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Garff, Fowler confident about Games' success

The two men recently named to help oversee the 2002 Winter Games sound more sure than ever that they can make the Olympics successful after their first Salt Lake Organizing Committee Board of Trustees meeting.

SLOC Chairman Bob Garff and state Olympic Coordinator John Fowler sat at the same table during Thursday's six-hour session, which included an hourlong closed-door executive committee meeting.Garff, who formally assumed the chairmanship at the board meeting, was kept busy guiding the trustees through a long agenda. His appointment was announced just over a week ago by Gov. Mike Leavitt and Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini.

Fowler, hired nearly three weeks ago by the governor as the state's first full-time Olympic coordinator, attended as an observer rather than a participant. He is not a member of the board.

Together, the two are expected to help turn around the public's lack of confidence in the ability of Olympic organizers to keep the 2002 Winter Games from becoming an expensive failure.

Their appointments come at a time when support for the Olympics is at an all-time low. A

Deseret News poll found just over half of the Utahns polled now favor Salt Lake City hosting the Winter Games.

The organizing committee spent much of the summer on the front page, what with former SLOC President Tom Welch resigning after being charged with spouse abuse and former Chairman Frank Joklik taking over without a promised search.

Lately, questions have been raised about the $1 billion-plus budget for putting on the Olympics. Much of the money is to come from private sources, including corporate sponsors and television networks.

But if there isn't enough to pay all the bills, taxpayers are likely to have to come up with difference, a scenario everyone wants to avoid. How? More government oversight is being pitched as the answer.

And that's where Garff and Fowler come in.

"We must give the public some confidence in the budget. The citizens of this state have been told we're going to size the Games to our revenues. We have to keep that promise," Garff said.

He acknowledged feeling the weight of his responsibilities.

"I think the whole Olympic movement creates high expectations . . . Just the size of it is breathtaking. When you think how many eyes are on it, it creates some anxiety, too," he said.

Still, Garff said he was comfortable running Thursday's meeting, which was covered by four local television stations and included several lengthy debates.

He was, after all, speaker of the Utah House in 1985-86 and held other leadership positions during his eight years in the Legislature. Even though it's been more than a decade, he can still sound like a speaker.

Take the effort by Joklik to win a vote for himself as the president and chief executive officer of the organizing committee, which barely failed to win the needed two-thirds majority.

"That issue is mostly one of counting votes," Garff said. "We didn't get our (votes) there . . . It should be no negative reflection on Frank. We simply didn't do our homework."

Before Garff allows the issue to be raised again, he said he'll be sure he's got the votes lined up. "Away from the committee room, a leader has to be a leader," he said.

That doesn't mean, though, he'll try to influence debate during the meeting. "Once that gavel hits, as far as I'm concerned, it's complete neutrality. I have to be perceived as completely neutral," Garff said.

Garff can also sound like the car dealer he is. He runs the family's chain of dealerships from an office on State Street that overlooks a lot filled with Mercedes Benz sedans.

"I'm really optimistic . . . I think you have to be that way as a salesman," he said. "As long as you treat people right and fairly, you never have to worry about the product you sell."

Fowler's job is different. He's not selling the product, he's inspecting it - from the $1 billion budget to the smallest contracts between the state and the organizing committee.

Recently released as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Fowler is a certified public accountant with extensive experience.

He said his background should help alleviate public concern. "Candidly, with my background and experience, I'm hopeful that will happen," Fowler said, acknowledging he still has a lot to learn about state government.

"It's not just so much the politics, it's the interrelationships," he said. "I'm nervous about that because there's a lot there I need to understand better than I do."

He is confident in his ability to understand the workings of the organizing committee. Fowler noted that accountants have a professional obligation to leave a job if they doubt the intergrity of their clients.

That's not an issue with the organizing committee or its leader, Fowler said. "I have high regard for people who have done what Frank has done," he said, referring to Joklik's years as head of Kennecott Copper.

"Someone could criticize that kind of an attitude as being naive, but they wouldn't have had the experiences I had in the private sector," Fowler said, citing his respect for "great men of commerce who rise to high levels."

He also agreed that Joklik should be given a vote on the board of trustees and said he expressed that opinion to the governor. Both the governor and the mayor endorsed giving Joklik a vote.

"If I were Frank Joklik, I would expect it. I would demand it. It is (his) name and (his) reputation (he's) put on the line," Fowler said. "I feel strongly about that."

Fowler didn't speak out at the meeting and said he won't in the future, even though both Joklik and Garff have invited him to participate. He said he will communicate through the governor's representative on the board, Nolan Karras.