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Provo voters wonder who will assist the new mayor

Residents are wondering not only what Provo's two mayoral candidates would bring to City Hall but who.

It's a no-brainer that either Karl J. Thalman or Lewis K. Billings will be the city's next mayor.But the question on the minds of some voters is who will be second in command to the city's new chief executive. Rumors have swirled as to whom Billings and Thalman would appoint as chief administrative officer.

Outgoing Mayor George Stewart's name came up first. Billings served as Stewart's chief administrative officer for three years. Word was the two would switch roles for the next four years should Billings win.

Billings said nothing could be further from the truth.

"I'm not sure where that kind of rumor comes from," he said. "It was never discussed." Billings, a self-employed real-estate investor, intends to conduct a nationwide search for a person with professional management experience.

Stewart has no interest in playing second fiddle and intends to return to the private sector when his one and only term expires in January. Stewart steps aside saying he accomplished what he set out to do as mayor.

Billings and Thalman out-polled three other candidates in the primary election to get on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Who Thalman has in mind for the chief administrative officer job also didn't escape supposition. Often-controversial Councilwoman Shari Holweg was a shoo-in, according to the rumor mill. Thalman, a City Council member, made it clear this past week that he will not appoint any member of the council.

"I've made no promises to anyone," Thalman said. Like Billings, he plans to hunt for a qualified administrator, a point he makes even on campaign fliers.

What Thalman, a University Avenue jeweler, has vowed is to change what he perceives as a negative image of Provo. He said he's tired of Salt Lake radio stations making fun of Provo.

He's embarrassed by the way the current administration, of which Billings was a part, seems to invite controversy.

"I've lived here all my life, and I can't remember an administration that has caused more emotional problems and not been able to handle them," said the 68-year-old Thalman.

Thalman considers himself the anti-Stewart. "I am the opposite of what you've had the past four years," he told the Kiwanis Club last week.

Truth be told, most Provo residents probably favor the moral stands Stewart took on issues such as closing the Veterans Swimming Pool on Sundays or trying to boot a strip club from downtown. But people don't always like the way he goes about things.

But Billings isn't Stewart. The two are not interchangeable, though Billings says electing him would provide continuity. He applauds the mayor's and City Council's accomplishments the past four years, including construction of a new shopping mall, additional funding for public safety and resolution to the Academy Square issue. He wants to see those projects through.

Billings, 41, said he knows it's important to listen, something Stewart was criticized as not doing. He said he doesn't have all the answers.

"I don't think it's possible to give everyone everything they want," he said. "But I believe people deserve to be heard."

The Thalman camp has accused Billings, a former Utah County Republican Party chairman, of calling in the GOP machine to bolster his campaign. They say he's trying to turn the campaign into a partisan affair. True, Billings sent letters before the Oct. 7 primary to people who are involved in the party. The letter, however, states the race is nonpartisan.

"I've called in the people I know. If some of them are Republicans, so be it. Karl has called in his country-club friends," Billings said.

Thalman, a former Utah Golf Association president, has close ties with Riverside Country Club members.

Both candidates say they have what it takes to oversee Utah's third-largest city. Billings because he did it for three years. And Thalman because of his City Council experience the past four years.