Tom Clyde: An extraordinary Madam for Park City’s extraordinary time
And just like that, 40 years go by, and dear, old friends pass away.
Most of you won’t know the name, but if you moved here in the last 25 years or so, her work was part of your decision. She was the city manager at one of Park City’s most critical times and laid the foundation for modern Park City.
It’s hard to describe where things were back then. The population was tiny. You really knew everybody in town. That made every zoning regulation very personal. When the city decided to tow all the junk cars off the vacant lots of Old Town, they meant your junk car.
City Hall operated with all the sophistication of a 3-unit condo association. There were nasty scandals involving the police and building departments. A “Wild Turkey” inspection would get anything passed. New houses fell down. Deer Valley was just beginning construction, and the City couldn’t keep up with it.
A “radical” City Council had a clear vision of what they wanted Park City to be, and hired Arlene to make it happen.
In an unsuccessful bid at formality, she was referred to in Council meetings as “Madam Manager.” During the Public Works strike, “Madam” took its bawdier meaning, and she was the Madam, and those not on strike were “the Madam’s girls.” It became a badge of honor, and in the office, she was always referred to as “the Madam.”
I was fortunate enough to have been part of the new staff she brought in. The city was basically broke — service demands got way out in front of tax base — and so she hired a lot of people who were long on enthusiasm and short on experience. Ron Ivie was the adult in the room. He was maybe 10 years older than the rest of us, making him a seasoned veteran. But we set out creating a professional city government. If we had known how difficult it would be, we wouldn’t have tried. But since we didn’t know any better, it just seemed natural.
The staff was so small that everybody did a bit of everything. Although I never had to pull my shift as a snowplow driver, as city attorney, I was on the roster if things really got buried. The fact that I knew how to run a front-end loader made me a first-round draft pick among the pencil-pushers.
Arlene must have spent evenings reading the index to the Utah Code. She would come in after a holiday weekend and say, “we need a municipal building authority” to take out a mortgage to buy and renovate of the Marsac Building. The state code said it could be done. The people in the business of selling municipal bonds said it was unconstitutional, and no bank would touch it. Well, almost no bank.
Arlene and I sat down with Dick Wilde from Silver King State Bank. Over several breakfasts at the Mt. Air Café, he agreed to make the loan. It was revolutionary, and now has become common. In the same vein, she created the Housing Authority, the Redevelopment Agency, and the transit system. She got the Resort City Sales Tax passed through the Legislature, but only after revising the proposal to exempt sales tax on cars so the local Oldsmobile dealer wasn’t disadvantaged by the higher tax rate.
Arlene was something of a tornado, moving through City Hall and rattling the china in every department. Fixing the internal problems was hard enough, but we had an explosion of growth happening at the same time. UDOT wanted to replace the streetlights on Main Street, which was a state highway then, but they were proposing something typically UDOT-ugly. Weeks were spent studying lampposts and light color. I think the city swapped UDOT Marsac Avenue so we could install tastefully colored, antique looking lights at our cost.
City Council meetings were well attended and raucous. The open container law didn’t apply on Council nights. Public hearings nearly became public brawls. In the days before cable TV, it was entertainment. But the real work of the city got done at the Down Under club in the basement of the Claimjumper Hotel. It was there that the future of Park City was carefully mapped out on placemats and napkins.
The plan looked like Park City does today, though with better parking. And the library was going to be a nursing home. None of us believed it could actually happen.
Arlene left Park City, sick and burned out, to work in what she called the most boring suburb of Portland, Oregon. After a 20-year career there, she retired, beloved by the staff and council.
The night of her retirement party, at something like 4 a.m., she called me. We hadn’t talked in several years, but here she was, on the phone at 4 a.m. She felt terrible celebrating her retirement in Oregon, because what she wanted to celebrate – what deserved celebration – was her time in Park City. We laughed about the old times until sunrise.
She was an extraordinary leader for an extraordinary time.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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