The force is strong with Provo’s first female mayor.
Michelle Kaufusi was officially sworn in as Provo’s new mayor on Thursday at the Provo Library Ballroom. As part of her inauguration ceremony, Kaufusi gave her first State of the City address in which she talked about her vision for Provo, the things that make Provo great and the problems Provo faces.
In a lighthearted manner, Kaufusi opened her State of the City address with a short “Star Wars” inspired video featuring former mayor John Curtis, who now serves as the representative for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District.
“I had to start off with something a little fun because it eases my nerves,” Kaufusi said, “and hopefully it let you know a little insight into my personality that I like to work hard, but I also like to play hard.”
Kaufusi introduced her initiative to continue her favorite Provo trait — a love for volunteerism. Referencing the Bible, Kaufusi called Provo “a city that is on a hill cannot be hid.”
“Provo is a national leader in volunteerism,” Kaufusi said. “It’s probably what I am most proud of because that’s where I began as a volunteer. Volunteer service is at the heart of what makes this place great. My initiative is let’s channel some of that volunteerism in a way that helps each of us help spruce up our community and maybe gets a little more attention for our volunteer efforts.”
Amongst other positive traits, Kaufusi shared how Provo has served not just as a city benefiting itself, but also a city that is benefiting the nation. She referenced the American Freedom Festival, which is a Fourth of July performance that is broadcast to U.S. military personnel across the world.
“This is one way our good works are seen by others,” Kaufusi said. “It’s also one way that we have a worldwide reach.”
Kaufusi recognized the thriving businesses in Provo, such as technology startups and nonprofits, that have a global impact. She accredited Brigham Young University for helping Provo mark the map for influencing the world, including BYUtv that reaches across the nation with its original programming. Kaufusi even mentioned the Missionary Training Center that trains thousands of missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who literally travel the world to share their beliefs.
After acknowledging the good Provo has to offer, Kaufusi moved in on some of her greatest concerns with the city: over occupancy and waste water treatment.
Provo City Council recently passed a new Provo rental contract law that requires landlords and tenants to have a written document that acknowledges the person is living in the dwelling, a copy of the rental dwelling license agreement with the city that outlines occupancy and parking limits, and a list of tenant rights and responsibilities under state law. The ordinance was created to enforce zoning laws that already existed in the city, an ordinance that has caused a rift in these neighborhoods between traditional families and young single professionals who have gathered there.
Kaufusi expressed understanding for both sides of the issue.
“I want to help those concerned neighbors,” she said. “I understand their desire to have their streets less cluttered with parked cars, and they have a fair point that the law should be enforced and not just be words in a book. But my heart aches over the discord that has risen on this. As I said that to enforce the law, I want us to go about it the Provo way: with compassion, kindness and respect for all.”
“My initiative is let’s channel some of that volunteerism in a way that helps each of us help spruce up our community and maybe gets a little more attention for our volunteer efforts.” — Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi
One way Kaufusi hopes to respectfully take care of all of Provo’s citizens involved in the over occupancy issue is by providing “plenty of advanced notice” to tenants who will lose their home.
“Importantly, I want it crystal clear that we value our young single professionals,” Kaufusi said. “That we want them here in Provo and that we will do all that we can to make this a welcoming place for you as well as for families and students even as we wrestle through this tough issue. It is my ultimate goal that you will right now in Provo will have a long-term place of belonging, that you will continue to engage with and serve along your non-single neighbors. Please work with us. Continue to bring your talents and your empathy to bare as we try to ensure you have that place.”
Addressing what Kaufusi considers one of Provo’s biggest problems, waste water treatment, Kaufusi said she would be working with the Provo City Council over the next few months on solutions. Provo has one treatment plant on the east side of Provo that is aging, Kaufusi explained. That plant sits higher than the expanding western portion of the city and the existing pipes can’t manage the extra capacity.
“I know this is gross, but if you ignore your sewage problems, eventually they will come to your attention,” Kaufusi said. “No one wants backed up toilets now or in 20 years.”
The city council is considering building a new sewage plant on the western side of Provo, but that costs money. However, Kaufusi says the city needs to invest or the residents will pay for it in the future.
“Even though we would hate to add a new expense, we would consider it irresponsible to ignore the issue and leave future city leaders to manage the damage,” Kaufusi said.
During her inauguration, Kaufusi created a new city department, the Department of Customer Service. She appointed longtime Provo employee, Karen Larsen, to serve as the head of that department.
“Karen has provided dedicated service to our city for years and is well prepared to head this department as a member of my cabinet,” Kaufusi said. “Making customer service its own department aligns with my vision of ensuring that Provo City works for Provo residents and not the other way around.”
At the end of her address, Kaufusi promised: “I will work endlessly hard for you. That is my commitment. And thank you for trusting me.”