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Council, mayor fight over turf

In the playground of power in Salt Lake County's new form of government, there's a squabble brewing over who gets the first turn at the toys up for grabs.

From the get-go, it has been Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman's office that has made it perfectly clear the management and siting of the Hansen Planetarium is an executive decision.

Her partner on the playing field, the nine-member Salt Lake County Council, controls the checkbook and only that.

That's been the message repeatedly sent to the council in this tug-of-war over the fate of the 36-year-old planetarium, a message some councilors are seriously beginning to doubt.

Although he stopped short Tuesday of accusing the mayor's office of deliberately misleading them, County Council member Joe Hatch said there had been a lack of information presented to the council about the options. "Very clearly the mayor's office doesn't shine the light for us. We've been told this is it, here it us, we should accept it and do it."

At issue is a pending management contract the county has with the Children's Museum of Utah to take the reins of the planetarium. Implicit in that proposed management agreement is the linking of the two institutions in a $20 million investment that isn't attractive to many members of the County Council.

Although the contract isn't site-specific, museum officials have said they'd probably bow out of managing the planetarium if the Gateway proposal fails.

In this new era of getting to know each other's roles, the County Council has been reluctant to offend Workman.

However, Tuesday during an impromptu discussion by the County Council about who has the power to do what over the future of the planetarium, a discussion ruffled a member of the mayor's staff and had him on the defensive.

"We've been operating under the assumption that our authority is only the budgetary authority," Hatch said. "In light of research, we have far greater authority than was the previous assumption." Hatch used a 1988 amendment to the state law on the control of the planetarium that he says allows the county's legislative body to exercise authority over management, siting and funding of the institution.

"When we were just elected, but before we took office, it was made clear the big question and the only question was, 'Do we bond?' Everything else is the mayor's prerogative," Hatch told chief administrative officer David Marshall. "As time goes by, I learn the management and the proper siting, if we so choose, is something we can have an active role in. We can dictate management aspects."

Marshall said the decision to hand over a management contract to the Children's Museum was made by a legislative body and executive body — the Salt Lake County Commission.

Until the County Council formally rescinds that decision, it stands. "I think we were very honest. I hope you don't think otherwise." Irritated over the issue, Marshall also threw out a jab that if the Council wants to manage the planetarium, it should go ahead and try. "Do you want to manage the planetarium? You just tell me which one of your administrative assistants is in charge and we'll be done with it."

Marshall was taking a jab at the slow process of getting the part-time County Council organized on a daily basis through its administrative assistants who've all been on separate fact-finding missions.

Afterward, Hatch conceded the ambiguity in the state law and county ordinance may lend some merit to Marshall's argument, but he wasn't convinced everything was on the up and up.

"It may be true, but it is how you shine the light. If you do not know you have the option of revisiting it, you don't. The questions are never asked if you don't know they are there. Then, the issue never comes up. No one has ever said we could revisit it."


E-MAIL: amyjoi@desnews.com