As Ogden City has grown, our government officials have become more powerful. They manage a staff of 600 employees. Each year they collect $100 million in taxes and fees from Ogden’s residents and businesses. Through zoning policies and the Ogden City Redevelopment Agency, they control a large fraction of Ogden’s commercial real estate.
And unfortunately, power can corrupt. Even the most well-meaning politicians are constantly tempted to abuse their power. Some resist this temptation, but others soon learn that they can get away with a wide variety of ethical short-cuts. Some adopt the view that whatever is legal is also ethical. Others go further, breaking laws that nobody bothers to enforce.
The following examples highlight some of the problems that have occurred during the last few years. In some cases these actions were completely legal. In other cases laws were clearly broken, but nobody has ever been prosecuted. In all cases, we think the vast majority of Ogden citizens will agree that these actions were morally wrong.
- In December 2006, the city sold a valuable piece of real estate near the Intermodal Hub to Chris Peterson, a real estate speculator who was also working with the mayor to promote a foothill development and resort project. Although the only stated reason for selling the land was to raise revenue, the city never advertised that the land was for sale or sought other bidders. When the administration sought approval from the city council for the sale, it concealed the true identity of the buyer.
- During fall 2007, the city secretly transferred dozens of purchase options in the River Project area to Gadi Leshem, a California businessman who was also one of the mayor’s largest campaign contributors. This was done without the required approval of the city council, which was then asked to retroactively approve the transfer.
- In 2008, the city administration unilaterally transferred control of the publicly owned 21st Street Pond to Goode Ski Technologies, a waterski company whose owner was another of the mayor’s major campaign contributors. The “concession agreement” with Goode will be in effect for 50 years, precluding anyone else from using the pond during this time without Goode’s permission.
- In November 2010, the administration asked the city council to fund a feasibility study for the proposed Field House. The council was shown a Request For Proposals, suggesting that the consultant had been chosen through a competitive bidding process, even though the RFP had never been published. The mayor signed a retroactive waiver of competitive bidding three months later, after the study was completed. Also, unknown to the city council, the contract required that the consultant funnel $5000 to a local architect who had drawn sketches of the facility.
- In early 2012, when the previous concessionaire left the city-owned train car welcome center, the contract was quietly awarded to a close friend of the mayor, without any public announcement or bidding.
Financial Shell Games
- In 2006 and 2007, the city attempted to divert a $250,000 federal bus facilities grant to benefit prospective developer Chris Peterson, paying for studies of his gondola and resort proposal. Fortunately, this process was discovered and interrupted, but not before $16,250 was spent on a “fiscal impacts study” performed by a no-bid contractor. The city then tried to cover up the details of this incident by failing to adequately respond to a request for public records; this cover-up resulted in a four-year legal battle that cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
- In 2007, the city received a $200,000 grant from the Weber County RAMP program to erect an ice climbing tower for winter use in Big D Sports Park. The administration then began spending the money, not on the original proposal, but on engineering and architectural design of an enclosure that would allow the tower to be placed in downtown Ogden and operated year-round. When the county learned this, it informed the city that the RAMP funds could be used only for actual construction, not design work. The city’s chief administrative officer then apologized and stated that the error had been corrected, even while RAMP money was still being spent on design work which continued for several more months and eventually totaled $63,000. In 2009 the city had to refund the RAMP grant because it failed to raise the needed matching funds. The unauthorized deficit was made up by a last-minute contribution from a private citizen.
- The city administration operates its own nonprofit corporation, the Ogden Community Foundation, out of the municipal building. The Foundation’s budget is completely outside the control of the city council, and its meetings take place behind closed doors. The largest of its assets was the American Can Building, which it acquired from the city and then tranferred to a private developer through a complex transaction that a city attorney described as “barely legal”. More recently, the city used its own staff to put on a fundraising event whose proceeds were funneled to the Ogden Community Foundation.
- In April 2009, the city administration diverted $275,000 in bond funds, earmarked for stormwater improvements along Harrison Blvd., to pay for engineering work for the Ogden River restoration project. The engineering consultant was hired without competitive bidding. Ogden residents have also been funding this project through their sewer bill payments, by way of an unusual arrangement with the Central Weber Sewer District.
- During 2012 it was discovered that the city has been using its utility operations as revenue sources, diverting several million dollars each year from the water, sewer, and refuse funds into the general fund. While these diversions are legal and have always been included in the council-approved budget, they were hidden in obscure categories such as “fiscal charges” which even the city council had not previously understood. Since these diversions were discovered, administration officials have refused to answer further questions about the city's finances and have obstructed public access to city financial records.
- The city administration frequently uses taxpayer-funded communications for what amounts to legislative lobbying, promoting projects that cannot move forward without legislative action by the city council. The media involved have included Channel 17, utility bill inserts, newspaper advertisements, the city’s web site, other city-owned web sites, and even a display at the Newgate Mall.
- Taxpayer-funded communications have also been used for thinly disguised electioneering, deceptively bragging about the record of the incumbent mayor during the campaign season, and sometimes attacking other candidates. On multiple occasions, city officials have used Channel 17 to dictate the time, place, and format of candidate debates.
- In July 2005, a departing city department head was given $43,000 in severance pay as a result of a “verbal agreement” with the mayor. The same individual was rehired as a city contractor six weeks later.
- Ogden’s police department has been in the news for its practice of double-dipping by the chief and several lieutenants, who have been allowed to retire, begin collecting pensions, then immediately return to the same job to collect a full salary as well.
- A city manager was accused of sexual harassment by three different subordinates, but the city covered up the allegations and apparently took no action.
Questionable Campaign Contributions
- During the 2007 mayoral campaign, the largest contributors were city
contractors and others doing business with the city:
- Staker-Parson, Junction contractor ($15,000 to two candidates)
- R&O Construction, Salomon Center contractor ($10,000)
- Gadi Leshem, real estate speculator for whom the city bought and transferred purchase options and rezoned property ($10,000)
- Larry Myler, businessman who was seeking to build a large hotel at the Junction ($9,000)
- Boyer Company, which operates Business Depot Ogden and much of the Junction under long-term leases from the city ($9,000)
- In early 2007, the mayor used his office to solicit approximately $50,000 in contributions to Envision Ogden, then an unregistered organization. While Envision Ogden’s stated purpose was to promote business and recreation, it turned out to be a political action committee that assisted the mayor’s own campaign as well as the campaigns of two city council candidates and one legislative candidate. Major contributors included hospitals, banks, other businesses, and even the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. These contributors were never informed of the organization’s political purpose, and several later stated that they were prohibited from giving to political organizations either by law or by company policy. After a criminal investigation lasting nearly two years, the Attorney General’s office announced in March that nobody would be prosecuted for these actions.
- The city council candidates who benefited most from Envision Ogden’s fundraising concealed the source of these funds—more than $20,000—by laundering the money through another unregistered organization. When IRS records documented these transactions more than a year later, the city attorney allowed the candidates to “cure” the problem by retroactively amending their campaign finance disclosure statements.
- Prior to the 2009 municipal election, the city council enacted a new ordinance limiting campaign contributions to $1500 for city council candidates and $5000 for mayoral candidates. However, the new ordinance was drafted by the city attorney, who answers to the mayor. The ordinance was actually weakened in some respects, and numerous loopholes remained in place. This became apparent when one council candidate evaded the new contribution limit by accepting $1500 directly from an organization, and another $1500 from a subdivision of the same organization (whose funds came entirely from the parent organization). The city attorney refused to interpret this as a violation of the new ordinance.
- While the new contribution limits played a positive role during the 2011 campaign, there were still some ethically questionable contributions such as a $3000 contribution from Gadi Leshem to the winning mayoral candidate, received on the day after the election.
So those are some of the problems. But we’re not here to place blame; we’re here to offer solutions. Please read our platform to learn more.