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Mayor whips Springville into shape

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During just six months in office, Mayor Harold R. "Hal" Wing has asked enough questions to turn this Utah County town upside down.

Already Wing has left his mark all over city government, changing everything from the way Springville purchases lawn mowers to how it handles millions of dollars in public funds. The answers to some of Wing's initial questions as mayor led to firings and resignations, a remodeling of City Hall, a budget overhaul and a high-profile community discussion about art versus pornography."This was supposed to be a cutting ribbons and kissing babies kind of a job for $100 a week but it's turned out to be 18 hours a day of work," Wing said. "I just ask questions. That's just my management style."

Wing, 58, would have plenty to keep him busy even without putting out fires at the city administration building and fielding phone calls at 2 a.m. from disgruntled residents.

He is chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Wing Enterprises Inc., which manufactures telescoping combination step/extension ladders. He farms 65 acres of alfalfa and cares for cattle. He owns a golf driving range and a storage unit business, and he is preparing to open a car lot.

With all that, plus city meetings that he sometimes schedules as early as 6 a.m. or as late as 11 p.m., Wing sleeps only a couple of hours per night. He rarely talks to his wife, except on the telephone. He doesn't have time to ride motorcycles with his sons anymore, and he is sometimes forced to cut hay while riding on his tractor at midnight.

"I enjoy making things work, and I enjoy watching people grow to meet challenges," Wing said. "As long as we're moving the ball forward and making first downs, I don't have to get a touchdown every play."

Wing is confident he's providing the assertive leadership that he says the city lacked during the past several years. But that decisive style and a touch of eccentricity sometimes offend those who work with him.

Some residents have criticized Wing's decisions as mayor, like when he expressed opposition to the nude models who pose each Saturday for art students in a city-leased building.

In the end, most residents expressed support for the undraped models and the City Council gave approval for the classes to continue. Wing acquiesced, saying he hadn't really opposed the models but had only raised the question for residents to decide.

Whether they love him or hate him, those who pay attention agree that Wing has already made a dramatic impact on the city, and likely will continue to do so. He pledged to serve just one term, but at his current pace the entire function of city government will be altered by the end of his four years in office.

Perhaps the most difficult thing Wing had to do during his first half-year at City Hall was fire longtime City Recorder Doug Bird. Wing and Bird were classmates at Springville High School, and the mayor fired Bird just weeks before their 40th class reunion earlier this summer.

At the reunion, Wing received cold treatment from classmates who thought he had been too harsh on Bird, one of the most popular kids in school. Wing, however, didn't doubt himself.

"It was time for a change," Wing said. "I'm not saying anybody did anything wrong, but you always sweep the stairs from the top down.

"I have a philosophy of retraining or rehiring. I spent six months trying to retrain. After it didn't work, we rehired."

Springville hired one of its own employees, Jo Evans, as the new recorder. But that wasn't the only personnel change. City Councilman Ralph Hitchcock and City Attorney Harold Mitchell both resigned for unspecified reasons, although discomfort with the way Wing does things was probably among the chief causes.

In the wake of those departures, Wing surrounded himself with people amenable to his ideas. He appointed Rod Oldroyd to fill Hitchcock's seat, hired Lehi accountant Cameron Gunter as administrative services director and brought Gordon Miner over from Pleasant Grove as public works director.

Thus far, the new lineup seems to be functioning as smoothly as a championship-caliber team, with Wing at the head of the bench managing the players and equipment and cultivating support from the fans. Actually, Wing compares himself not to a coach or CEO, but to a judge who ensures that the jury - in this case, the City Council - can make a sound decision by guaranteeing that the rules are followed.

One of the first and most complicated questions Wing asked concerned the city's budget. He discovered that unapproved transfers between funds had been taking place for years, leaving Springville on shaky financial ground. He hired an outside auditor and appointed an ad hoc committee to help the City Council plug the holes and balance the city's books.

In addition, Wing ordered a remodeling of City Hall that included finishing offices and committee rooms in the basement. He installed a mayor's office and brought the Justice Courtroom and judge's chambers into compliance with state law by replacing a folding table with a judicial bench and adding some walls.

Using existing city materials and employees, or donating them himself from Wing Enterprises, the mayor was able to complete what would normally be an expensive remodeling job for almost nothing.

"You can get so much accomplished if you don't care who gets the credit," Wing said. "I don't care who gets the credit."

Maybe not, but Wing obviously revels in making things happen and being the center of attention. He cultivates media exposure like a professional, and he cuts a dramatic figure as he sashays about town. As with the personnel changes and nude modeling issue, Wing doesn't back away from controversy but seems instead to thrive on it.

Although once a less-than-self-confident boy who worked the fields with his father instead of playing ball with friends, Wing is now a successful businessman and powerful local figure who owns an expensive castlelike home in the foothills and drives a Porsche. Most kids in town know him as the "rich guy" who gives away king-size candy bars at Halloween. His legacy as mayor promises to be substantial.

"The greatest success in my mind is to see the support the majority of the people have given this administration," Wing said.