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Heber City councilors grill new mayor over duties of city officials

Heber City Recorder Trina Cooke swears in Mayor Heidi Franco at City Hall to begin her term, while councilors Mike Johnston and Rachel Kahler watch on Tuesday evening.
Ben Lasseter
Heber City Recorder Trina Cooke swears in Mayor Heidi Franco at City Hall to begin her term, while councilors Mike Johnston and Rachel Kahler watch on Tuesday evening.

Heber City Council kicked off 2022 by swearing in its new mayor and one of two new city councilors. Councilors were quick to raise concerns about changes the new mayor plans to implement.

Tuesday’s council meeting was held in a packed Heber City Hall. About half of the roughly 50 attendees said they were family of the city’s new mayor, Heidi Franco, and councilor, Yvonne Barney.

After being sworn in, Franco thanked voters, family and the community.

“No matter what comes to us this year,” she said to conclude her speech, “I really hope that we’ll take the initiative to give our best to each other, and that’s how we’ll get through this year just fine.”

Yvonne Barney takes an oath of office next to her husband, Dell.
Ben Lasseter
Yvonne Barney takes an oath of office next to her husband, Del Barney.

Barney also took an oath of office, but Councilor-elect Scott Phillips did not. He attended by video call from Fiji, where he said he was stuck on a service trip because of COVID-19 travel protocol. He’s expected to be sworn in before or during the next council meeting on January 18.

While he couldn’t vote on motions, he joined other councilors in questioning Franco about the council’s role under her leadership. Those questions came up during a presentation about city and state laws governing mayoral and city council powers and councilors’ assignments to various boards.

Franco said the presentation was an overview of “who does what, and why” in city government. After identifying values like transparency, rule of law and sustainable growth as foundations for how city officials should govern, the discussion moved to the mayor’s authority.

Councilor Ryan Stack’s concern was over the laws cited as city standards - specifically, why there was emphasis on state code saying city staff report to the mayor, and no mention of the council’s decision in 2013 that staff would report only to the city manager.

“I think it’s important to highlight this distinction and not gloss over it because where the presentation materials only included the state code, I felt like that was incomplete,” Stack said. “ I want to make sure all our employees and city manager have a clear understanding, just so we’re all on the same page that the only person that oversees employees in the city is the city manager.”

Franco said she never meant to “question” that city staff report to the city manager.

Some councilor questions were critiques of the presentation itself.

Phillips questioned Franco’s use of the term “popular sovereignty” in relation to adhering to majority rule by the voting public. Rachel Kahler asked why the presentation was necessary at all.

Franco insisted the presentation was merely a way to get everyone on the same page.

The presentation didn’t lead to any changes or votes.

Councilors also objected to Franco’s new board assignments. Mike Johnston said she shouldn’t remove Stack from the airport advisory board, Kahler from the light and power board and himself from the Heber Valley Special Service District board.

“I do not agree that those are good choices, and I don’t feel that you have taken our advice or given us reasons why you would remove us from those boards,” Johnston said. “I would be even open to you telling us what your concerns were for our assignments on these boards and why you’re juggling these around and removing institutional knowledge and experience that we have developed over the past two years on these very crucial and important boards, and putting brand-new greenies on these boards who have no understanding of the past history and where we come from and where we’re going. That’s my concern.”

Phillips said as a financial advisor, he shouldn’t be involved with the Mountainland Association of Governments Small Business Board. Franco said she would make the change based on Phillips’ conflict of interest, which she had overlooked, but she intended to keep her other assignments.

“I’m looking at it from a longer-term picture than all of you,” she said. “I’m trying to look at the overall picture. It does not help our city if people are siloed into one slot and they stay in one slot. I’m trying to create as much synergy and collaboration as possible, and that only happens when you have to dive in deep - when you’re forced to dive in deep continually, over and over again. I have just as much confidence in Mr. Phillips and Yvonne Barney to be able to dive in and come up to speed without very much of a blink.”

City Attorney Mark Smedley clarified that until those new assignments become official, Stack, Kahler and Johnston will stay on their current boards.

One new initiative that starts Wednesday is a monthly survey asking for feedback on the city’s departments and various issues.

This month, the survey seeks feedback on ranked choice voting, which the city used in 2021. The survey also has questions about the airport and possible bypass road routes around the city to alleviate Main Street traffic.

To take the survey, visit heberut.gov.

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