The Salt Lake City Council Tuesday night embraced its executive director and chastised a fellow council member who publicly criticized her.
The council passed a resolution in its weekly meeting praising the work of Cindy Gust-Jensen and admonishing council members not to engage in public criticism of staff.Councilman Keith Christensen proposed the resolution in response to comments made by Councilwoman Joanne Milner in a Deseret News story a few weeks ago.
He said official action was appropriate because the comments were defamatory and unsubstantiated and Gust-Jensen had no way to defend herself.
In a story published Jan. 7, Milner questioned whether the council director was "too cozy" with Mayor Deedee Corradini's administration after a list of ethics groups recommended by Milner were not contacted about investigating the mayor's acceptance of more than $200,000 from wealthy friends, some of whom do business with the city.
The deadline for applications to investigate the mayor was extended by the council after they discovered Milner's list wasn't included when applications were mailed out in late December.
Milner criticized the council for passing a resolution in response to the comments. She suggested instead that they issue a press release saying they disagreed with Milner's comments.
"At the time I made the statement to the press, I was acting as an independent council person responding to a question," Milner said. "I think we're setting a very petty precedent for public policy . . . The day we can't question is the day we don't have a healthy democratic process."
Christensen's resolution, which passed 6-1, also admonished council members with complaints or problems with staff to take those up with the council chairman.
Milner said she did that in this case in July of last year but that nothing came of the meeting. She said there was no procedural step that followed a meeting with the council chairman.
But the rest of the council wholeheartedly agreed with Christensen that council members ought to refrain from criticizing staff publicly.
"In the case of the mayor, the county attorney or even fellow council members, attacks are somewhat mitigated because these people have run for office," said Councilman Tom Godfrey.
Sam Souvall, another councilman, said the council had far more important business in front of it and public criticism just detracted from effectively working together.
"We can't allow anything to distract our focus . . . and this has been a distraction," Souvall said.
The deadline for applications for those interested in investigating the mayor's solicitation and acceptance of money to pay off a personal debt was originally set at Jan. 2. After the oversight was discovered, the council voted to allow applicants an additional two weeks from the Jan. 7 meeting.