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SUGARHOUSE AT CENTER OF POWER STRUGGLE

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Saying it's illegal and unwarranted, the Sugar House Park Authority is resisting a threatened takeover of its park by Salt Lake County or Salt Lake City.

The behind-the-scenes power struggle for one of the state's most popular community parks was confirmed last week by officials on both sides in the dispute, which has been smoldering for two years."They've asked us to dissolve the park authority and resign, but we have no intention of doing so," said C. Laird Snelgrove, president of the authority's five-member board of trustees. "There is no legal basis for it."

"It's a philosophical issue," said Brent H. Cameron, county community services director.

At stake is not only who will control the park but what kind of a park it will be. Attempts at compromise have already altered the character of the park by permitting moneymaking activities there for the first time in its history.

Located on the site of the old state territorial prison at 1500 E. 2100 South, Sugarhouse Park was created in 1957 by an agreement between the city and county. The two governments agreed to share the costs and leave the management to an independent board of trustees.

"The idea was to keep it free of political whims, as it has now for 36 years," Snelgrove said.

He said the situation changed in 1991, when city and county officials decided they could generate some revenues by holding a Christmas lights show at the park.

"We turned them down because we didn't know anything about the promoter or the program, and we had never before fostered or encouraged anything of a commercial nature," Snelgrove said.

The city and county then demanded that the trustees change their vote, which they did a year later, after satisfying themselves that the program was legitimate and worthwhile. However, the fallout from the confrontation continued.

"It raised the question in our mind: We are independent and have been for 36 years. Does this mean we will be subject to political dictates from now on?" Snelgrove said.

While conceding that one of the county's goals is to increase revenues through appropriate activities, Cameron said accountability is the driving force behind the takeover bid.