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Conflict in Bluffdale: Call for mayor's resignation and heated comments about fire department

A sign at Bluffdale City Hall in Bluffdale on Nov. 3, 2020, encourages people to vote. Two recent conflicts are boiling over in Bluffdale city leadership.

A sign at Bluffdale City Hall in Bluffdale on Nov. 3, 2020, encourages people to vote. Two recent conflicts are boiling over in Bluffdale city leadership. (Deseret News)


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BLUFFDALE — Bluffdale's first City Council meeting since Mayor Natalie Hall's husband was charged with threatening her campaign opponent became heated Wednesday as some residents called for her resignation.

Residents also took issue with funding for the fire department after former Fire Chief Warren James resigned earlier this month, alleging he dealt with understaffing and difficulty getting city leaders to listen to his concerns.

"This is unacceptable. ... I'm embarrassed to live in Bluffdale," one resident said in an emotional plea to the council.

Andrew Ridd, a firefighter who said he worked for the Bluffdale Fire Department, but has since left to be a full-time firefighter at another department, spoke about the need for a full-time fire department.

"We are all working overtime shifts with other departments," Ridd said. "It takes 10-13 minutes to get to the department; that's enough time for me or my wife to die. ... That is unacceptable. We need to staff the fire department with a full-time staff so we can actually protect the citizens of our city."

In an email to KSL.com, Ridd noted that the 10-13 minutes is referencing the time to get to and from the closest fire department, since Bluffdale has had to shut down a station due to being short-staffed.

The final commenter of the night called for Hall's resignation, to which the mayor said that she would "continue to to the job (she) was elected to do." The call for the mayor's resignation was met with cheers, and her decision to stay was met with grumbles throughout the audience. Even so, Hall went on to say that she wanted to focus on the good.

"I am so grateful that we live in this country because it allows you to come tonight and say the things you did," Hall said. "Think about those freedoms. ... That is an amazing gift."

"Not all the facts have been made available. It is frustrating for me. I have already made a statement that my husband never made any death threats. I believe in the process. ... I will continue to do the job I was elected to do. ... I am really wanting to focus on the good and the positive. We have a new fire chief."

Jason Hall was charged last month with threatening an elected official, a third-degree felony; plus stalking and making threats to influence public action, class A misdemeanors. He is accused of sending threatening packages to her opponent in the race, City Councilman Jeffrey Gaston. Investigators said some of the messages included death threats.

Natalie Hall has defended her husband and denied he made threats of violence. In a Facebook post earlier this month, she said she was threatened and bullied first by a "member of the City Council" since 2020, the year Gaston joined the elected body. She did not mention his name in her social media post. Gaston was present at the meeting, sitting just two seats down.

Fire department understaffed?

Former Fire Chief Warren James, in a resignation email to city leaders this month, pointed to a tragedy in 1992 in South Jordan when five people died in a fire. That happened after South Jordan's then-fire chief had pleaded for full-time staffing and had that request rejected by the city.

Five months later, the department responded "shorthanded" to a fire, and "were delayed in making entry or rescue due to the limited number of personnel on duty," James wrote, according to the July 11 email provided to KSL.com. He said no one can know whether more staffing could've saved those lives, but that he believes it could have made a difference.

James said when he joined the Bluffdale department this year, he made leaders aware of "staffing challenges" that are causing stations and apparatus to be closed.

In 2020, former Fire Chief John Roberts was the subject of whistleblower complaints, some of which alleged he offered crew members double pay to sign up to work holidays but did not actually require them to work. Roberts signed a "separation" agreement with the city that allowed him to work for the city in the future in a different position.

About one year later, as Roberts ran for mayor against then-city employee Natalie Hall, city leaders issued a news release announcing a new investigation into Roberts' time as fire chief. Roberts contended the announcement was politically motivated and pointed to difficulties he faced staffing the department on holidays.

In his resignation letter, James noted that Roberts was "likely short-staffed" on a similar number of days during 2019 to what the department saw in 2020 and 2021. "So far in 2022 our daily staffing has been even worse than last year," James said.

But he said his department was not allowed to present its needs in four budget proposals for city leaders as City Manager Mark Reid prepared and presented the tentative budget "with no input from the fire department."

"In the final budget only a portion of our needs in one of those options were included in the budget you approved," James said, adding that nothing was included in the budget "to improve our daily staffing."

He said he tried to base the department's recommendations on "consensus standards and federal regulations" but that Reid and city finance director Bruce Kartchner did not believe him when he tried to let them know the challenges the department was facing. James pleaded with city leaders to trust the future fire chief and "trained professionals."

When reached for comment Wednesday evening, Reid said in an email the city has chosen and is appointing its new fire chief, Matt Evans.

"Chief Evans is confident that he can accomplish the needs of the city and is also confident that he has the support of management and council in making this happen. I have met with him and his command staff and have been impressed with their ideas for moving forward," Reid said.

Questions over mayor's pay

On July 12, KSL.com reached out to Hall regarding a resident's complaint that, after being elected as mayor, Hall received pay for some time worked before taking office at the beginning of 2022. Pointing to records she received through a records request, resident Connie Robbins — who ran for City Council last year but was not elected — contended that Hall received pay despite city policy not allowing it.

Reid, the city manager, asked the City Council to pass an ordinance that would allow for Hall to receive the pay, but the council rejected the ordinance.

Todd Sheeran, city attorney, said in a statement to KSL.com earlier this month that he found the question of whether she could receive the pay was "not clear under city policy because it's not clear when someone wins an election vs. being elected and taking the oath of office. Thus, at the direction of staff, I drafted the attached change to city policy to clarify, which was not approved."

"Ms. Hall worked some hours between Nov. 8 and 16. Based on my analysis of city policy, her working after Election Day but before certification of election results did not violate city policy and state code," Sheeran said.

The same day KSL.com contacted Hall for comment on the matter, she posted on her official Facebook page that she was asked "to come help hand off my responsibilities as emergency manager" after the election and that she had offered to work as a volunteer "but the city insisted on paying me for the hours I worked."

She said she worked 28.08 hours between Nov. 8 and Nov. 16.

"Today I got a call from a news station because a citizen is alleging that I was illegally paid after the election. My goal in going back to work was to continue to make sure the city was safe, and communications could resume. I refuse to let this be about money. I was willing to volunteer my time then, so I donated the money back to the city for those hours I worked," Hall said in the post, adding that she "will be working with the City Council to clarify and update our ordinances."

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Ashley Imlay covers state politics and breaking news for KSL.com. A lifelong Utahn, Ashley has also worked as a reporter for the Deseret News and is a graduate of Dixie State University.
Arianne Brown has been a contributing writer at KSL.com for many years with a focus of sharing heartwarming stories.

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