The retiring Mayor Dana Williams on Thursday night, appearing at his last Park City Council meeting before he leaves office, urged City Hall to consider enacting a law legalizing same-sex marriage within the Park City limits.
It was an unexpected political statement from the mayor during a meeting that was anticipated to be heavy on reflections from Williams and others on his 12 years in office. Williams spoke briefly about the topic at the end of the City Council meeting, and it seemed that the publicity gay rights have received as the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, approach might have influenced his comments. The audience in the City Council chambers reacted with applause.
In an interview afterward, Williams said he wants City Hall staffers to research the feasibility of the municipal government creating a law. He did not provide details. If a law legalizing same-sex marriage is pursued, City Hall would immediately face the prospects of challenging a voter-approved prohibition on same-sex marriage in Utah.
Mayor-elect Jack Thomas, who was in the audience Thursday night, said in an interview he supported the comments by Williams. Thomas said he backs same-sex marriage but also acknowledged that he intends to follow state law.
It was not clear at the meeting what sort of process could start next year if a municipal law is pursued. Once he takes office, Thomas could poll the City Councilors about their support for enacting a law. If the majority agrees to pursue one, City Hall attorneys would probably be asked to research the legality of such a municipal law in Utah.
Activists representing the various camps in the same-sex marriage debate and government officials elsewhere in the state would likely closely follow the process in Park City. Utah voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in the state. Voters in Summit County opposed the ballot measure, with a little more than 61 percent voting 'Nay.' Summit County joined Grand County as the only two counties in opposition.
Williams, meanwhile, spoke for a little less than four minutes during another part of the meeting as he reflected on his time in office. He won his first election in 2001, took office just weeks before the opening of the 2002 Winter Olympics and won re-election in 2005 and 2009. He did not seek a fourth term.
He told the crowd he did not anticipate seeking elected office, saying that he preferred his role as an activist. Williams spoke about the City Hall successes during his time in office and said he is also pleased with community's fabric.
" . . . Looking at things like keeping us funky and maintaining a sense of that we still have ski bums in our town and we still have this socioeconomic diversity that we find so important are things I am exceedingly proud of," Williams said.
He said City Hall has built solid relationships with the state and federal government and spoke briefly about the development of Quinn's Junction. He said large retailers could have been put on the land around the S.R. 248-U.S. 40 interchange. Instead, though, development there has included a fields complex, an ice arena, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association's headquarters and a hospital. It is "quite phenomenal," he said.
Williams came to political prominence as the leader of a development watchdog. He stressed on Thursday that citizen involvement remains important in Park City.
"That was my baby before I ran for office, was to try to make sure that people showed up and participated. And it's gotten to the point where hundreds of people are involved in various types of committees or friends-of groups. And it's something that I think all of us here take great pride in," Williams said.
The mayor thanked his wife for putting up with phone calls late in the night. He said he is unsure what sort of work he will pursue. He expressed deep appreciation for the other elected officials, City Hall staffers and the community.
"When people ask me, it was 1963 when my parents first came here, when was the greatest time in your history of being around Park City, and it's right now. There's no two ways about it," Williams said.
Williams received a photo collage depicting him playing a guitar from City Hall staffers and a painting of the McPolin Farm from the City Council. Williams honored Deer Valley Resort executive and work force housing advocate Bob Wells as well as Ruth Meintsma, who closely follows Old Town issues, with awards for their service. Kristen Whetstone, a City Hall planner, thanked Williams and labeled him the "best mayor ever."