Council remains divided on fate of Brigham City mayor

Feb 23 2013 - 7:26am

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BRIGHAM CITY -- The divide among members of the Brigham City Council widened as a resolution seeking Mayor Dennis Fife's resignation was discussed and rejected.

Fife sat quietly during a roll call vote Thursday and as some city residents spoke in favor of "A Resolution Respectfully Requesting the Resignation of the Mayor."

Council members Brian Rex and Ruth Jensen put forward the resolution, with members Scott Ericson and Tyler Vincent abstaining from voting. Member Paul Thompson voted no, which sank the resolution because it lacked the three votes required for it to pass.

Brigham City residents were also riled about the appointment of Ericson to be city administrator, following the retirement of current City Manager Bruce Leonard in July. Vincent, acting as mayor pro tem, appointed Ericson to the post. Fife is prohibited from dealing with city personnel actions because of sanctions against him following his revelation in December that he had an extramarital affair with a woman he had counseled as an LDS bishop in Brigham City.

Resident Sherry Phipps described the appointment as "unethical," and said she was "shocked at the underhanded way" in which an elected city council member was named as the city's top administrator. She was echoed by another resident, Becky Maddox, who described the promotion as "too cozy of a relationship."

Following the appointment of Ericson, the city council was pressured to open up the job for all applicants. Maddox complained that the position was advertised only for three days and coincided with the Presidents Day holiday.

A rebuttal came from City Attorney Kirk Morgan, who said that appointed positions don't need to be opened up. "Appointed positions are just that -- appointed."

For instance, he asked, "How many individuals were concerned when Gov. (Mike) Leavitt was appointed to a position in the cabinet of the United States? ... This is nothing new."

But the issue that's created the swirl of emotions is whether the mayor, who has refused to step down, should be required to resign. Such a move, according to the resolution presented by Jensen and Rex, would "be in the best interest of the city" and "protect the good name of the city."

Some residents stood to applaud the resolution. Among those was Todd Jensen, who said the two council members who presented the resolution "had guts and courage and conviction, and they should be admired for that."

Others begged for the issue to be dropped to allow the city to "move forward," as Vincent said.

As he abstained from voting, Ericson said the scandal surrounding the mayor's affair was "one of the most difficult issues the city has ever dealt with." He said that although he, like Vincent, had called for the mayor's resignation in the days following Fife's announcement, he too wanted to move on to other city business.

"We're adults," Ericson added. "I agree that what the mayor did was wrong. ... But for us to continue on in this direction and to have it impact everything that happens in the city is a problem and should be an embarrassment to all of us."

Vincent, who also abstained, said he was disappointed that "it's a battle every time we come together. I'm deeply concerned we continue to bring it up."

Ericson and Vincent described city employees as being upset by the council's continuing discussions on Fife's future. Many city workers, said Ericson, "are nervous they're going to be caught in friendly fire with everything going back and forth."

Following the meeting, a fiery Jensen said she wouldn't back down. She said the resolution was put forward was to show that not every member of the council was "wishy-washy," referring to Ericson and Vincent, who initially called for the mayor's resignation. "I am not going to be wishy-washy."

"If they really think (Fife) should sit there," she added, "then they should have said 'no' to the resolution, not abstained."

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