clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Games back on right track, Leavitt says

Be cool, everybody. Stay calm.

There have been some "disruptions" on the road to the 2002 Olympics, but Utah has a new team, a new commitment and a fresh start, Gov. Mike Leavitt announced Thursday.And he's in control.

For several weeks, Leavitt has hinted he would publicly assure Utahns he is closely watching over the Olympic Games and the road Utah will travel to get there in more than four years.

Turmoil in Olympic leadership is fresh in the public eye. Commentary about former Olympic chairman Tom Welch's domestic prob-lems and ensuing severance package are still a hot subject on local radio and in street con-ver-sation.

He's watching, and he'll take action if he has to.

Leavitt told listeners of his "Let Me Speak to the Governor" radio show that the state's role is to monitor, not manage, day-to-day operations of the Games. The board and leadership will deal with problems that arise. "If they do not, I will intervene with intensifying force until corrective action has been taken."

The public certaintly is interested in Olympic concerns.

"They're already calling," a KSL producer announced in the studio several minutes before the governor's program aired Thursday.

Host Doug Wright kicked off the program by summarizing public sentiment. "Governor, the natives are a little restless" about the Olympics.

There have been some "controversies," Wright said. There are new faces among organizers, and news broke this week about President Clinton's line-item veto in a bill that may effect funding of the 2002 Olympic Village.

Nevertheless, before answering questions Leavitt read a 20-minute prepared statement that walked listeners through some background, his recent appointments to leadership, how the games will be paid for, and how they will be good for Utah.

"There will be nothing quite like it when the Olympics are here," he said. "Magnify the euphoria of the Jazz playing in the NBA finals 100-fold. We decorated our houses and celebrated in the streets. We rose up spontaneously behind the Jazz and we united."

The same should happen with the Olympics, he said.

But callers had several questions. Steven Pace, a critic of the Olympic process, referred to a Deseret News poll that showed 77 percent of Utahns believe "this deal stinks."

"How can you ask people to be confident in the face of this breakdown?" Pace asked.

In answer Leavitt reiterated several points from his prepared statement, adding that "it is important we have critics - and we will."

Safeguards are now in place to assure the Games advance properly, he said. Capable trustees have been appointed, a national accounting firm will do regular audits of the Game finances, the new Olympic coordinator is in place and the state will monitor the process.

Taxpayers: Have no fear, he said. The Olympics won't be bigger than Utah can afford. "The people of Utah approved our investment and involvement with the understanding and assurance that the Games would be operated within available revenues.

He won't approve an excessive Olympic budget, he said. "And as governor, I will not appoint or reappoint a trustee who will not commit to this basic principle."

Last week, Leavitt and Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini picked Robert Garff to head the Salt Lake Organizing Committee Board of Trustees. Leavitt also recently selected John Fowler to coordinate the Olympics for the state.

The board of trustees recently elected Frank Joklik as chief executive officer and president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.

"Regrettable circumstances" caused the changes, but they've also provided a new opportunity.

Utah Senate President Lane Beattie, R-West Bountiful, helped Leavitt field Olympic questions.

Another caller said she can see why Beattie and Leavitt would want the Games in Utah - as public officials they will be able to attend events the average Utahn can't afford. "Why should Joe Q. Public want them here?" she asked. "You'll be invited guests," but most Utahns will only see more congestion, increased taxes and traffic.

Leavitt answered that the benefits will transcend seeing events in person. Utah children will see people of different cultures, and Utah will benefit by having world-wide exposure.

"This will benefit us literally for generations, both economically and culturally," Leavitt said. In his prepared statement, he asked Utahns to have confidence in the process.

Beattie said he's heard these same concerns from residents throughout the state, and that lawmakers are watching the process closely.

"We have the same concerns, and we are confident that the correct procedures are now in place," he said.

Leavitt issued two challenges. First, he told the Olympic Committee to make the process public and let the community "lighten" the load. "Focus on the Games. Do the job. Remember, it is not the committee who will welcome the world, it is Utah."

And to the people of Utah: Remember your pioneer history. "We are doers and builders who decided we wanted the Olympic Games and worked until we got them."