Corradini Defends Plaza

The Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 11, 2002

    When concerns about free speech on a proposed Main Street Plaza first erupted in 1999, then-Mayor Deedee Corradini was conspicuously absent from many of the debates. But on Tuesday, she was front and center, attempting to clarify Salt Lake City’s goals in selling the property to the LDS Church.

    It was supposed to be like the neighboring church administration block, she said, open to public access but controlled by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She said it was a means to enhance the state’s No. 1 tourist attraction, Temple Square.

    However, Corradini acknowledged that the extent of the church-sought restrictions on speech and behavior may not have been generally known among the public.

    “The intention always was to have a quiet, beautiful, peaceful, reflective place in the middle of our city that the public would always have access to. Those of us working on this issue were clear. We tried to clarify that, but as I said, different people hear different things.”

    Tuesday night was Corradini’s chance to defend the $8.1 million sale that landed the city in court and fractured the community along religious lines. She — along with former City Council members, an LDS general authority and plaintiffs in a lawsuit — was invited to the City-County Building to give her thoughts about the arrangement as the current City Council decides how it wants to resolve the impasse. The hearing lasted almost four hours.

    Under questioning by Mayor Rocky Anderson, Corradini did little to clarify the critical issue of whether it was her and the city’s intent to retain the public easement in the event that the restrictions were deemed unconstitutional, as they were in October by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On that point, she deferred to former City Attorney Roger Cutler, who did not attend the meeting but may be at next Tuesday’s public hearing.

   The former mayor said she did not know why the specific placement of the easement wasn’t defined in the contract, whether the city looked at ways other than an easement to guarantee access or whether she intended the severability clause to mean what Anderson believes: that if the restrictions were deemed unconstitutional, the easement remains with the city.

    “None of us dreamed we’d ever get to that point,” she said.

    But the American Civil Liberties Union disagreed. Advising attorney Stephen Clark pointed to a draft document that would have allowed the church to extinguish the easement if the restrictions on behavior and speech were thrown out. The final document, signed by the city and church, says instead that the easement remains with the city. The draft document was undated, but Clark says it was passed between city and church officials before the City Council approved the deal in April 1999.

    “This absolutely proves this was an issue everyone was carefully looking at,” said Anderson, who was to be escorted by police after the hearing. The draft document was news to him.

    LDS Presiding Bishop H. David Burton, who also spoke at the hearing, said afterward: “I’m really not familiar with that,” but agreed that had it been adopted, it would have saved the city from its current fracas.

    Burton agreed the easement was part of the deal nearly from the beginning. But he said the restrictions on behavior — against picketing, demonstrating and other “offensive” speech — were “paramount,” too.

    He referred to a “blow-up” meeting he held with other church officials and city representatives after the Planning Commission voted in March that the plaza be treated like a public park. “We said under no condition would we go forward with the purchase if the church was not protected from the abusive kinds of demonstrations we have experienced in the last 45 days on the plaza.”

    After that meeting, the city dropped that condition.

    On Tuesday night, Burton suggested the church might offer to buy or exchange land for the easement.

    He also defended how the church represented the plaza to the public, repeating Corradini’s sentiments that “the intent of the parties” was for the church to control the plaza.

    But former Councilwoman Deeda Seed disagreed, saying the public process was flawed from the moment Corradini announced the proposal in December 1998 with LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley.

    “Bishop Burton went into heavy lobbying mode. He’s a very good salesperson, and he tried to convince me of the beauty of the plaza. Representations were made to me on many occasions and to the community that this space would be open like a public park.”

    Seed said, “The public didn’t know the undertone of this deal until it was voted on and done.”

    The ACLU backed Seed. Clark said he never raised any questions about restrictions on behavior on the plaza because he didn’t know there would be any until the night the council approved the deal in April. “From the initial announcement, the plaza was consistently described as a park.”

    Clark again threatened a lawsuit if the council decides to give up the easement and urged it to pass Anderson’s time, place and manner regulations that limit the easement to the plaza’s east side and protests to areas at each end. Accepting Anderson’s proposal was difficult, said the Rev. Tom Goldsmith of the First Unitarian Church and a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

    When he first read it, he thought, “Oh, this is just too lopsided. I don’t like it. [Then] I realized it’s got to be a generosity of spirit. Compromise is the only way to get on with the healing, with the business of the city.”

    Dani Eyer, ACLU executive director, said the mayor’s rules “barely pass muster” and could be challenged, but urged the council to adopt them.

    Some council members wondered why, if another lawsuit will ensue. “Why would we want to forward anything that may be challenged again?” Van Turner said.

    LDS Church attorney Alan Sullivan said he plans to call the city attorney’s office to arrange a time to talk about how the city can eliminate the easement so the church can control behavior but still guarantee access to the public. One way is to rely on the contract’s reverter clause, which suggests if the church does not maintain access, the city can take over the plaza. The ACLU shot down that proposal, too.

    “As long as public access is legally secured, our view is First Amendment protections apply,” Clark said.

    The hearing attracted a diverse group of activists — people protesting LDS doctrine, people assailing gays and lesbians, and people who believe the most important issue has been obscured.

    “I’m all for the First Amendment,” said Jacqueline Smith of West Jordan. “But not at the expense of private property rights.”

    Diann Jeppson of West Valley City agreed. “I was married in the Salt Lake Temple. It feels like home to me,” Jeppson said as she gathered petition signatures calling on the city to give up the easement.

    Friends of Main Street Plaza, the group of largely LDS members spearheading the petition drive, also handed out an action plan for ensuring Anderson is not re-elected “for the good of our city.”

    But the way Salt Lake City resident Kris Kirry sees it, the mayor is the only one proposing any solutions. “I don’t like the LDS Church’s position that it’s ‘our way or no way,’ ” Kirry said.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday December 11, 2002.
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