January 24, 2014 by wcobserver
-By Steve Winkler-
Four of the West Fork city council members, Mike Nelson, Anita Lowry, Ed Stout and Julie Shafer, voted at the January meeting to appoint former aldermen and Mayor Jan Throgmorton to the vacant Ward 4 seat. There were no other aldermen present. The other option was to appoint Valton Elams, a long time citizen active in community life but without previous political experience. The appointment was to complete the term of the Ward 4, Position 2 seat which was vacated when Charlie Rossetti was voted by the council to become Interim Mayor until a special election can be held to select someone to complete the term of Mayor Frances Hime who resigned in October, 2013. The election for the regular four-year mayoral term as well as four seats on the council will be held at the November 2014 general election.
The council was able to conduct business at the January meeting because, although only four of the eight aldermen were present, the mayor can be considered an alderman for the purpose of having a quorum. With one vacant seat there are seven possible votes, four are needed for a majority. The council could have tabled the appointment until more members were present but decided to move ahead with the vote. City attorney Tom Kieklak suggested they go into executive session to discuss the issue. They returned and voted 4-0 to appoint Throgmorton.
The four members at that meeting made a clear statement about their political philosophy that night. When presented with a choice between a fresh face, someone with no political baggage, or choose someone from West Fork’s past with a history of controversy, divisiveness and defeats, they chose to go backwards.
The vote was a demonstration of political loyalty, debts paid and whatever backroom maneuvering that has dominated the Good-ole-Boy, Political Machine style of governance in West Fork politics for generations. The political and other links between the Gang of Four and Jan Throgmorton is there for all to see.
Anita Lowry, Ward 3 Position 2, is the daughter of long time Water/Sewer employee Jerry Spillers. He reports to Butch Bartholomew. Both Bartholomew and Spillers receive a $5,000 annual payment for life from the city. The payment idea was proposed and moved through council approval by the Mayor Jan Throgmorton.
Julie Shafer, Ward 2, Position 2, served on the council when Throgmorton was mayor. Shafer often referred to Throgmorton as “mom” in meetings. When ask about that, she explained in a council meeting that they weren’t actually related but shard a deep bond.
Mike Nelson, Ward 4 Position 1, prior being elected to the council in 2012, was employed by the city in the position of Police Chief for the previous twenty years. During that time Throgmorton was in a leadership role, either as council member or mayor. The amount of reciprocal favors, debts, and loyalties affecting their relationship is unknown.
Ed Stout, Ward 1 Position 2 was appointed to the council by Jan Throgmorton, as was Charlie Rossetti. Stout seldom speaks at council meetings and only once are we aware of Mr. Stout ever casting a vote different from Mr. Rossetti’s vote.
Through no fault of her own, three sitting council members were arrested during Throgmorton’s term as mayor (one felony, two misdemeanors.) The arrests did not involve city business. No other mayor, before or after her, has experienced something like that.
Controversy and divisiveness were the hallmark of Jan Throgmorton’s term as mayor. She became interim mayor by a vote of the city council in a secret ballot on November 18, 2008 to complete the term of Jeff Baker who had resigned. She was elected mayor by the voters in a special election run-off in May of 2009. After two years as mayor she was defeated by reform minded community activist Frances Hime. Throgmorton’s main criticism of Hime was that she refrained from saying the Pledge of Allegiance as part of her Quaker religious principles.
Throgmorton, an associate pastor at a large local church, often seemed to confuse a “constituency” with a “congregation.” One of her last official acts, during the lame duck period after she was defeated but before Hime was sworn in as mayor and without public comment or knowledge, was to have “In God We Trust” painted on the wall above the mural in the council room.
During her term as mayor she promoted the dedication of land in Riverside for an angel statue that, while it had park commission approval, proved unpopular with citizens for various reasons: public art from Utah of questionable aesthetic value; the tastelessness of erecting a statue commemorating deceased children in the park rather than a cemetery; religious symbolism; and lack of common sense to erect a statue of any kind on land prone to flooding.
Throgmorton has never been an advocate for open, transparent government. On the contrary, she has held an executive session which was determined by the county prosecutor to be in violation of the Freedom of Information laws but no one was charged. The purpose of that session was to force the resignation of an elected city official, City Clerk Susan Cooney for submitting what Throgmorton and her council considered overly detailed meeting minutes. Other meetings were held without public notification required by law.
In June, 2010 she removed the Public Forum segment from council meetings. The forum was later restored after an outcry by citizens.
Her support of the Planning Commission has been nonexistent. An independent commission would run counter to the objective of keeping city functions in as few hands as possible. The planning commission disintegrated when its Chair at the time, Charlie Rossetti, resigned. A new chair was elected but no meetings were scheduled. The commission died. Mr.Rossetti ‘s political ambitions moved to larger venues and he ran unopposed and, as such, was elected to the city council the following November.
Jan Throgmorton was mayor when the commission began to dissolve. She never replaced commission members whose terms expired nor took action to revive the Commission even though a planning commission for our town is required by law. Whether she was unable to recruit citizens to serve in her administration or whether she didn’t regard the commission as a desirable part of city government is speculative. The fact that West Fork was in violation of state statues didn’t seem to influence her inaction. The work of the Commission fell to Michael “Butch” Bartholomew who is paid by and accountable to the autonomous water commission and not under the control of the elected city government.
During her tenure as mayor the audits continued to be ignored, no new business came to town, the infrastructure didn’t improve, the public buildings didn’t get repaired and the voters became disillusioned enough with her style of governance to vote her out of office November, 2010.
Accomplishments? She points to the removal of the condemned buildings at the corner of Main and McKnight Streets as an accomplishment. True, after a three year court battle between the city and the property owner, the buildings were razed. But the $14,000 cost for removal was paid by the city and according to court records, because of a flawed permit process overseen by Mr. Bartholomew, a lien was not placed on the property. The taxpayers paid to remove a privately owned, condemned building.
But somebody important evidently likes her and the Gang of Four did what they had to do. Perhaps this is the direction the majority of voters want to take their town. In the last election they voted in two old timers; Mike Nelson and Bill Sergeant. Neither can be expected to present fresh leadership. Hope was dashed that West Fork would get a new face and fresh perspective on the council. And the decision for this appointment took place in a back room.
Welcome to “the way we’ve always done it.”
[Full disclosure: Steve Winkler owns this Website and is a candidate for Mayor of West Fork in the Special Election, April 8, 2014.]
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