Karen Denton has outrun the City Hall knife — and arrived at a full plate of new projects.
The director of Salt Lake City's Housing and Neighborhood Development (HAND) department, Denton saw her position move onto the chopping block in June. The City Council had to wring a balanced 2002 budget out of a long list of proposed cuts.
"I had pretty much been presented with the notion of 'Goodbye, it's been nice knowing you,' " Denton said.
During the week the City Council was to adopt the budget, Denton went out of town for a conference. The final session was "The Art of Deal-Structuring" — appropriate in a way since "that's what was going on" with staff positions back at the City-County Building.
After returning home, "I was looking at the newspaper to find out where I was." Her job had been funded only for another six months — and she was to (1) change into a special-projects administrator in the mayor's office and (2) find hidden money sources to fuel city programs.
"We desperately need help" prospecting for grants, said Deeda Seed, Mayor Rocky Anderson's chief of staff. The city has missed out on money simply because it didn't have the staff to write grant applications. And now Anderson is determined to tap the private foundations across the country that fund activities for youth, since the City Council trimmed the funding increase he wanted for Salt Lake youth programs. Instead of the mayor's recommended $300,000, the council authorized just $150,000 more for the after-school classes.
"The first matter of priority for (Denton), since we're so underfunded for the after-school programs, is working on grant proposals. She's going to be working on that right away," the mayor said last week.
Anderson also hopes to have another money-seeker: After sustained pleas from the administration, the City Council authorized another "grants acquisition and project coordinator" at $48,396 a year. Until now the city has had just one staffer, Kim Thomas, who spends all of her time scouring the country for all manner of grants.
The new position, green-lighted on June 14, is still in the advertising and interviewing stages. In the meantime Denton has picked up the grant-writing ball and is keeping it in the air with several other community projects. Topping that list is a prototype she's creating for "15-minute shopping," a cluster of development around the 2100 South TRAX station. Light-rail riders need quick shopping, a newsstand, quick restaurants, perhaps a quick dry cleaner and even a child-care center where they could pick up their children on the way home from work.
Other projects she's tackling: finding a building to serve as a cultural center for the Salt Lake Tibetan community; exploring open-space options for Library Square and writing a "visitability" ordinance that would require new housing to be accessible for disabled visitors.
So Denton still has a job — but possibly only for six more months. The City Council decided to stay her salary only till the beginning of next year. But she seems too busy to worry about what will happen in January. "I'm looking forward," she said, to instead "working with my colleagues in the mayor's office. It feels good."