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Washington Square Dispatch 

Salt Lake City Council welcomes new members, elects leadership during one-off hybrid gathering.

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click to enlarge The Salt Lake City & County Building, on Washington Square. - WIKICOMMONS
  • wikicommons
  • The Salt Lake City & County Building, on Washington Square.

DOWNTOWN—The first—and potentially last—hybrid Salt Lake City Council meeting since the Coronavirus pandemic pushed council business online took place on Jan. 4 with a languorous agenda in its wake. Surging cases of the Coronavirus omicron variant caused the council to revert its meetings back to fully-virtual for the indefinite future in order to adhere to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Joining the meeting was new council member, Alejandro Puy, elected in November to the District 2 seat.

Shelter Crime
The council approved $3.9 million in new city spending, largely stemming from state and county housing funds. The money will be used to develop low-income housing for veterans and seniors, as well as $400,000 for police staffing at homeless resource centers.

Chris Butler, a member of the public, questioned the use of funds, saying a police presence only adds problems, rather than solving them.

“Police aren’t preventing or stopping people from experiencing homelessness or helping the unsheltered,” Butler said. “The money should be used to help these people stay safe and warm this winter.”

But another resident, advocate George Chapman, challenged Butler’s remarks, saying that increasing the police presence at homeless shelters is a must for local businesses and residents.

If the council truly cares about the unsheltered, Chapman said, it should approve the spending proposal.

“Increasing police discourages drug dealing,” Chapman said, “which will help decrease victimizing the homeless.”

Call Batman?
During public comment, council members heard colorful and virtually-remote testimony from Kathryn Van Sleen, a resident who was removed from a December council meeting.

“I just think you guys are literal supervillains,” Van Sleen began. “I think you should be ashamed to go out in public.”

Councilmembers quietly stared at the shared screen as the rules of decorum were challenged.

Van Sleen singled out Councilman Chris Wharton—her representative—over his support for funding increased police staffing. “You give queer people a bad name,” she said, “we don’t claim you.”

Chairwoman Amy Fowler removed her mask to respond, thanking the public for their input on city businesses and asking that speakers refrain from making personal attacks.

“As I’ve said in the past and what I will continue to say, this is a safe space where people should be able to give their opinion as it relates to the issues that the council is dealing with,” Fowler said. “But it should not be a place where people feel empowered to intimidate council members … and as a member of the queer community, Council Member Wharton, I think you are an upstanding member and inspiration to many.”

New Chairman
Councilmen Dan Dugan and Darin Mano were elected council chairman and vice-chairman, respectively. Dugan replaces Fowler, who remains on the council.

“I look forward to a year of not being in leadership and passing the baton on to you,” Fowler told her colleague.

Before adjourning the meeting, Fowler expressed gratitude for her time as chairwoman. “I appreciate working with each and every one of you,” she said.

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