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North S.L. mayor fights for property

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NORTH SALT LAKE — Small city. Not a "small-town" mayor.

While state and local officials are known to bully and block efforts of Salt Lake City's mayor, they usually join as a group. Wednesday, North Salt Lake Mayor Kay Briggs, on his own, made a commanding move to protect what he said were the interests of his constituency.

Yes, others were supporting him, but Briggs took the action, accusing Rocky Anderson of lies, political posturing and half-truths in a battle about open space.

The scene: A rally at Library Square in downtown Salt Lake City.

The issue: Foothill property that North Salt Lake owns. The city wants to develop a portion of the property, located atop the foothills that straddle the Salt Lake/Davis county line. The land is within Salt Lake City's boundaries and jurisdiction. Before the Wednesday rally, Anderson gave Briggs a letter that outlined his plans to condemn the land.

Condemning the land might allow Salt Lake City to purchase the land and forever preserve it as open space.

"What you've got here is robbery and hypocrisy," said Briggs at the time, standing above a gathering of reporters, white hair and booming voice marking his position in the crowd. "I went up there yesterday and took pictures of your hill. You can find more backhoes and 'no trespassing' signs than you'll ever find on ours."

One day later, Anderson said Briggs was less than "cordial" and honest with his words.

"I know on the merits that they don't like what I'm doing, but when it comes to personal relationships, I've always endeavored to be civil and cordial," said Anderson. "I think there's a difference between taking a stand on the issues and taking personal potshots."

Those who know Briggs say he's nothing but a gentleman who "has a very high level of integrity."

Is he passionate? Yes.

"Mr. Anderson may think he's the mayor of the bigger city, but I quite frankly see us as equals," said Briggs during an interview Thursday. "I don't think the 800-pound gorilla has the right to sit on, squash nor desecrate the smaller counties and communities within his county." And North Salt Lake is in Davis County, not Salt Lake County.

In person, Briggs is engaging and charismatic as he discusses the issue. The 62-year-old mayor emphasizes his talk with his hands, telling stories of his daily runs — or "shuffles" through the city. Thursday, his run was into the open space in dispute.

"I spend a lot of time going across open space, and I enjoy open space," said Briggs. With hands adding emphasis, he tells of his professional and life experience. He grew up in Sugar City, Idaho, attended Ricks College as a basketball player and later received post-graduate degrees from Brigham Young University.

For 10 years, Briggs worked for Exxon, then known as Standard-Oil New Jersey. He fought against the Alaskan pipeline, worked in Venezuela on a clean-air car project.

Currently, Briggs works for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as managing director for temporal affairs. His experiences have taken him to many of the world's locations: service as an LDS mission president in Puerto Rico. Six years in Argentina. Five years in New York. Toronto, Canada. The Avenues of Salt Lake City.

"If there's anyone here that wants to fight and go for good stuff, I think that's me," said Briggs, a well-recognized picture of George Washington praying beside his horse in the background. "I have a great support for proper development of that hill. I'm a great supporter of allowing us to use trails."

Said Briggs' wife, Cheryl: "He's never in something for what he looks like. That's not ever his purpose. If he thinks something is right, he stands up for that. He just doesn't twist to someone's way."

Briggs' plan for the 100 acres of open space in dispute is to build on 30 acres. Of that land, 20 would be used for housing; 10 for a cemetery. The city has applied for funding through the LeRay McAllister Fund to preserve the remaining acres as open space.

There is doubt, however, whether the city's plan to both partially preserve and develop will be fruitful. Both sides are aiming for court, and North Salt Lake has a significantly smaller budget.

Juan Arce-Laretta, a North Salt Lake resident and opponent of Briggs' plan, said the cost of developing the land is too great. He plans to run for mayor against Briggs in November.

"I think he feels he's doing what is in the best interest of the residents of North Salt Lake," said Arce-Laretta. "That being said, I think that he has been relatively unwilling to sincerely entertain the thought of preserving the entire 80 acres, or even participating in an effort to gain a sense of what his constituency wants."

Briggs shrugs off the criticism. If he loses, he loses.

"This is a city we love, and we want it to be done right," he said, "but that's the beauty of democracy. If the people of the city say they want a different mayor, they can have one."

Contributing: Kersten Swinyard

E-mail: nwarburton@desnews.com