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Rocky flays Saxton over building permit

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This property, located at 518 Katona Court in Salt Lake City, is the center of dispute. The home does not meet city code.

This property, located at 518 Katona Court in Salt Lake City, is the center of dispute. The home does not meet city code.

Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News

Mayor Rocky Anderson has taken aim at Nancy Saxton over what he calls an inappropriate and prejudicial attempt by the Salt Lake City councilwoman to influence the building-permit process.

In a letter from Anderson to Saxton, the mayor chastises the councilwoman for getting involved in a building-permit matter for an unfinished home within her district. Saxton's involvement "clearly violated the design and intent of the city's permit process and is deeply contrary to the city's core values," Anderson wrote.

The letter, dated Sept. 7, was obtained Tuesday by the Deseret Morning News through a Government Records and Management Act request.

At issue is a conversation Saxton had with city building official Orion Goff about an unfinished single-family dwelling at 518 Koneta Court. The property has been the subject of controversy since 2002, when it was purchased by James S. Bean.

The house, which Saxton describes as "mobile home on top of a garage," does not meet city setback requirements and has been built "mostly without permits," she said.

The city placed a stop-work order on the property shortly after Bean took ownership when it was determined that a building permit may have been issued in error. The stop-work order has remained in place, though a settlement was reached in which the restriction could be lifted if the city's permitting requirements are met.

According to Anderson's letter, Saxton "demanded that (Goff) apply the harshest punishment possible to the property owner before allowing construction on the dwelling to continue."

That action, the mayor said, is "entirely inappropriate" and "goes beyond her role as a council member."

"I want her to understand that she's a member of the legislative branch," Anderson said. "She has no administrative authority or responsibilities. She seems to think it appropriate that she repeatedly summons employees, including department directors, and challenges what they're doing and gives them orders."

Saxton confirmed that a conversation with Goff about the property took place, but she said it was a casual one and that she wasn't giving orders. She had recently learned that the property had changed hands and said she wanted to let Goff know.

Saxton said she's been involved in discussions about the property since they began, mainly because neighbors in the area — her constituents — sought her help. Neighbors have watched the home be built despite not having proper permits, she said, and they've spent "thousands of dollars" on lawsuits in an effort to stop the construction.

"When I heard there was a new owner and we have this long history on this property, I went to (Goff) and told them there's a new owner," Saxton said. "I told him I want zero tolerance on this, meaning I don't want you lifting (the stop-work order)."

Anderson said that by "instructing a city official to treat a permit matter in a punitive, prejudicial manner, (Saxton) clearly attempted to improperly influence the building-permit process."

Saxton defended her involvement Tuesday, saying she was acting in the best interest of her constituents. She also shifted blame for the controversy surrounding the Koneta Court property to the city's administration, saying if proper permitting procedure had been followed, construction of the home would have been stopped before it even started.

"The mayor says I shouldn't have gotten involved, but the system has failed, the administration has failed these (neighbors)," she said.

That, Anderson said, wasn't the point of his letter. By making demands of Goff, the councilwoman violated the section of city ordinance that forbids council members from interfering with the performance of city employees.

"Our view of it is, when someone engages in that form of misconduct, that's not something to sweep under the rug," he said. "It's the sort of thing the public ought to know about."

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com