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41 staffers gone? Rocky admits to making 'hiring mistakes'

Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson makes his apology for recent problems that lost him two friends.
Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson makes his apology for recent problems that lost him two friends.
Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

The words "I'm sorry" and "I've made mistakes" came from Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson's lips Friday — but it didn't seem quite enough to appease his most vocal critic.

Anderson acknowledged Friday "I've made hiring mistakes" — an admission that came a day after the Deseret Morning News was given city records showing 41 people have either been fired from the mayor's office or resigned during Anderson's nearly six years in office.

The mayor, who did not take questions, also admitted to some mismanagement in how he handled personnel issues.

"I've made mistakes in the way I've handled things when it became apparent that some city employees were not getting the job done," Anderson said.

It was not clear if that was a reference to six months ago when the mayor asked the City Council for $50,000 to help his friend and now fired communications manager do her job.

That was in February when Anderson had his chief of staff Sam Guevara ask the City Council to fund a new position that would assist communications director Deeda Seed in writing press releases and planning press conferences, among several other duties.

Anderson fired Seed last week for doing her work "half-heartedly and sloppily," claiming she hadn't done a good job during her entire tenure at City Hall other than the first year of her stint as Anderson's chief of staff.

Seed maintains she was a good employee who was verbally abused by a boss who expected her to do the work of two people.

"That's not good enough," Seed said after the mayor's apology. "He said I was a bad employee."

The mayor's press conference came on the same day the Deseret Morning News received a public opinion poll showing Anderson's chances of being re-elected are slipping and a majority of Salt Lake City residents don't like his "political style."

"He's taking it in the shorts," pollster Dan Jones said of the numbers he produced this week for the Morning News. "But he brings a lot of that on himself."

Anderson did say he had lost two good friends during his frequent fights with Seed. Christy Cordwell, Anderson's longtime assistant who kept an office between Seed and the mayor, resigned last week as well after growing tired of listening to the fights.

"I've lost two good friends as a result of this recent ordeal, and I truly wish them the very best I hope that someday we can renew those friendships," Anderson said. "If I became impatient, if I became frustrated, if I said or did anything that hurt or caused anxiety to anyone, I'm sorry. I wish things had turned out differently. I will continue to demand the very best from those that are paid by taxpayers, and I will continue to do my best for the people of this great city."

City insiders are divided on whether the $50,000 request back in February supports Anderson's claim that Seed didn't do a good job or the request hurts the mayor's claim.

On the one hand, the request could show that Seed wasn't pulling her weight and needed an assistant to help her. But that argument would mean Anderson was willing to spend $50,000 in tax dollars to subsidize a bad employee who was his friend.

The other argument bolsters Seed's contention that she was a good employee and that the mayor just expected more from a communications director than was possible for one person.

That contention is backed by the fact that Anderson, when his friend Josh Ewing was his communications director, actually hired another employee to assist in minority affairs and help with Ewing's workload. However, the following year when Seed came on, the position was eliminated.

"I definitely was managing a workload that could have been handled by two normal people," Seed said.

Seed can rattle off a list of successful city programs she devised as communications director. Salt Lake City Reads Together, the mayor's "Freedom Forums," SLC Gets Fit Together and the Bridging the Religious Divide effort were all crafted under her direction.

While Guevara tried to downplay the notion that the mayor wanted the new position because Seed couldn't handle her workload, a written communication from Guevara to the council back in February indicated the position was needed to help Seed.

According to that letter, the new employee would, among other duties, "work closely with the communications director to assist with writing critical press releases, letters and speeches for the mayor's office."

The new employee would also "assist with preparation for press conferences and other public access gatherings in conjunction with our SLCTV broadcasting of events."

Guevara reports Anderson had concerns about Seed's performance for months, saying the mayor kept her on only because she was his friend.

"I do know that he kept her on longer because he thought she was a friend," Guevara said.

The thought that Anderson would retain an employee who wasn't competent out of friendship and would ask for $50,000 to, in part, be an assistant to that poor-performing friend raised some eyebrows in City Hall.

Still, City Council members say they rejected the $50,000 request, not for any connection to Seed, but because they felt uneasy about letting Anderson expand his office and promotional capabilities.

"I would hope that they wouldn't pay somebody $70,000 a year that couldn't do the job," council member Dave Buhler said.

Most council members said they didn't think Seed was incompetent but rather that Anderson has an unrealistic expectation of what one person can do.

"The mayor's pretty high maintenance for any communications person," councilwoman Nancy Saxton said.