Looking back at Murray 2017: The year of change
Jan 01, 2018 03:33PM ● Published by Shaun Delliskave
A police escort attends Mayor Ted Eyre’s funeral (Photo/Rae Delliskave)
Gallery: Looking back [10 Images] Click any image to expand.
Change, transformation, transition…whatever one may choose to name it, it could be seen all around Murray in 2017. Murray has had big changes before, but probably not since the implosion of Murray’s iconic smokestacks has there been a transformative year like this one. In some cases, the change was unavoidable. With the numerous endings and beginnings taking place, the city may well be on the verge of a new era.
Change is hard, and the mayor’s office was certainly hit the hardest. Well-liked Mayor Ted Eyre’s battle against cancer progressed to where he needed the assistance of a cane or wheelchair to get around. Eyre determined early in the year that he would not run for re-election, but it became tragically apparent that he would not finish out his term.
With the mayor’s seat up for grabs, four candidates filed to run for election. Going into the primary were three seasoned office holders: Murray City Councilman Blair Camp, Former four-term Murray Mayor Dan Snarr, and Salt Lake County Councilman Richard Snelgrove. New-comer Verl Greenhalgh completed the quartet. Mayor Eyre and the entire city council endorsed Camp, causing Greenhalgh to rebuke the council endorsement as being divisive.
Murray citizens took a keen interest in the election, packing meet-the-candidates nights held by the Murray Chamber of Commerce. Murray mayoral elections are held on off-election years, opposite state and national election years; typically, few Murray voters cast their ballots in off-years. However, 2017 experienced a change in that pattern, as Murray saw a 13.6 percent voting increase—up to 36.6 percent in 2017 compared with 22.9 percent in 2013. In addition to active local races, the county clerk’s office attributes the improved voting numbers to the convenience of mail-in balloting.
The primary narrowed the race between Snarr (who received 40.98 percent or 3,668 total votes) and Camp (who took second with 33.51 percent or 2,999 votes). Both candidates campaigned on their qualifications. However, it was clear that many Murrayites were uncertain as to what each would accomplish as mayor, as evidenced by the numerous questions at the meet-and-greet nights.
If the race wasn’t dramatic enough, the passing of Mayor Eyre two weeks after the primary set in motion changes to the mayor’s office the city has never seen. Upon a vacancy in the mayor’s office, the law specifies that the chair of the city council be appointed as acting mayor until an interim mayor is selected. In a first for Murray, Diane Turner became the first female mayor of Murray, being that she was the chair of the city council.
The law requires an interim mayor to be appointed by the city council within 30 days of a vacancy in the mayor’s office. Turner, who was running for re-election for city council, declined to be considered, as she would have had to give up her council seat. Three citizens applied to be interim mayor, including Camp. The city council ended up selecting one of their own, and Camp was sworn in as interim mayor, and Turner became the shortest serving mayor in Murray history. According to Camp, “It was his (Eyre’s) desire for me to finish his term. He told me that he wanted me to do it.”
Compared to other mayoral races in Utah, the Snarr and Camp campaigns were relatively cordial. The election attracted 46 percent of all registered Murray voters. Interim Mayor Blair Camp captured 52 percent to former Mayor Dan Snarr’s 48 percent share of ballots. Election observers feel that most of the electorate who had supported Snelgrove and Greenhalgh in the primary more closely identified with Camp than Snarr when it came to the general election and gave Camp the edge in the final results.
Isaac Newton’s first law of motion states that “Every object persists in its state of rest…unless it is compelled to change by forces impressed on it.” Certainly, Newton’s first law could be applied to the Murray City Council as the forces of change in the Mayor’s Office required changes to the city council.
With Camp running for mayor, a vacancy was guaranteed for district two in 2018. Turner was running unopposed for re-election for her seat. Seeking Camp’s council seat were Dale Cox, the retiring president of Utah’s AFL-CIO, and businessman Darrell Pehrson.
For the first time, the council had to address filling the mayor’s office vacancy. As chair of the city council, Turner had to fill the roles of acting mayor and still represent her district on the city council. As Camp was compelled by Mayor Eyre to finish his term, and in what some saw as a strategic election move, Camp applied for interim mayor and was selected by his fellow council mates. Law forbids the interim mayor from holding both the mayor and council positions concurrently, so Camp vacated his district two seat.
The council then had to fill Camp’s empty council seat within 30 days. The city had four applicants, neither of which were Cox or Pehrson, from which the council chose educator Pamela Cotter. Cotter’s interim role lasted just over three months.
While the election campaigns of Cox and Pehrson were relatively civil, Cox raised nearly $33,000 to Pehrson’s $2,000. In fact, Cox out-fundraised more than all six candidates who filed for Murray elections combined, and his donors ranged diversely from Democrats to Republicans.
In the end, 47 percent of district two voters cast their ballots with Cox securing 57 percent of the vote to Pehrson’s 43 percent.
The year 2017 also marked big transitions within city hall. In May, the city saw Finance Director Justin Zollinger recruited to become the chief financial officer of the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility. Former Draper Finance Director and Utah Transit Authority Controller Danyce Steck took his place.
The city also said goodbye to retiring chief City Attorney Frank Nakamura. Much of Nakamura’s last year has been spent cleaning obsolete language and provisions from Murray ordinances. Some outdated ordinances go back to Murray’s incorporation, dealing with such issues as where you can hitch your horse.
For retiring Cultural Arts Director Mary Ann Kirk, her last year has been a big one. Through her leadership, the Murray City Amphitheater was completely overhauled; future performances will benefit greatly from those improvements. For her work in providing art programs to 35,000 patrons annually in Murray since 1992, Kirk was awarded the Governor’s Leadership in the Arts award this past summer.
As with all administration changes, a new mayor generally brings in new staff. Deputy Mayor Janet Towers, who shouldered an increased workload as Mayor Eyre grew sicker, will transition out of her position at the beginning of 2018. Replacing her will be long-time Public Services Director Doug Hill, who will assume the title of Chief Administrative Officer. Hill’s replacement for Public Services has yet to be named. Also gone is long-time Mayor’s Administrative Assistant Rhondi Knowlton-Jeffries, who for 20 years has answered the Mayor’s office phone, no matter how irate the caller.
On a sad note, Murray lost former Mayor Lynn Pett after a nearly two-decade battle with pulmonary fibrosis. Pett was mayor from 1990–1998, but his service to the city went back farther than that—for decades he led the Murray Parks and Recreation Department. His influence can be seen along the Jordan River; he developed the parkway and a golf course that now bears his name. He was 76.
Murray City Center District
Transformation is a keyword for Murray’s historic downtown. Long the focus of discussion, Murray has finally taken steps toward redevelopment of the brownfields between the historic mansion, church and houses. The project has been christened the “Murray City Center District” (MCCD).
This downtown development proposal includes building a new city hall, new fire station, new roads, open space for a park, and possibly a new library. The project could also include office complexes, parking structures, neighborhood grocery markets, a high-end hotel, retail spaces, and upper-level residential living areas.
The downtown redevelopment district is bordered by State Street, Vine Street, 4800 South, and the railway line. The city acquired four historic buildings: the Townsend home, the Cahoon Mansion, the Murray Baptist Church, and the Murray Theater, with the hope to renovate, preserve, and adapt them for reuse. Other non-historic properties the city has purchased, or is in the process of purchasing, include the Day Attorney’s Office property, which will be acquired in exchange for city-owned street property; the Verizon Wireless cell tower property, with plans to relocate the tower; some property on 5th Avenue; and finally, the Fraternal Order of Eagles property.
A new fire station and fire department command center are planned for the long-vacant lot on the corner of Box Elder and 4800 South. They will replace the current station that sits just east of the site.
Perhaps the biggest move will be city hall. City hall moved into the former Arlington School Building in the 1980s but requires huge seismic upgrades. Additionally, the city requires an updated command center for its police department. Architectural renderings for the new municipal building have been drafted. Once the location has been determined, and public input attained, construction cost estimates will be finalized; then bonding will take place. Once final construction drawings are completed and rough cost estimates are determined, the city hopes to break ground possibly mid to late summer of 2018.
Historic Building Fight
To be or not to be, that was the historic Murray First Ward building’s question. The fate of the century-old church, Carnegie library, and historic duplexes on the corner of Vine Street and Jones Court (50 East) created a showdown between historic-preservation activists and developers and brought high drama to city council meetings.
The Mount Vernon Academy private school called the property home for four decades until relocating to the Christ Lutheran Church in Murray. Owners of the vacant property found a potential buyer, Dakota Pacific, which wanted to demolish and construct an assisted living center on the site.
Once word of the potential demolition became public, Murray’s Historic Advisory Board took issue against the Murray Planning Commission and city council, decrying that the development ran counter to the city’s general plan of preserving historic structures. As the property is privately owned, not publicly owned, the city’s response was that there wasn’t much that could be done.
Preserve Murray, a grassroots organization formed to save the historic complex, filed an appeal to halt progress on the demolition. In their appeal, Preserve Murray asked to deny a certificate of appropriateness in order to consider preserving the 100-year-old iconic structures on Vine Street. In a packed council chamber, the appeals officer ruled in favor of the developers.
Organizers of Preserve Murray regularly attended city council meetings throughout the year, commenting on the need to preserve the buildings. They enlisted help from historic preservationists and developed alternatives. In the fall, a member of Preserve Murray filed suit against the city to bring an action against further development of the site.
In November, Dakota Pacific backed out of the purchase, and the owners have again put the property up for sale. Janice Strobell of Preserve Murray says that they are pressing forward with their alternative ideas. “We are developing a Murray Cultural Center concept that involves the Murray Theater, the library, and the church, and already has some very strong interest.” λ
Murray Canal Trail
Murray’s newest parkway came into being in the latter half of 2017, but with some contention. After the initial open house in the spring, a vocal contingent of several residents who live near the proposed trail made various protests to city leaders against turning the Jordan and Salt Lake Canal into a formal trail.
The trail between Wheeler Farm and Fontaine Bleu subdivision had an overall positive reception at the open house, and the city council agreed to fund the project. As privacy was a general concern along the route and between the trailheads, the city also agreed to install fencing. The trail is 10 feet wide in most places and made of crushed gravel, six inches deep. In 2018, benches, doggie bag stations, garbage cans, and two crosswalks will be installed.
Though Murray said goodbye to many people and places in 2017, the new year will be full of new faces and new opportunities. With the changes up ahead, the words of poet Rainer Rilke perhaps rings true, “And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that never were.”