nSalt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker recently announced an open-government initiative that a city press release immodestly promised would be, “the beginning of the most open, transparent era of governing in Salt Lake City and state history.” Hopefully, the mayor’s “transparency initiative” will stand up to the hype. Becker begins his second year at a time when city residents are eager to pry into the inner workings of government. Plans call for an online forum through which citizens can give their 2 cents on city policy and a computer program that lets them track planning initiatives through the permitting maze. If real, the transparency plan will bring more scrutiny of government. That’s sometimes difficult, and sometimes embarrassing, for government officials, but always good for democracy.
nA tree company working on 900 South recently uncovered the body of a snow-covered man, likely the year’s first victim of winter homelessness. Last year marked the highest-ever death toll for homeless Salt Lake City residents, with 54 dying at an average age of 49, according to organizers of an annual vigil held in Pioneer Park. Most died from diseases that don’t usually kill until later in life: strokes, kidney failure, respiratory illness and heart attack. Last year saw a spike in requests for emergency food in Salt Lake City, up 8 percent from 2007, according to a recent report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Requests for emergency housing in Utah’s capital city were up 16 percent.