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CITY COUNCIL SHOULD HAVE RDA ADVISORY COMMITTEE

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A sense of discontent over the mayor's role, or rather lack of a role, in the Salt Lake Redevelopment Agency has rumbled beneath the surface for many years - going back before the time of Mayor Palmer DePaulis. But in recent months, the problem has escalated into an open fight.

The breach between DePaulis and several members of the City Council is not confined to the RDA question, but seems to be - at least in part - a clash of personalities that tends to exacerbate political issues.That is unfortunate because it clouds and complicates the questions at hand.

Redevelopment agencies were authorized by the Legislature in Utah 20 years ago. In Salt Lake City's case, the law is being applied to a different form of city government than the city originally used. This change has, in effect, left the mayor out in the cold.

Under the law, the City Council serves as the governing body of the RDA, setting policy, deciding questions, over-seeing operations, doing the hiring and firing, and generally taking care of all RDA functions.

DePaulis, with some justification, complains that the mayor has no role and no input, even over operations, though he is essentially the executive branch of city government.

He wants the law changed so that the council sets policy and decides issues, but the mayor runs the operation and has veto power, a veto that the council can override with enough votes.

In short, he wants separation of powers to apply to the RDA like it does in other aspects of government.

However, state lawmakers may be reluctant to get into the RDA issue, at least based only on DePaulis' running battle with some members of the City Council.

There needs to be broader support for making changes. If the League of Cities and Towns, for example, would back such a change, lawmakers might be more inclined to consider the problem.

Yet there is another reason to hesitate. Utah RDAs generally have been viewed with distaste by many conservatives who are opposed to the broad powers of the agency, especially the power to condemn property.

Opening up the RDA question in the Legislature might lead to attempts to change the basic law in ways beyond that sought by DePaulis.

The mayor earlier asked that the City Council allow a redevelopment advisory committee to advise the RDA and allow some input by experts and other citizens in the RDA decision-making process.

Perhaps influenced by their basic conflicts with the mayor, and fearing that he might stack such a committee with his own appointees, a majority of the council rejected the idea of an advisory committee.

That was a mistake. There is nothing threatening about an advisory committee. All kinds of other government groups are served very well by citizen advisory committees.

The council ought to establish an advisory group. It could lessen some of the tension between the mayor and certain council members over RDA issues.

As for reforming the RDA law to give the mayor a role, that deserves state consideration, but only if DePaulis can persuade other major groups to back his plea so that it does not look like a personality clash between the mayor and some members of the City Council.