The 2002 Winter Games belong to the state, not Salt Lake City, Gov. Mike Leavitt told Salt Lake City Council members to explain why he had lawmakers take away their authority to appoint Olympic trustees.
Five of the seven council members met in Leavitt's office Tuesday, after legislation passed clarifying they do not have the legal power to ratify appointments to the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee board of trustees.Appointments to the Olympic board are made jointly by the governor and the mayor. The City Council had a city attorney's opinion stating they had the power to approve or reject the mayor's nominations.
In effect, that would have given the council veto power over all appointments, something the governor refused to accept even after a bill drafted at his request was killed in a Senate committee.
Leavitt's language was amended into another bill, which passed both the Senate and the House and now awaits his signature. With the bill about to become law, the governor called the meeting with the City Council.
Council Chairman Keith Christensen said he hoped the governor would further the city's goals of openness and diversity on the Olympic board. "Salt Lake City's name is on the Games. We have a very vested interest," he said.
Although Leavitt agreed there is a need to diversify membership on the Olympic board, he said Salt Lake City doesn't have any greater interest in the Winter Games than other cities throughout the state.
All local governments contributed a share of their sales taxes towards building Olympic facilities, Leavitt said. The state is spending a total of $59 million, half of that coming from local governments.
And, the governor said, it's the state that is taking the financial risk of hosting the $1 billion event. Lawmakers agreed several years ago to indemnify Salt Lake City against any losses.
"That was the role Salt Lake chose. They ceded to the state's financial and governance role," the governor said. "It could have been Park City (bidding) because the risk is borne by the state."
Councilwoman Deeda Seed said it's still Salt Lake City that will get the blame if the Olympics are not a success. "We viewed this as an attack on local government," she told the governor.
The issue surfaced last year, when the council sided with community groups pushing for more diversity on the Olympic board. The council endorsed the appointment of local activist Maria Garciaz and sent her name to the governor.
Leavitt has yet to appoint any trustees, other than naming former House Speaker Nolan Karras as his representative on the board. Six of the 28 members are up for reappointment.
The governor said now that the appointment issue is resolved, he and the mayor will name Olympic trustees within the next few weeks. He said he will recommend expanding the board to 30 members.
Although he did not suggest any names, Leavitt told the city council members Tuesday that they would be pleased with who he and the mayor select. He hinted that he will add at least one more woman to the board.
Currently there are two female Olympic trustees, and 26 of the 28 board members are white. Community groups representing ethnic and other minorities want more representation.