Salt Lake City Mayor-elect Jackie Biskupski
More than a month before taking the reins of Salt Lake City, mayor-elect Jackie Biskupski already has finished her first busy week at city hall.
On Monday, the former state legislator asked 34 city employees to resign. A day later, the City Council voted to give Biskupski and select members of her staff a stipend to help bankroll her transition to the city's top job.
While Biskupski characterized the move to ask for blanket resignation letters, which could also be read as a way of committing a blanket firing, as “common,” former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson, a vocal supporter of Biskupski’s campaign, called the move “arrogant.”
“Each of these resignations will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and, as soon as possible, I will determine whether to accept individual letters of resignation,” Biskupski said in a prepared statement. “Between now and then, the mayor-elect will begin the recruiting process for many appointed positions.”
Two appointed employees were spared from offering to resign their posts: interim Police Chief Mike Brown and Fire Chief Brian Dale. Biskupski said leaving these two men in their positions for the time being will help ensure continuity in public safety.
“I would like the opportunity to work with both of them to evaluate their performance and to determine whether they will support my vision for public safety,” Biskupski said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Biskupski’s effort to receive public funds to help pay for her transition into office succeeded when the council, in a straw vote that is expected to be written in stone on Dec. 8, to adopt a new ordinance dictating how much money incoming elected leaders can receive.
The council’s hasty adoption of the ordinance reflected a change of direction. At the Nov. 17 council meeting, the council, in a straw vote, denied any public funding to aid Biskupski’s transition.
The emergence of the ordinance, and conversely, the lack of an ordinance prior to this week, shows how rare it has been for Salt Lake City to provide cash to incoming elected officials—a practice that a city council staff report noted has occurred during the past two county mayoral transitions. The council voted 5-2 in favor of the ordinance, with council members James Rogers abstaining and Lisa Adams voting no.
Rogers said his lack of support was rooted in the timing of the ordinance, coming as it has on the heels of the election, and his belief that the public shouldn’t be paying the salaries of two mayors at the same time.
Council Chairman Luke Garrott said that a nominal amount of money spent to ensure that incoming elected officials can hit the ground running is money well spent.
Under the ordinance, incoming mayors, a chief of staff and a support staff member will receive 50 percent of their base salaries beginning the day after an election is certified. Biskupski had previously asked for $25,000 to pay for the transition. Incoming city council members will also be given 50 percent of their base salaries during the transition period.
“I believe it is in the best interests of the citizens of Salt Lake City that a public funding mechanism be made available to newly elected mayors and council members as they transition into their new roles,” Biskupski wrote in a prepared statement.
In addition to the 34 employees who were asked to resign, another 77 city employees hold appointed positions. Matthew Rojas, a spokesman for Biskupski, says decisions about the status of these 77 employees will be made after the mayor-elect starts her job.
That there are 111 positions in city government appointed by the mayor sparked some concern from the council on Tuesday. The prevailing reason for the large number of appointed employees, according to some council members, was to sweeten the benefits packages of these employees in order to lure them into civil service.
“We created a flaw in our system in order to either get around, or to fix, a compensation problem,” said District 3 Councilman Stan Penfold.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Biskupski had asked all 111 appointed employees to resign.