A slim majority of Salt Lake City residents say Mayor Ralph Becker did not act appropriately when he forced out former Police Chief Chris Burbank.
Our latest UtahPolicy.com survey from Dan Jones & Associates finds 53% of Salt Lake residents disagree with Becker forcing Burbank to resign. 37% agree with Becker's actions.
A deputy chief in the Salt Lake City Police Department was accused of sexually harassing three female officers. When those charges were substantiated, Burbank put the deputy chief on paid leave who retired five months later. Becker had asked Burbank to demote the officer instead. After the three female officers had filed suit against the city, Becker demanded Burbank either sign a letter of apology or resign. Burbank chose the latter.
Burbank's ouster has become a major issue in the Salt Lake City mayoral race this year. The incident certainly didn't make Becker many friends among voters, but it also didn't create too many enemies either. 41% of residents in Utah's capital city say the issue makes them less likely to vote for Becker as he runs for a third term. 48% say the issue makes no difference while just 11% say they are much more likely to vote for Becker.
Becker says he's not surprised that his decision comes with a political price tag.
"I knew there would be political repercussions," says Becker. "I know how popular Chief Burbank was and still is. I certainly knew and expected the reaction of the public would be almost shock. I still believe it was the right decision."
Becker's chief rival, former Rep. Jackie Biskupski, says the poll numbers show an appetite among Salt Lake City residents for a change.
"People are upset with the current administration for a number of reasons," she told UtahPolicy.com. "There are so many issues where people feel like they're not being listened to. This is another."
This year's election will mostly be a vote-by-mail affair. Among those respondents who tell us they are likely to cast a ballot, the Burbank ouster is swaying opinions. 45% in that group say Becker's ouster of the former chief makes them less likely to support his re-election bid while 47% say it makes no difference. Those who are neutral about voting in this year's primary election are much less interested in the issue, with 34% of that group saying it makes them less likely to vote for Becker.
Ballots have been mailed to voters and must be postmarked by August 11.
We also asked whether Salt Lake City residents thought Burbank handled the sexual harassment claims adequately. 47% say Burbank's approach was the right one while 41% disagree.
Despite their disagreement with how Becker handled the Burbank situation, more residents think Becker handles sexual harassment claims against the city appropriately than not. 45% say he handles sexual harassment claims correctly while just 30% say he does not. 25% don't know.
Biskupski says the whole situation highlights Becker's shortcomings as a leader.
"Hostile work environments have to be addressed in a very strong fashion. That's one of the most critical things a leader needs to provide for employees, and that is not happening here."
For his part, Becker says he is comfortable with his decision and credits the public backlash to misunderstanding of the issue.
"So many people I talk to don't realize this involved a matter of sexual harassment. I took what I believed then was the appropriate action. I'm comfortable with the decision I made and I don't apologize for that."