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Erin Mendenhall sworn in as Salt Lake City mayor, issues new air quality directive

Posted at 2:26 PM, Jan 06, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — Within minutes of taking the oath of office, Mayor Erin Mendenhall issued a directive on air quality.

Salt Lake City departments and divisions must factor air quality into decision-making, she said. Mayor Mendenhall came into politics as a clean air activist.

"There almost isn’t a single action or decision with in any division or department we make that doesn’t in some way connect to emissions," she told reporters. "Whether it’s how people can commute to work as 3,000 employees living here, or that work here, or whether they can telecommute or investments we can make for systems here, business we support or buildings coming up that we issue loans. There are air quality impacts to every decision."

The move was praised by air quality advocates.

"I think it’s phenomenal leadership," said Thom Carter, the director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership. "We need more people thinking that way and we want every business leader to think that way."

Mayor Mendenhall was inaugurated on Monday, becoming Salt Lake City's 36th mayor and the third woman to lead Utah's capital city. In a speech before a crowd of over 500 on the steps of the Salt lake City & County Building, the mayor called for collaboration and outlined her vision for a more sustainable city.

"Our city will be stronger when every voice is not only welcome but given the same level of respect and consideration," she said.

The mayor takes office facing immediate problems. Over the weekend, Salt Lake City police busted up a protest encampment set up outside city hall. Demonstrators were protesting the closure of The Road Home shelter downtown and the lack of available shelter beds.

Speaking to reporters after her inauguration, Mayor Mendenhall expressed some sympathy with the demonstrators' cause. She noted that for the past year-and-a-half, she has expressed concerns about closing the downtown shelter.

"I wish the state would have opted to keep that as an overflow shelter option through this winter while our [homeless resource centers] come online. Clearly, there’s a need, and those are keys the state holds not the city. But I share in the feeling and clear need for shelter options," she said.

Mayor Mendenhall takes office after her predecessor, Jackie Biskupski, opted not to seek re-election after one term. Biskupski told FOX 13 she intends to do work at a national level to get more cities on 100% renewable energy. She enacted a policy to get Salt Lake City entirely on renewable energy sources by 2030.

"I am skiing for now," she said, laughing.

Asked what advice she had for her successor, Biskupski offered: "I think it’s very important to listen to the experts. We have a depth of expertise in city government that is phenomenal."

Monday's oath of office ceremony also included Salt Lake City Council members Dan Dugan, Andrew Johnston and Ana Valdemoros. For Councilwoman Valdemoros, it is historic. She is the first ethnic minority to be elected to the city council. Her remarks were delivered partly in Spanish, a nod to the city's minority communities.

"Giving a person a seat does not mean we take away someone else’s spot at our table. We do not build walls. But build longer tables for all those who want to sit with us," Councilwoman Valdemoros said.

Mayor Mendenhall previously served on the Salt Lake City Council, who will pick her replacement from a list of applicants. They will conduct interviews for the post later this month.