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New Heber City mayor, council seek to move past uncomfortable first meeting

Heidi Franco Heber City Council
Ben Lasseter
Heidi Franco prepares to be sworn in to begin her term as mayor on Tuesday, Jan. 4, as councilors Mike Johnston and Rachel Kahler look on.

After tight races elected a new Heber City mayor in November, tensions between the new council and mayor have run high to begin the new term.

The mayor and city council say that serving citizens is their priority. But their working relationship with each other got off to a rocky start.

Newly elected Mayor Heidi Franco found herself playing defense in her first city council meeting January 4 when councilors openly expressed criticism and concern about procedure and authority under her leadership.

Several councilors criticized a presentation she began the meeting with. It went over concepts including rule of law, transparency and accountability in local government.

“I really did feel it was one of your classroom settings,” said Rachel Kahler, city councilor. “I want to make sure that this is a city council meeting, and I didn’t sign up for Poli-Sci 101 — I’ve taken that class.”

“Well, let me just say that I appreciate your patience with me,” Franco said. “This is something that obviously I feel really strongly about, and I hope we can get through. I hope it will be inspiring to everybody.”

Franco quickly found herself being critiqued about the presentation again — this time from Councilor Scott Phillips. He objected to her use of “popular sovereignty” as a reference to the power of the public to govern collectively by majority rule. Franco made it clear she didn’t want to debate that with him.

“There hasn’t been any recent use of popular sovereignty in the United States,” Phillips said.

“Well, Mr. Phillips, I appreciate this, and you’re more than welcome to make your own presentation,” Franco responded, “but I’ll reclaim the floor and continue here.”

“Well, I’m just speaking from your references, Heidi,” Phillips said.

“Mr. Phillips, I have the floor,” Franco said. “Please feel to add your own agenda items and discuss that.”

After the meeting, Heber City residents took to social media to say they were disappointed with the contentious, even “immature,” nature of some exchanges in the meeting.

A few days later, Councilor Ryan Stack acknowledged the beginning to the new term was “odd.”

Stack and the other two returning councilors, Kahler and Mike Johnston, had endorsed former mayor Kelleen Potter in the mayoral election.

Stack said later he supports Franco now and wants to work together.

“I endorsed Kelleen at the time because she had a proven track record of success for the city,” he said. “But, that doesn’t have to make things difficult. We need to be able to work together, and that means leaving the past in the past and being able to turn the page and find common ground to do what’s best for the citizens of Heber.”

Franco agreed. She said since the city council meeting last week, she and some councilors had met privately and made progress toward resolving some concerns.

“I hope we’re better than this; I know we are,” Franco said. “Certainly we’ve had a lot of issues already, and I really hope that we can settle down and dive in and get to work.”

At the next council meeting, everyone will have a chance to smooth things over as they address another topic that’s already caused conflict — councilors’ board assignments. Franco sparked their ire when she removed Stack, Kahler and Johnston from existing seats on boards including the airport and light and power boards. She said she wants fresh perspectives, and serving on new boards is a way councilors learn.

The next council meeting will be held at City Hall Tuesday, Jan 18 at 6 p.m., following a 4 p.m. work meeting.

City Hall is at 75 North Main Street, and people can also attend online by visiting heberut.gov.

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