The Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 10, 2002
BY KRISTEN MOULTON, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
Utah’s Alliance for Unity — which includes 18 prominent business, religious and community leaders — spoke out Monday for the first time on the increasingly volatile Main Street Plaza debate, urging a return to civility.
The group’s one-paragraph statement took no position on the impasse and proposed no solution.
“We’re just asking them [citizens] to cool the rhetoric. Let’s put this on the back burner, let some time elapse,” said Jon Huntsman, co-founder of the alliance with Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson.
Also on the alliance is Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ballard and Anderson agreed to the alliance statement issued late Monday afternoon, Huntsman said.
“We must avoid stereotyping this issue as a Mormon-non-Mormon battle: while recognizing not all agree, we must still respect those whose views may differ from our own,” the statement said.
Anderson is at loggerheads with the LDS Church over the plaza, which it built after buying a block of Salt Lake City’s Main Street in 1999.
The mayor has refused to give up the city’s easement on the plaza, which the church wants so it can control speech and behavior there. A federal appeals court ruled this fall that the easement requires the constitutional right to free speech be honored on the plaza.
Anderson’s stand has made him the champion of many non-Mormons who resent the church’s purchase and closure of Main Street between North Temple and South Temple. But the mayor is anathema to many LDS faithful who want their church to be able to keep the plaza free of protesters and pamphleteers.
City Hall has been inundated with calls and e-mails from both sides, and radio talk shows and newspapers have been flooded with comments. Some are vitriolic toward Anderson, others toward the church. It is this venom that the Alliance for Unity wants to stem, Huntsman said.
“There has been a certain element of personal innuendo and to some extent a mean spirit that has characterized this situation,” he said. “We need to put it in perspective and take a deep breath. It does not do any harm to anybody to let the church have what it bargained for and what it initially believed it was receiving . . . an oasis of peace and harmony.”
But those personal views aside, Huntsman said, “My greater concern is to urge harmony and unity. We just have to respect one another’s point of view.”
Huntsman, who has acted as a go-between for Anderson and LDS officials, said he and other alliance members simply “want very much to see if we can be helpful.”
“If the LDS Church and mayor’s office think the best approach is legal, we’ll step aside,” said Huntsman, adding that he hoped other community leaders would “step up and try to help resolve it.”
Alliance member Pamela Atkinson, an advocate for the homeless, said the group has watched the plaza controversy escalate and figured it was time to speak up.
“Someone needs to say, ‘Just a moment everybody. Let’s listen and respect each other and come to a solution so we don’t have the kind of harassment and hatred that’s going on,’ ” she said. “A lot of what the alliance has looked at is the growing diversity in our state. Diversity of opinion is one of the most important components. Everybody needs to be reminded to be respectful.”
The alliance statement urges that the plaza dispute be settled “amicably in a spirit of good will,” and praises those who have shown civility and respect while holding strong views.
It also says there is “no place in this or any other community for harassment, mean-spiritedness, name-calling or ridicule of others on this or any other issue. Let us all, in the spirit of the season, demonstrate civility, restraint, forbearance and fair play toward others who may believe differently than we do.”
Anderson said essentially the same thing Friday, when he proposed limiting the public easement to the plaza’s east side with protest zones at the north and south ends.
The mayor said he believed a resolution could be found to retain pedestrian passage through the plaza, meet constitutional free-speech requirements and honor the “clear intentions of the parties that the plaza be a place of peaceful beauty — a place where we can all find safe and tranquil refuge.”
Anderson also apologized for any role he played in the divisiveness.
The LDS Church has rejected Anderson’s proposed time, place and manner rules, which would require City Council approval.
The council will wade back into the controversy tonight. As part of a fact-finding meeting, council members will hear from former city leaders involved in the 1999 Main Street sale. The council is investigating the original intent of the parties as it weighs whether to give up the city’s easement.
The council is scheduled to hear from former Mayor Deedee Corradini, LDS Presiding Bishop H. David Burton, American Civil Liberties Union representatives, a former Planning Commission chairman and a handful of former City Council members.
KUED Channel 7 will telecast the hearing live at 5:30 p.m.
A public hearing on the plaza issue is set for Dec. 17.