance to pass."


Katie McKellar


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