With much tact, mayor mentions the war
The tears Mayor Dana Williams says he shed after hearing of a Park City soldier’s injuries in Iraq likely were still vivid in the mayor’s mind when he was asked to honor another of Park City’s servicemen.
A month before, a roadside bomb had exploded, injuring Park City High School graduate Adam Kelley. He was in an armored truck transporting supplies near Mosul when the bomb went off. He suffered a concussion.
Williams has said he has known Kelley since the soldier was a child, and the injury, Williams told The Park Record afterward, "brings home how devastating this military action is."
mid-April, about a month after Kelley was injured, Williams and the Park City Council were readying for another in what has been a series of public recognitions of local soldiers. A fellow PCHS graduate, Cody Wheaton, a 24-year-old Army Ranger, has been stationed in Iraq since October 2007, and his parents were on hand for his honor.
In a brief comment, Williams told the crowd in the City Council chambers — mostly City Hall staffers and people with business with the city government — the honors had become too frequent, an apparent reference to the length of the war.
"We’ve had to do this way too much," the mayor said.
His verbiage seemed carefully chosen, but the comment was perhaps the most telling public statement of his about the Iraqi war since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Williams has long refused to talk about the war in a public setting, even as the local anti-war movement pressed for a statement against the war from himself and the City Council.
Other elected officials did not respond to the mayor’s brief statement, and Wheaton’s parents did not appear disturbed.
Williams generally supports positions embraced by the political left, but he has refused to align himself with the anti-war movement and has rejected efforts by Rich Wyman, the mayor’s onetime ally in development watchdog Citizens Allied for Responsible Growth, to bring a peace resolution to a City Council vote.
In declining a peace resolution, the mayor maintains international affairs are not in his office’s realm, and he says he cannot influence the outcome of the war. City Hall, he and other elected officials say, should stick to local issues.
Williams, in an interview after the City Council meeting, said he debated whether he should make the brief comment. He said the statement was not meant to disrespect members of the military or their families.
"I felt this way all along, but I think the feeling gets stronger the more people we see going over there," he said, acknowledging the comment "was the closest I came to espousing my personal opinions on the war from the dais."
The Kelley injury occurred a year after another Park City soldier, Jake Larsen, was hurt in a roadside bombing. The military awarded Larsen a Purple Heart, the medal that honors injured soldiers.
Bob Wheaton, soldier Cody Wheaton’s father and the president and general manager of Deer Valley Resort, said he was not surprised with the mayor’s statement. He said Williams considerately phrased his comment.
"I thought that he was very politically astute and politically correct — separating the recognition of all of the people in town who served in the service from personal feelings," Wheaton said.
His son is a first lieutenant. He graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in mechanical engineering through the ROTC program. His parents expect him to return from Iraq in January 2009.
At the City Council meeting, Wheaton said he is "nervous and supportive" and his son is "very proud" to be from Park City. The soldier’s mother, Marion Wheaton, also is concerned.
"It’s hard to have your kid in a combat zone," she said.
Becca Gerber, a first-term member of the Park City Council who is seen as bringing a younger person’s perspective to the Marsac Building, will seek reelection this year.