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Park City's Mayor is on a Mission to Empower Latinos

Lations make up 25 percent of Park City's population and the Mayor is on a mission to empower them.

Before he was Park City’s mayor, Jack Thomas worked as an architect. Before that – to hear him tell it – he dug himself out of the trenches having been raised in poverty.

Thomas said he is well aware of the growing Latino population in Park City.  He’s concerned they are not being well-served by city government and other agencies.  He is determined to turn that around - even for those who are here illegally.

Thomas said that by empowering the Latino communities in Park City – everyone wins.

“We recognize them here in our community as being an integral part of who we are," Thomas said.  "And so their issues and their concerns and their problems are our problems – as a community - they’re not separate you know, we’re connected.”

Thomas is not alone. He has the support of everyone from Park City’s police chief, Wade Carpenter, on up to Utah’s attorney general, Sean Reyes.    That support has lead to Park City Advocates, which is the unofficial name of a group the Mayor started to create a dialogue with the Latino community.

“We have people from every non-profit and segment of the community that is joining," Thomas said. "And most importantly, the Latinos themselves are participating to talk about the issues and concerns and we’ve broken it into smaller committees.”

Thomas said the group’s goal is to better understand and address their unique issues.

“They have some critical issues," Thomas said. "They have some critical housing issues. Critical daycare issues, fair income issues. You know issues that we have all faced at some point in our lives – most of us anyway.”

Longtime resident of Park City Lynn Ware Peek is the community engagement liaison for the city.

“We’re a culture overall of people who love education," Peek said. "And we love information and we strive for that. We would like to understand more. I think every time that you present a statistic about the Latino community you go, ‘Wow, that’s really interesting.’ We like to hear and learn more about the community. If we don’t do anything to learn about it then we’ll never know.”

To better serve Park City –Carpenter has been focused on recruiting and retaining highly qualified officers who speak Spanish and are familiar with Latino cultures.

“I just hired an officer, Franco Libertini, just recently and he was actually working at West Valley for eight years and worked at the consulate," Carpenter said. "So he had these really great tie-ins there and we were really very fortunate to be able to hire him.”

Thomas and Carpenter said in order to be effective they need members of the community to come forward and start a conversation so they can better serve those who live and work in the community.

“That’s the hard thing - is finding out because you have such a diverse population within the Latino community," Carpenter said. "Their needs are very different depending on where they’re from. So we need to make sure that all of those needs are being met. And not just Latinos – it could be any culturally diverse area.”

Peek said having officers who understand the Latino cultures like Libortini is important to the success of the city’s goals.

“His focus is on, not only engaging the Latino community but to build their trust and to say, you know, ‘We’re here for you,’ because, really we are," Peek said. "Part of the complete community idea is to bring up every segment of the community.”

A major concern, however, are the illegal immigrants being targeted for criminal activity; case in point – the virtual kidnapping that took place in Park City in August.

Carpenter said no one should have to deal with that and that he is not in the immigration business.

“I can’t tell you when someone has been deported because that has not been an issue in our community," Carpenter said. "Obviously we deal the issues of, if there was a group of individuals that are victimizing within their community – we’re looking at the criminal aspect of that and dealing with those so that we can really protect the community in and of itself.”

Reyes said education is power and so he has collaborated with Americas Councilto teach the Latino populations within Utah – regardless of their immigration status – on how to protect themselves from being victimized.

“I would agree with Wade and his department that, again, in terms of law enforcement our focus and number one priority is to protect those who live here in Utah," Reyes said. "We can debate immigration policy but when it comes down to saving people from rapes, murders, from being abused - whether physically or financially – our number one priority and focus is to protect people and not worry about their status.”

Carl Rusnok is the spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – also known as ICE. He said they have three priorities and that illegal immigrants are not at the top of the list.

“Primarily we are focusing on those that are a threat to public safety, those that are a threat to national security.”

The agencies second priority does, however, deal with individuals who have illegally entered the U.S. after Jan. 1, 2014. Even so, Rusnok said that everyone, regardless of their status, deserves the protection of their local police. Again, ICE’s top priority is criminal activity that threatens public safety and national security – not illegal immigrants who are otherwise law-abiding.

Reyes does have a message for those who prey on others that Carpenter supports.

“Those who take advantage of people," Reyes said. "We will come after you with the full force of the law regardless of the status of the victim.”

Thomas said that in order to improve the lives of Latinos in Park City – they need to participate as does everyone else.  He invited anyone and everyone who has a desire to help - to contact him directly.

jack@parkcity.org or 435 640-9689. I’d love to hear their phone calls.”

Thomas may be an architect that built a career on designing homes – as a Mayor he said, he’s dedicated to building bridges.