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Minnesota Jesse, meet Utah's Dan
Wacky Murray mayor makes even Ventura look dull

MURRAY -- Dan Snarr knelt and kissed the polluted ground at the old smelter site. Then he stood, wiped the dirt from his lips and proclaimed that he was "kissing the first bit of arsenic and lead out of the ground and at the same time kissing the project on its way."

It was a typical flamboyant act for Murray's outspoken mayor, a professional landscaper with a soft spot for cats and Harley-Davidsons.He likes to portray himself as sincere but silly, so weird, as he calls himself, he makes Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura look dull.

"Goofy," is how his chief of staff fondly describes him. But don't confuse goofy with dumb, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli added.

His ding-a-ling ideas are part of his charm, she added. "It's his style that takes government to the people."

After 1 1/2 years in office, the character of Dan Snarr is becoming clearer. He rides Harleys, writes children's books, recites poetry and keeps a ratty, old denim jacket hanging on the wall of his office at City Hall.

He's an unpolished politician whom supporters find refreshing. But his actions cause some people to wince.

"When he got down on his hands and knees and kissed the ground in front of (Rep.) Merrill Cook and Sen. Bob Bennett, I was real embarrassed," said Councilman Leon Robertson, who lost the mayor's race in the 1997 election. Snarr had stolen the show, he added.

The smelter site cleanup, which began last summer, was an effort that started long before Snarr took office, Robertson said. Yet Snarr drew the media's attention.

His latest stunt made a splash: A flip off the diving board at the May 28 opening ceremony of the city pool.

But it was Councilman John Rush who made Snarr blush. At last week's council meeting, Rush penciled 6 on a piece of paper, held it up to the audience and exclaimed Snarr scored a perfect "6" for execution but "0" for style.

Even Snarr's critics acknowledge that he is a hard worker and not motivated by political ambition.

Born to work

Above Snarr's desk hangs that ratty, old Levi's jacket encased in a glass frame. It's an odd thing to find in the mayor's office but truly reflects his style.

"It's really me," Snarr said. "It may be worn, torn and threadbare, but it still rendered good service."

He wore the jacket for 22 years while he ran Snarr Brothers, a commercial landscaping business he owns with his cousin, Ron Snarr. When he wore it to high-brow luncheons it caused his family to blush. One day, his family "kidnapped" it.

"He got so sick, it was like he lost his best friend," said his wife, April. So on Valentine's Day, the family presented it to him -- framed. That way he wouldn't be able to wear it.

"He's been tempted to take it out," his wife said, laughing.

One of the most difficult things for the 49-year-old mayor is having to wear a suit. Yet his conservative pinstripes do little to dampen his exuberant personality.

Snarr is the second oldest of five children of Alma and Harriet Snarr. His great-grandfather settled in Murray in the 1850s. Dan himself grew up in the East Mill Creek area, but he enjoyed the visits to his grandfather's farm.

Today, most of Snarr's extended family lives around the ancestral homestead. The mayor calls the neighborhood "Snarrville."

As a boy, his Mill Creek neighbors included Scott Howell, Utah's current Senate minority leader.

"Dan Snarr was the first in our neighborhood to have a (Yamaha) motorcycle," Howell recalled. "We were all envious."

Philanthropist and jewelry store owner O.C. Tanner lived nearby, and he hired Snarr when he was 14 -- doing yard work at Tanner's office on State Street.

He was a busy kid, his mother says. He was the one who said, "Let's get the house cleaned up."

When he was 3, he helped a neighbor weed his garden, Harriet Snarr said. The man asked him why he was doing this. The boy replied, "I was just born to work."

At Skyline High School, Snarr was a pole vaulter on the track team. He played soccer and wrestled, Harriet Snarr added. He graduated in 1968, started college, served 11 months on active duty with the Special Forces of the U.S. Army Green Berets and a two-year LDS mission to Scotland. Finally, he returned home and eventually received an organizational communications degree, with honors, from the University of Utah in 1975, working four part-time jobs to finance it.

His father, a contractor/building inspector, died of multiple sclerosis when Snarr was 19. Snarr himself has five children in 26 years of marriage to April. Their oldest daughter, Heather, recently gave birth to their first grandchild.

He went into landscaping with his cousin in 1976. They call their business Snarr Brothers Inc., because, Snarr said, they're so close.

"He's my closest friend," Ron Snarr said.

Snarr wouldn't have predicted he'd be in politics. His sister, Rep. Trisha Beck, D-Sandy, didn't think she would, either. Then again, holding back on what they believe is right is not the Snarr style.

Both came into politics at the same time. Beck accepted an appointment with the state Legislature in 1997, when Snarr decided to run for mayor. It shocked their mother, who worried about the criticism they would encounter in office.

"I wasn't very happy," she said.

Beck, whose son has Down syndrome, became a child advocate. The future of today's youth is what motivated Snarr, too.

"He was the dark horse," Pignanelli recalled. But strong support from "Snarrville" got him through the primary into the general election against Councilman Leon Robertson. Snarr won by 260 votes.

When Pignanelli agreed to run his campaign, she told Snarr that he would have to work 20 times harder. She also demanded to know what motivated him.

" 'The kids,' he said. I'm running for the kids,' " Pignanelli said.

Snarr grew up around Democrats. But he eschews labels and calls himself a "Republi-crat" to signify he's a free thinker who belongs to no party.

That's fine, his sister says. But "I wish he would call himself a "Demo-can."

Free-spirit style

Snarr takes a wacky approach to solving problems.

When a residential neighborhood complained about speeders, Snarr was like a scolding parent. (It turned out they were the ones speeding, Snarr said.) Armed with a radar speeding sign, he stood on a street corner, with his own handmade sign: "Mayor Snarr and City Council thank you for obeying the speed limit." He gave motorists the thumbs-up for slowing down and shook a finger at those who were driving too fast.

He likes to recite this poem, which he wrote:

"When you're driving through Murray

Don't be in such a hurry

Slow down and spend a buck or two

That would be a nice thing for you to do

It would help our tax coffers swell

So our city won't go to hell."

Snarr leaves answering machine messages that rhyme, too, Howell said.

He draws attention when he rides his Harley, a 1997 Electric Glide Classic. He likes to show it off to schoolchildren.

"This is my psychiatrist," he told students at Creekside High School last month. "After being in the office all day I take my Harley for a ride."

Snarr told them he's planning to wear a kilt when he rides his Harley in the Fourth of July parade.

"We love his personality," said Carrie Goldsmith, platelet organizer for the American Red Cross Services in Murray. Snarr donates platelets there once a month. He comes dressed in leather, with his Harley parked outside.

His cat, Carley, inspired him to write a children's book.

"I went out in the garage and there's my cat, Carley, sitting on my Harley," Snarr said. "I talk to my cat, so I said, 'Carley, you gonna take my Harley for a ride?' " Then he began to write a book, which he loves to read out loud, where eight animals join him on a Harley ride to Sturgis, S.D., for a big Harley rally. His sister-in-law, Shelly Cox, is the illustrator. They hope to find a publisher.

Snarr has a boylike wonder about him, city officials say. He speaks his mind and at any moment can become teary-eyed, even when he's delivering his budget message.

Speaking off the cuff is a Snarr trait, Beck said.

To a chief of staff that kind of honesty can be frustrating, Pignanelli admits. But they make a good team, she added. "He says, 'This is what I'm going to do.' And I figure out how we're going to pull it off."

The result is a wackiness that residents find refreshing.

"I enjoy the breath of fresh air," said resident Rebby Diehl. "Some people find that candor offensive."

Some residents look beyond the silliness.

"He's a neophyte in politics. But he's trying to do a good job," Bruce Smith said.

Historic smokestacks

Snarr stepped into the spotlight at the time when city officials were working on cleaning up the contaminated smelter site off State Street at 5300 South. Plans are under way for a billion-dollar redevelopment that would include major retail stores, big-screen theater and restaurants. But the smokestacks stand in the way.

Snarr's been open about where he stands on the issue: He'd love to see them saved, but Snarr doesn't think it's a good investment.

"The money would be better spent to address the infrastructure needs," Snarr said. "I don't want the city to own the chimneys."

Snarr jokes about blowing down the chimneys himself. After all, he was a demolition expert in the Army.

In all seriousness, Snarr said he values Murray's history. He wants to memorialize the smelter history, perhaps with a display at a proposed Murray light-rail station near the site.

Supporters say they like Snarr's progressive vision for Murray. But it's that same vision that has some longtime residents worried.

Few are willing to speak ill of Snarr on the record, and even if they don't like his ideas they like him. However, critics say he's moving outside Murray's establishment and going too fast for its comfort.

Snarr wants a citywide fiber optics system to retain and attract high-tech businesses, but critics fear it would lead to large spending increases. He also wants to change a long-standing system whereby residents rent garbage cans from the city but don't pay to have the trash collected.

If residents paid for garbage collection, Murray could afford a recreation center for kids, Snarr said. Not everybody agrees with the idea.

Snarr says he wants to make "Murray the best city in America."

Murray School District President Mildred Horton said Snarr doesn't give lip service to this motto. "He looks at anything he can to improve the city. What's good for Murray he's willing to put his neck out and make it work."

Pignanelli agrees.

"He's absolutely hands-on," she said. He's created the Blue Ribbon Commission on Seniors that surveyed seniors to find out what kinds of services they want in Murray. The group has put together a list of recommendations that are being implemented, Pignanelli added.

He speaks to students on how to make a difference in the community, as part of his "In the School Program."

Snarr does this because he really loves Murray, Howell said. "Danny is what constituents and the citizenry are looking for in elected officials," he added. "He's honest, good thinking and moral."