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A county’s catharsis

Corroon takes office, says scandals are a thing of the past

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New Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon addresses audience Monday.

New Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon addresses audience Monday.

Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News

Inauguration as catharsis.

That's what Salt Lake County's swearing-in ceremony Monday amounted to, in large part.

After several months of seemingly endless scandal and controversy, the change to a new administration and council marked a turning point — a chance to look beyond Guzzle-gate and Hire-gate and Sexual harassment-gate to a new beginning.

Several speakers, including new County Mayor Peter Corroon, outgoing acting mayor Alan Dayton, Auditor Sean Thomas, council members — heck, just about everybody — had a hard time containing their emotions.

"It's been a difficult year," Thomas said.

"We've gone through some really hard times," Councilman Michael Jensen said.

Dayton quoted from Johnny Cash's "Five Feet High and Rising," about a flood on the family farm, concluding that the song "describes what Salt Lake County has been going through."

With the frustration and turmoil stemming from the scandals — scandals that claimed former auditor Craig Sorensen, former Mayor Nancy Workman, mayor's counsel (and incoming state House Speaker) Greg Curtis and others — inexorably spilling out Monday, erstwhile presidential candidate Howard Dean, Corroon's first cousin, may have gotten more than he bargained for by attending the ceremony.

"What was interesting to me was the enormous emotion," Dean said afterward. "Obviously, Salt Lake County has been through a lot. . . . I didn't realize the terrible emotional trauma the county has been through."

Dean was one of many dignitaries in the audience, including Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson (and several other mayors), Congressman Rob Bishop, Scott Matheson Jr., former Gov. Cal Rampton and former city Mayor Ted Wilson.

With them and a few hundred others looking on in the overflowing County Council chambers, Corroon said scandals are a thing of the past.

"The citizens of Salt Lake County wanted a change at the top," he said. "They wanted a new direction and new priorities. They were ready to launch a new era with new faces and new politics."

Corroon said he would "restore trust and confidence" in county government by holding open meetings and putting the minutes on the Internet. He plans to open his own office to residents "on a regular basis, so I get their messages directly." He said he would be more visible in communities.

Corroon also vowed to strengthen ethics policies (the County Council recently passed a group of revamped ethics ordinances), protect open spaces, work to create a unified police authority — following the model of the Unified Fire Authority — follow recommendations of a jail overcrowding study, create new jobs and "protect taxpayer dollars."

While declining to categorically dismiss any possible tax raise, during the campaign Corroon promised to be conservative, starting with himself: At his urging, the council last month reduced the mayor's staff budget by 30 percent.

"Being mayor is not just a job, but a trust that has been given to me," he said.

Speakers went so far as to say that the county may wind up stronger as a result of the scandals. Dayton noted that the flood in the Johnny Cash song left a layer of rich black dirt on the fields.

"I truly hope that none of (the newly elected officials) will squander this moment — this opportunity . . . ," he said. "Goodbye and God bless. I hope God will bless this place."

E-mail: aedwards@desnews.com