Ah, the dawning of a new age. Basking in the fresh light of a forward outlook, humanity will open up to a clearer understanding of its mission, embrace bold new ways of carrying out its business, and break the shackles of ignorance. Well, not exactly.
As Utah awoke from all the marketing hype of Y2K, it gladly went about making sure business as usual carried on in full force. Questar Gas said it would toss between $5 million and $6 million into the pot to support Salt Lake City’s 2002 Olympic Winter Games, then said it would raise rates to pay for the generous gift. Deedee Corradini wouldn’t let newly elected Mayor Rocky Anderson into the mayor’s office until he’d been sworn in, and not before all her computer files had been thoroughly scrubbed.
Meanwhile, the Utah Legislature ushered in an age of new Puritanism by passing two bills to keep us all in line, sexually speaking. One outlawed the mention of contraceptives in schools, effectively gutting any meaningful attempt at sex education. Apparently, the state’s high birth rate and overcrowded schools are neither high enough nor crowded enough for these lawmakers. That, no doubt, is why they also failed to add birth control to health insurance plans. The second bill gave Utah its own Pornography and Obscenity Czar, the first in any state anywhere. Never mind the fact that our new czar is powerless against the flow of Internet smut. Never mind the fact that obscenity cases are among the hardest to win in a court of law. You see, it’s a matter of principle. Good public policy be damned.
To top it off, lawmakers effectively eliminated the Committee of Consumer Services, which represented ratepayers before the Division of Public Utilities. In the future, Utahns would instead have an “Office of Public Advocate.” We can all afford higher heating bills, no?
On the upside, a lot of good people worked feverishly to save Gilgal Gardens, that peculiar assemblage of rock sculptures cast in homage to a whole host of Mormon themes and religious ideals. Salt Lake County put up some money, Salt Lake City advanced a plan to make it a park, and the fund raising kicked into overdrive. By the end of the year, it looked as if this town jewel, the only garden in Utah listed in the Smithsonian Institute’s Directory of Historic Gardens, might finally be saved from threatened condo development. Matching offbeat rock sculpture with public transportation, UTA and the Salt Lake City Council—after much talk, many promises and a little arm twisting—finally found a way to agree on the specifics of an east-west light rail line.
And how could we forget our poor, beleaguered Salt Lake Olympic Committee? For weeks, these highly paid suits talked about a new spirit of openness and accountability. Was it all hot air, or gaseous emissions of the one, true Olympic Spirit? As a first step, SLOC decided anyone could have access to its documents—at the price of $20 per hour for a search. Just make your very large checks payable to “SCREW YOU, Inc.” Meanwhile, SLOC’s outside counsel tried to figure out spin maneuvers on a very embarrassing Ethics Panel report footnote that revealed, “Some relevant documents were destroyed” long before the panel began its investigation. Luckily, if pointing fingers was necessary, the carcasses of Tom Welch and Dave Johnson still had a little bit of meat left on them.
Returning to politics, Salt Lake City Council members scrambled to cover city expenses for Boyer’s massive Gateway project, even after selling a block of Main Street to the LDS church for $8.1 million. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the ACLU filed a lawsuit alleging the public’s freedom was sold as part of the deal.
Gov. Mike Leavitt appointed two more white males to the Utah Supreme Court, and a University of Utah law professor worked diligently to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court that the Miranda warning is a bunch of hooey which only gives criminals undue rights. Up at the capitol, Gov. Leavitt’s “Faux Paw,” the state’s techno cat, purred away, warning Utah children about pornography on the Internet. Turns out the state’s Porn Czar will have a sidekick after all. But with all this yap-yapping about naughty material and Internet porn, won’t someone be tempted to look into what all the fuss is about? Don’t even think about peeking. Government’s looking out for your own best interests.
Slouching toward February, a camel named Stinker mauled his trainer at La Caille restaurant, and a sociology professor at Orem’s UVSC polled his students to see if they’d heard any anti-Mormon sentiment, touching off a debate about the secular school’s mission. Mayor Rocky Anderson got his own stinker, and his own debate, after learning that the Boyer Co. attempted to woo Nordstrom over to the Gateway project. And the litigious nature of the American public was put into stark relief when former University of Utah theater student Christina Axson-Flynn sued the university’s theater department for forcing her to recite “religiously offensive” language. We eagerly await the Christian fundamentalist who will sue the biology department for teaching the “religiously offensive” theory of evolution.
Old institutions with rickety foundations found new life. After years of near-death experiences, the Tower Theatre finally found a new owner in Paul D. Liacopoulos, and a new independent theater mantra was born: “Popcorn’s cheap, damn it!” Pork barrel projects in politics, however, are most certainly not. Too bad Sen. Bob Bennett lost his cool when Arizona Sen. John McCain listed a Utah pork barrel project on his website, it’syourcountry.com. You’d think two conservative minds could understand each other, but nooooo! Truth be told, it was one of last year’s more splendid moments when Sen. McCain tore up the campaign trail, making Texas-style mush of George “Daddy’s Boy” W. and damning big-money, corporate politics. Alas, all good things must come to an end.
The state vaguely recovered its senses in March, as Gov. Leavitt wisely vetoed the Legislature’s “no talk of birth control” policy. It was the rest of nation that went nuts when heterosexual unions received the shining example of Darva Conger marrying Rick Rockwell for his millions, on television no less. But while it’s fine to marry for something as crass as money, it’s wrong to marry for love—especially the homosexual variety. California gleefully passed Prop. 22, making gay marriage even more illegal than it was before.
Back home, the toxic themes of our east desert kept burning. The Skull Valley Goshutes sold out to nuclear waste storage, but not unanimously. And despite a fifth whistle blower in Gary E. Harris, ex-permit coordinator for the Tooele Chemical Weapons Incinerator, the nerve agent kept a burnin’. In the kind of press conference usually reserved for a big-screen Hollywood movie, Harris and his attorney alleged that the U.S. Army knowingly violated the law, covered up known dangers at the plant, and persuaded state agencies to proceed recklessly with a technology they knew didn’t work. The Utah Division of Solid and Hazardous waste shrugged it all off, as did the Army and the plant contractor. Gov. Leavitt had better things to do, and the public looked forward to another season of Jazz games. The millennium had started, same as it ever was.
Spring: Muggings and Drubbings
By Christopher Smart
A typical spring day in Salt Lake City saw Doug Arnot, the director of operations for the Salt Lake (Olympic) Organizing Committee, punching out a pedestrian at 300 South and West Temple. Some called the incident a metaphor for the Winter Olympics, as another Utahn got mugged.
According to witnesses, Rich Van Orden was in the crosswalk when Arnot, driving his official SLOC 2002 Chevy Suburban, was inconvenienced as he attempted a left turn. Van Orden made a comment, and Arnot wheeled the Suburban around, pulling up to Van Orden. Witnesses said Arnot then began punching Van Orden and at one point grabbed the pedestrian by the necktie and began driving off. SLOC officials later called the incident a misunderstanding.
One week later, there was another misunderstanding at SLOC when Mitt Romney got rid of spokeswoman Shelley Thomas. Thomas, who came in at the onset of the bid scandal, had helped put a better face on the organization. Apparently, Romney didn’t like the competition. Arnot, however, was not fired.
Speaking of misunderstandings and a lack of communication, Mike Melendez, Dave Owen and Frances Gomez left the administration of Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson spouting invectives. Gomez called the mayor an ogre in front of Chris Vanocur’s rolling KTVX Channel 4 cameras. Owen and Melendez did what they could behind the scenes to discredit the new mayor as an ill-tempered bully. Meanwhile, Anderson wished the trio a bright future in the private sector.
The LDS church opened its new Conference Center for its annual rite of spring and hired TRAX to help deliver the faithful on Sunday, even though the light rail line was running only six days a week.
As tax day neared, Utahns were thankful for a little comic relief provided by a half-dozen protesters from the Animal Defense League. The six set up a sit-in protest in front of the University of Utah’s Animal Resources Center, claiming unfair treatment of laboratory animals. The plan went sour, however, when the protesters were ignored by everyone coming and going from the building. The police didn’t even show up, forcing the hungry and thirsty animal rights contingent to bolt for the bathrooms for a much needed break.
First Lady Jackie Leavitt celebrated the rite of spring by finally getting a new parking lot behind the Governor’s Mansion on South Temple. Although the Leavitts don’t live in the mansion, the First Lady likes to hold teas and other gatherings there. With parking hard to come by, the Leavitt administration tore down a historic house at 30 G Street and then paved the lot. The turn-of-the-century house had been purchased 30 years earlier by the state to keep snipers from shooting the governor.
A jury ruled that Congressman Merrill Cook had to pay his former campaign consultant $193,922, bringing a bitter two-year dispute to an end. Campaign consultant Ron T. Nielsen had alleged Cook wouldn’t pay him for services rendered. Cook also had to pick up Nielsen’s attorney and legal fees. Ouch.
Ouch was the word from Provo, as the Provo Fight Club kept making news with its copycat of a popular movie by the same name. The club was supposed to be secret—just show up in a pre-designated parking lot or field and go at the fisticuffs. Law enforcement wasn’t crazy about the idea, so the Fight Club was scrapped and formed again, and scrapped and formed again, etc. etc. etc. It’s hard to keep a secret in Provo. Just ask Gayle Ruzicka.
The much-in-the-news Salt Lake City mayor got headlines again as he issued three executive orders without consulting the City Council. Rocky Anderson banned all gifts, including lunch, to any city employee, any time. He also ordered that all city employees be protected against discrimination based on sexual orientation and preference. Finally, Anderson urged city managers to hire using an eye for diversity, which includes gay and lesbian folks, women and minorities. The move sent the City Council into an uproar, prompting it to enlist City Attorney Roger Cutler to tell the mayor he could not issue the orders. Cutler complied. But as is the case in government sometimes, nothing happened and Anderson’s dictates stand.
Not to be overshadowed by the Million Mom March, where mothers from across the country joined in the nation’s capital to protest for greater restrictions on handguns, Utah’s Women Against Gun Control went into action. In a protest of their own on Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City, Janalee Tobias and her colleagues argued that handguns actually keep women and their children safe. After all, when handguns are outlawed, Janalee and her group will become outlaws. All the while, America’s gun carnage continued. Five people were shot at the Chevys on Union Park Avenue.
Heady times at The Salt Lake Tribune saw the newspaper take on the state Department of Alcohol Beverage Control by running an ad from Canadian Mist whiskey. In essence, Trib management had asked the DABC to sue them. But the bureaucrats weren’t falling for it. Instead, they took out after the distributor of the Canadian blended whiskey, warning the company that any further infringements and it could look elsewhere to sell its product. That was the last liquor ad in a Utah publication. You don’t mess with the DABC.
With morality issues at the forefront, the LDS church filed a legal brief in the U.S. Supreme Court backing the Boy Scouts of America and its wish to ban gay scoutmasters. A church spokesman went so far as to say that if gays were allowed in scouting, the LDS church would pull out of the Boy Scouts of America. The LDS church is the largest organizer of boy scouts in Utah, and insists that homosexuality can be cured.
Down Florida way, Elian Gonzales was finally reunited with his father after Attorney General Janet Reno approved a raid on the house in Miami’s Little Havana where Elian was holed up with his Cuban-American relatives. The raid made big news, of course, and our Sen. Orrin Hatch promised that as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee he would hold hearings and call Reno on the carpet for her hideous behavior. But after polls showed more than 70 percent of Americans supported the raid, as well as Elian’s return to his father, Hatch quietly cancelled the hearings.
And speaking of gas, the U.S. Army and the company that operates its chemical weapons incinerator in Tooele County finally admitted that deadly nerve agent had leaked into the environment. However, they said, it was only a small amount of nerve gas and really not such a big deal.
Summer: Excitement and Indictments
By Scott Renshaw
The summer of 2000 was the fourth hottest summer in Salt Lake City history, a scorcher of a season that saw over 200,000 Utah acres blackened by wildfires. It seems only appropriate, then, that a certain international sporting event symbolized by a flame once again dominated headlines.
After two years of swirling scandal, accusations and counter-accusations, the Salt Lake Olympic bid fiasco finally yielded felony indictments of bid officials Dave Johnson and Tom Welch on July 20. Negotiations continued over exactly how much financial support SLOC would contribute to Johnson’s and Welch’s defense, though a new potential funding source did appear. For a $50 donation, individuals would be able to have a personalized brick added to the Gateway Olympic Legacy Plaza (a significant hike from the $35 charged for similar bricks in Atlanta). In addition to having their names immortalized as Olympic supporters, donors would be given the option of smacking the brick into the head of anyone who actually believes Johnson and Welch were the only guys who knew about IOC payoffs.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, there were Olympic headlines actually associated with Olympic events. The Sydney Games kicked off Sept. 15, Sept. 14 Utah time, which kicked off two weeks of grumbling over events completed 24 hours before American audiences could watch them. Some Utahns did get to watch them live courtesy of your tax dollars, as a slew of state and local officials and demi-officials toured Australia for a total of some $350,000 (or 7,000 bricks). Astonishingly, their detailed investigation of the Sydney proceedings did not lead to the realization that moving medal ceremonies from actual venue sites to a downtown medals plaza would be about as sensible as, say, televising sporting events 24 hours after they were completed.
Other sporting news was big during the summer, particularly when it came to exits. Utah Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek exited gracefully into retirement, though he hasn’t exited quite so gracefully from ridiculous local TV commercials. The Minnesota Twins exited as the Salt Lake Buzz’s major league affiliation, making way for the wealthier-but-equally-inept Anaheim Angels. And Steve Young said goodbye to the San Francisco 49ers, sometime later bidding the same to his famed bachelorhood.
Another significant exit came in Murray, where, on Aug. 6, the city’s landmark stacks finally came tumbling down to make way for a commercial development. The demolition became a local spectator sport, which made it fortunate that the toxic dust cloud feared by many never materialized.
Speaking of toxic clouds, one finally dissipated over the Salt Lake City School District. In a summer of exits, a notable return arrived Sept. 6 when the district’s board voted to reinstate non-curriculum-based clubs for the first time since 1996. Even East High’s Gay-Straight Alliance, which sparked the initial ban four years ago, was permitted, provided members promised not to advocate extra-marital sex, promote breaking the law or actually acknowledge that gay teens exist in Utah.
True, ironically prescient news item No. 1: Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson agreed that $70 for a jaywalking fine was “ridiculous,” and that police should be polite when issuing citations. His comments were delivered July 15, in response to an incident that did not involve his chief of staff, Deeda Seed.
A pair of major projects also inspired controversy over the summer—one for beginning, one for ending before it began. The latter involved the West Side’s proposed Grand Salt Lake Mall, which died with a whimper. City Councilman Keith Christensen announced July 29 that he would not support the project, which meant there would not be enough votes to override a promised veto by Anderson. West Side residents, meanwhile, continued to wave their arms and say, “Um, guys … we’re over here.”
A similar cry was heard from 400 South merchants, who feared a repeat of 1999’s Main Street evacuation when construction began Aug. 7 on the east-west light rail line to the University of Utah. It was expected, however, that the relative inconvenience of frequenting businesses on the fast food franchise-heavy strip could reduce statewide cholesterol levels by 35 percent.
True, ironically prescient news item No. 2: Claiming that the validity of certain results was questionable, congressional Republicans in July demanded a recount of census forms from some 150,000 households. Among the most suspicious areas: South Florida, where census officials went back to review information gathered from more than 71,000 households, apparently after confusion over a “butterfly” census form.
No attempt at humorous commentary on three high-profile legal cases involving tragic consequences. In Farmington, Dr. Robert Weitzel was sentenced to up to 15 years for his involvement in the deaths of five elderly patients. Rancher John R. Pinder was convicted of killing two of his ranch hands and blowing up their bodies. And former KTVX morning co-anchor Doug Jardine pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful sexual contact with a 16- or 17-year-old.
Finally, some of summer’s lighter news items:
Jell-O began a push to have its product named Utah’s official food. Nutritionists around the world cringed at the characterization of sweetened gelatin as “food.”
Lakewood, Colorado’s Casa Bonita restaurant filed suit against Larry Miller, claiming the design for Miller’s Mayan restaurant was stolen. While specifically identifying the presence of a waterfall and cliff divers as potential intellectual property infringements, Casa Bonita claimed no connection to the quality of the Mayan’s food. Nutritionists around the world cringed at the characterization of the Mayan’s food as “food.”
The world of the age 15-24 demographic was rocked when Julie Stoffer, a 20-year-old Brigham Young student and cast member on MTV’s The Real World, was suspended by the university for honor code violations. No specific violations were named, but it was suspected that one factor may have been Stoffer’s participation in a “Young ’n’ Innocent Babes of MTV” calendar project with Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears.
Now that was a hot summer.
Fall: Dangling Chads and Throbbing Elections
By Bill Frost
The LDS church’s Main Street plaza, dubbed “a little bit of Paris” for no apparent reason, officially opened just in time for general conference. Environmentalists, animal-rights activists, gay couples and some guy dancing in a bunny suit turn out to protest and question just how “public” the plaza would be. “We are simply not going to be provoked into any kind of a confrontation,” said a church spokesperson. “It is our desire to remain above the fray and enjoy our weekend.” But what about the persecution of the bunnies, man?!
As a not-so-good precursor of things to come for the Pretty, Great 2002 Olympic State, NBC’s televised coverage of the Sydney Games was declared the least-watched Olympics since 1964. KSL, Utah’s unreliable NBC affiliate that forked over $10 million to become the “official” Olympics station, will likely air BYU lacrosse highlights and Mad About You reruns should Winter 2002’s ratings follow suit.
Meanwhile, the debate over allowing booze at Olympic events frothed up, with Mayor Rocky Anderson being labeled everything from a hero to the antichrist because of his support for allowing foreigners to just try and drink the 3.2 fizzy foam that passes for beer in Utah. In the other corner, Olympic guru and good-lookin’ man Mitt Romney insisted his membership in the LDS church had nothing to do with his opposition to cold brew in the medals plaza—the church just owns the street, not him, dang it.
Local TV news arms rushed to give viewers the “scoop” that the Deseret News was in the process of buying commercial rival/operational bedfellow The Salt Lake Tribune, whether it was technically true or not. The near-deal actually involved controlling interest in the Newspaper Agency Corporation, which handles printing, advertising and distribution for both dailies, as well as collecting all the extra-revenue quarters those dastardly street vending boxes rip off. The crux of the ongoing contention is the D-News’ we’re-really-gonna-do-it-someday plan to switch from evening to morning distribution, when the paper’s demographic is less likely to doze off while reading during Diagnosis Murder.
Noodle-jammers and Grateful Dead heirs Phish rocked the music world by announcing they’ll be taking a hard-toked, uh, earned break from the road, marking the first time the band has actually rocked anything. Fans who had faithfully followed Phish tours from city to city, after getting their “heads together,” vowed to experiment with new ways of occupying time during the band’s hiatus—like, say, bathing, finding jobs and looking up the word “hiatus.”
The nation went to the polls intent on electing the next president of the United States of America. Upon learning The West Wing’s Martin Sheen is not only ineligible, but also fictional, most of the nation went home.
Then, due to butterfly ballots, dangling chads and several other terms now part of the world’s lexicon and (just wait) the adult film industry, Florida was deadlocked over whether Vice President Al Gore or Texas Gov. George W. Bush would take the state’s electoral votes. Green Party spoiler candidate Ralph Nader didn’t quite win enough votes overall for matching funds next time around, but the Reform Party’s Pat Buchanan had a strangely high tally in some Florida counties. Whether these voters actually meant to choose Buchanan or were simply too stupid to follow ballot instructions, well, no one knows the difference.
Deprived of sleep and proper root irrigation, Gore introduced the idea of going by the popular vote (which he narrowly won), but neglected to point out that outgoing prez Bill Clinton didn’t win a majority of the popular vote in both of his otherwise successful runs. Gore then demanded Florida’s votes be recounted until he or Martin Sheen won.
On the upside of Indecision 2000, Americans became reacquainted with the Constitution, frat-rat G.W. didn’t have something (immediately) handed to him for once, and TV viewers were more certain than ever that CBS’ Dan Rather is nuts. On the downside, professional race-baiter Jesse Jackson was given another 15 minutes of fabricated relevance, Alec Baldwin reneged on his promise to leave the country with fellow rich whiners Rosie O’Donnell and Barbara Streisand stuffed into his Volvo trunk, and TV viewers were more certain than ever that CBS’ Dan Rather is nuts, thus diverting their attention from other insane network anchors.
Locally, no allegations of vote improprieties or tampering were leveled: Utahns voted exactly the same way they always do, electing the same old crowd to do the same old job the same old way yet again. Fluoridation of drinking water, however, slipped through, prompting many a Precious-Bodily-Fluids paranoid to promise a fight because “the government shouldn’t be allowed to determine what we drink.” Unless it’s beer outside the medals plaza, of course.
And in a stunning display of good ol’ xenophobia, Utahns voted in English as our “official” language, despite the fact that they also voted for George W., a man who can barely manage his own native tongue. Liberal baiting also found its niche in the campaign of 2nd Congressional candidate Derek Smith. Smith tried to smear Democratic opponent Jim Matheson as some sort of alien Hollywood pinko. But even in Utah it takes more than name calling to score a House seat. As for Rep. Merrill Cook, the political post was already looking distant, which means he’s due for a rebirth any day now.
Amid all the election hoopla, 29-year Brigham Young University football coach LaVell Edwards retired following a 34-27 victory over perennial rival University of Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium. No recount was demanded, and rumors that the U of U team threw the game while inebriated on fluoride proved unfounded.
On Friday, Dec. 1, AT&T sold The Salt Lake Tribune to Denver-based MediaNews, the seventh-largest print chain in America. Besides filing suit alleging the sale violates an agreement between pre-AT&T owner TCI and the paper’s managers to buy the paper back in 2002, the Tribune also asserted the conspiracy theory that MediaNews is really a front for the LDS church, which is heck-bent on crippling the Trib so as to give dominance to the church-owned Deseret News. U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell flatly denied the Tribune’s request, and MediaNews prez Dean Singleton promised “kick-ass journalism.” The Deseret News still plans to go morning, just as soon as it rises to at least the level of half-assed journalism.
Al Gore gave the best speech of his presidential campaign—unfortunately, it was his concession speech. The U.S. Supreme Court put the smackdown on the Florida Supreme Court, making for the most decisive cat fight between Supremes not involving Diana Ross in recent legal history. “Tonight, for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession,” Gore told a chad-weary nation. “Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome, which will be ratified in the Electoral College … foolish humans.”
Pre-empting The West Wing and everyone’s real choice for president, Martin Sheen, G.W. Bush replied one hour later, “I was not elected to serve one party, but to serve one nation. Whether you voted for me or not, I will do my best to serve your interests, and I will work to earn your respect.” Bush then shotgunned a can of Lone Star and sentenced Saturday Night Live’s Will Ferrell to “ride the lightning” before he could commit any more portrayals of Dubya as a dim daddy’s boy. SNL’s Gore impersonator, Darrell Hammond, was named the Bush administration’s official White House prank monkey.
Outgoing Salt Lake County Commissioners Brent Overson and Mary Callaghan said “so long, suckers” to the County Government Center, he with a drooling grandson on his knee, her sitting on a six-figure pile of severance money. Moving on to become the Special Projects Specialist for incoming Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman, Overson will reportedly specialize in special projects—isn’t that special?
Utah Senator-for-Life Orrin Hatch was revealed to have a co-starring role in the new major Hollywood movie Traffic, an action-drama about drug trafficking starring Michael Douglas and child bride Catherine Zeta-Jones. Thing is, it’s an R-rated film—even worse, it’s a “hard R,” whatever that means. Despite the headlines, this isn’t a first: Sharp-eyed moviegoers may have caught troubled Utah County Commissioner David Gardner’s uncredited cameo in Dude, Where’s My Car?
Regardless of his rave-winning five-second role as himself, Hatch couldn’t in good conscience recommend an R flick to anybody, and he’s only ever seen one himself (!), Australian Mel Gibson’s America-riffic The Patriot. “I saw that only after it was recommended highly by government people who told me it was one of the most patriotic movies they had seen,” he says. Wasn’t the title kind of a giveaway, mate?