SALT LAKE CITY — When Mayor Jackie Biskupski won a hard-fought and at times bitter election last year, she knew the year 2016 would bring its challenges.

Homelessness, drugs, crime — all have cast long, dark shadows across the streets of Salt Lake City, and the new mayor knew it wouldn't be easy to start dissolving those shadows.

"I knew when I ran — but it's why I ran," Biskupski said.

Through the year, Biskupski has collected her fair share of critics, stemming from her transition into office and her Cabinet selections, to the four homeless resource center site selections that have left some neighbors fuming about public transparency.

The mayor's relationship with the City Council has been at times icy, with disagreements over emergency winter shelter for the homeless and a climactic standoff over the size and number of the future homeless resource center sites.

But other partners — particularly those on the state level — praise her for a collaborative spirit. They laud her for creating a closer relationship with the Governor's Office of Economic Development, helping to secure crucial homeless funding, and implementing a novel plan to tackle crime and drug dealing in Salt Lake's troubled Rio Grande neighborhood.

It's a mixed bag of criticism and acclaim for Biskupski's first year — one that doesn't surprise a mayor that expected a year of hardship.

Personal life

Despite its challenges, Biskupski called 2016 a year of "incredible joy," professionally and personally.

Not long before she was sworn in as Utah's first openly gay mayor, Biskupski announced her engagement to Betty Iverson. On. Aug. 14, the couple were married at Log Haven in Salt Lake City, merging their families for their adoptive sons — Archie, 7, and Jack, 12.

"My dreams were coming true left and right," Biskupski said.

But the year of balancing home life and work rounded out with a "heartbreaking finish," she said.

Right after the four new homeless resource center sites were announced — a climax that city leaders knew would result in outrage — Biskupski took an emergency trip to her hometown in Minnesota, where her father, Marvin, suffered a series of strokes.

He died a few days before Christmas. His funeral was one week later.

"It was so hard to say goodbye. He was my biggest fan," Biskupski said, remembering him as father and grandfather that loved "unconditionally."

Before flying back to Salt Lake City on New Year's Eve, Biskupski said she spent some time going through her father's belongings, which resulted in a vivid reminder of what made her the person she is today.

Biskupski was named after Jacqueline "Jackie" Kennedy Onassis, and her parents' reverence for the Kennedys became more apparent the more she rifled through her father's books.

Some of those books will be coming back with her to Salt Lake City, Biskupski said, as mementos to keep her focused on the big picture of what she's hoping to accomplish in her role as mayor of Utah's capital: social justice and equal opportunity.

"That's what drives me," she said, "is this very strong desire to not just talk about how people are created equal in this country, but to actually try and make sure that people are treated equally."

Top issues

In the social justice realm, Biskupski's most notable actions were done in partnership with county and state leaders.

Their work — preceded by years of work in the city and county's homeless commissions — secured a three-year, $27 million funding package for homeless facilities and services from the Utah Legislature.

Biskupski also teamed up with Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown and Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder to launch Operation Diversion in the troubled Rio Grande area to separate the criminals from those experiencing homelessness.

Then, after months of disagreement with the City Council over the size and number of the new homeless resource centers, Biskupski eventually conceded to allow four new shelters made up of 150 beds each, rather than two shelters with 250 beds each.

The council worried a 250-bed facility would be too big to integrate smoothly into neighborhoods, while Biskupski wanted to stick to the 250-bed size based off of discussions with homeless service providers and work with Salt Lake County.

The stalemate eventually ended after a September closed-door meeting, nudged by House Speaker Greg Hughes, when Biskupski conceded with the understanding that the City Council would be able to agree on four sites.

Hughes said it was "imperative" that the sites be selected with design well underway before the next legislative session to show the city had plans for the state funding it would be receiving for the next two years.

Originally, Hughes said he was hoping the sites would have been chosen by late summer, but the selection was delayed until mid-December because of the discord.

"There have been moments of tension, not on a personal level but in terms of the stress of what we were trying to accomplish. … We went through some ups and downs for sure this year," Hughes said, adding that tensions between councils and mayors are "natural."

Hughes lauded Biskupski for not letting "perfect be the enemy of good."

"If you become so entrenched in what you think is the perfect solution to the point where you can't make progress, then what you really are is someone who just supports the status quo," he said. "She needed her council, they needed each other, to make sure it was a success."

From the county side, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams commented on his collaboration with Biskupski in a written statement, but he declined to elaborate:

"While our styles are different, we are committed to the same outcome to minimize homelessness and keep neighborhoods safe and welcoming for all," he said.

Council relationships

City Council Chairman James Rogers said he "wished there had been a lot more collaboration," frustrated with how it took so long for the mayor to listen to the council's wishes to have four homeless centers rather than two.

"She needs us. She needs the council more than she knows," he said. "For her to be effective, she needs to use us and build that collaboration. There needs to be a lot more of that."

He said those frustrations also extended to how the administration is handling emergency winter overflow for the homeless — spending money on motel rooms on an as-needed basis rather than planning for additional space, a strategy the mayor says she is following based on input from service providers.

Biskupski, who campaigned on the basis that she would be a collaborative leader, said she's "not sure where" Rogers' complaints are coming from because she's never blocked any meetings with council members.

She added that collaboration is a two-way street.

"More than anything, if a council member wants to work with the administration on something, they need to just say that," she said. "There's never been a request I've not taken into consideration."

Councilman Andrew Johnston, who also began his first year in office this year, said the council's relationship with Biskupski was indeed "rocky," but he attributed it to "personality conflicts" that he expects will diminish as time goes on.

"I don't think the mayor and the council have formed strong personal relationships yet, but I hope that will happen," he said.

Outside critics

Once a supporter on Biskupski's campaign trail, former Mayor Rocky Anderson has now become one of the mayor's loudest critics.

He called her first year "utterly disastrous," blasting her for her department leadership appointments, delayed recommendations on the city's impact fee moratorium and for choosing homeless sites "behind closed doors."

Anderson said Biskupski's "first mistake" was "getting rid of phenomenal public employees," because he said their expertise could have aided her in a smoother transition.

"Nobody does this alone. The success of any mayor hinges on the quality of the people who are working there day in and day out," Anderson said, suggesting that Biskupski could have had a "slow start" on learning the ins and outs of city government without their expertise.

But Biskupski credits her staff and Cabinet choices as key to implementing her visions on everything from economic development to sustainability, and she said suggesting that her office has administrative delays is "absurd," because her administration is simply doing its due diligence to make sure they address issues thoroughly.

"It just took so much time to work on the homeless plan, the drug dealing, and our housing plan while we were doing impact fees and everything else in the first eight months," she said. "There just wasn't enough time. I don't do anything just to say I did it. We have to actually solve these problems."

While former Mayor Ralph Becker has been reluctant to comment on Biskupski's time in office, saying he wants to give her a fair amount of time to make her mark on Salt Lake City before passing judgment, Biskupski's predecessor told the Deseret News recently that he didn't agree with the way the four homeless resource center sites were selected.

"I think it's unfortunate that the four sites were finalized without any opportunity for the public to weigh in," Becker said. "In my own view, a process like this has such an impact on people that the consideration of sites should be public."

Anderson goes a step further, calling Biskupski an "arrogant and aloof" mayor for the way the homeless sites were handled.

"It's so contemptuous of the public to say these decisions are going to be made behind closed doors with the excuse that it would otherwise pit neighborhood against neighborhood," Anderson said. "That's no excuse for what is essentially dictatorship."

But if there was anything the council and the mayor did agree on, it was that the site selection had to happen the way it did. They argue the public did weigh in on the sites by engaging in multiple public workshops that developed the criteria that influenced the site selections.

"What we didn't want was to create a divided city," Biskupski said. "It was a responsibility of ours to make the tough decision."

Matthew Burbank, a University of Utah political science professor, said the homeless site selection was a no-win situation for Biskupski.

"No matter how it was treated or how the decision was made, it was going to be controversial. There was no way around that," he said.

Overall, Burbank said Biskupski has indeed endured a particularly "tough" year for her first year in office, especially because of the kind of issues she's trying to tackle.

"Certainly the first year on any high-profile job like the mayor of Salt Lake City is going to be difficult," Burbank said. "You're creating a team, you're figuring out the process, you're dealing with big issues. At this stage, (Biskupski's) image as mayor probably is not where she wants (it) to be, but she has plenty of time to establish herself as mayor and develop a track record. She can recover from all this."

Other accomplishments

Economic development was a hallmark of Biskupski's campaign. Her work began with the creation of the new Department of Economic Development and the hiring of Laura Fritz, her lauded economic development director.

Later in the year, Biskupski and her staff announced an "aggressive" two-year plan to begin building out nearly 4,000 acres in the city's northwest quadrant by taking advantage of the state's contributions to build the new Utah State Prison west of the airport.

Val Hale, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, praised Biskupski for her office's collaboration over the past year — which he said helped secure a new UPS regional shipping hub, creating 1,500 jobs in Salt Lake City.

"In the year and a half I spent with the previous administration, I don't recall having a single meeting with them or even talking with them during that time," Hale said. "(Biskupski's team) has certainly been a change in a positive direction from our standpoint."

For work on air quality, Biskupski negotiated a five-year franchise energy agreement with Rocky Mountain Power. She also committed to purchasing three megawatts of solar power from Rocky Mountain power, the equivalent to 9,000 solar panels.

Despite all of his criticisms, Rogers gave Biskupski a nod for passing a joint resolution to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2032 and reduce 80 percent of carbon emissions citywide by 2040.

As for public safety, Biskupski called for increased collaboration between police, fire and the 911 bureau within the first 100 days.

By fall, 911 calls were answered within 15 seconds between 92 percent and 98 percent of the time, according to the mayor's office. The bureau’s goal is to answer 90 percent of calls within 15 seconds. Additionally, overtime shifts had decreased by 66 percent and mandatory overtime had fallen 84 percent.

To better community relations between law enforcement, Biskupski secured funding for an independent counsel for the police Civilian Review Board, which handles officer-involved shooting cases.

She also partnered with police to host Transforming Together, a community workshop designed to facilitate discussion on transparency, de-escalation tactics and hiring practices.