Someone once told Jennifer Brown she wasn’t a real judge because she was a woman.
The criticism came from an individual involved in a litigation case presented to Brown sometime after she was appointed as a 4th District Court judge in 2014.
Other than that one instance, Brown mused, her gender hasn’t been an issue throughout her career.
“That, I think, is really the only time it has ever been in my mind,” she said. “I’ve always taken the approach in my practice that I don’t consider myself a female judge. I just consider myself a judge.”
Last Thursday, Brown was nominated and appointed as the first female presiding judge in the history of the 4th District Court.
While each judge handles their own caseloads and calendars, “the presiding judge really is intended to be the face of the district,” Brown explained during an interview Thursday.
During her two-year term, she will be in charge of handling issues affecting the entire district as well as settling perceived or observed conflicts of interest between judges and cases.
She spent the last two years serving as an associate presiding judge with Judge James Brady but never imagined she would end up in this position.
“I’ve wanted to be an attorney for most of my life,” Brown said. “I never really had particular designs on being a judge.”
During the 4th grade, she said she witnessed a solemn injustice where a person she knew didn’t have much of a voice. She recognized at the time the matter was an issue a court system could change.
“I wanted to be a voice for people. That stuck with me,” Brown said.
She graduated high school in Colorado and started working in the legal field before receiving a J.D. degree from Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School. She later worked as an attorney in various law firms across the country until she moved to Utah in 1997.
To those studying in law or simply studying at universities, Brown suggests exploring all available opportunities and finding what fits.
“I started law school saying I would never be a litigator,” she said, chuckling and spreading her arms wide. “And here I am, that’s what I do.”
When she was appointed as a judge in 2014, Judge David Mortensen told her there was one aspect of the job she would both love and hate: never figuring everything out.
“It’s exciting and fun and it’s also frustrating and nerve-wracking because we try to get it right,” Brown said. “It never gets stale because there is always something new, some new twist.”
She also enjoys the intellectual challenge of being a judge and researching legal issues for as long as she wants, something she always wanted to do as an attorney but felt the tension of being paid for her time.
Her personal goal whenever she takes the bench is to make sure she has read and prepared for whatever case she is facing.
“I never want to get set in the routine of what I do and lose sight of the fact that to the person in front of me, the case is very, very important to them,” Brown said.
She also leaned heavily on the advice and counsel of many mentors and friends, including a former Sunday School teacher in Colorado who passed away last week. Despite her busy schedule, Brown dropped by to chat with her friend at least three to four times a year.
“Unfailingly, she loved people. She served people. She was a friend to everyone. And that’s really an inspiration to me,” Brown said. “I’ve been very fortunate in my career and in my education that many people have been there along the way.”
She praised her fellow 4th District Court judges and stated she didn’t even know she was the first female presiding judge until someone mentioned the fact to her.
“From my perspective, and I get that this is an individual experience for everyone, but I have never felt that gender was an issue among myself and my colleagues,” she said. “I feel like I have had every equal voice at the table and every equal opportunity.”
Three cities in Utah County — Provo, Orem and Lehi — have been designated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as cities that qualify to receive direct grant funding through the Community Development Block Grant and HOME grants.
In an effort to stretch dollars, Orem, Provo and Mountainland Association of Governments (representing Utah County) have agreed to form a collaboration and join funding that will allow for larger projects to be completed. Lehi is not participating at this time. They may in the future, but Orem and Provo have one year under their funding belts in 2019.
The Utah Valley Consortium is lead by Provo City and provides for HOME funding in the community.
Last year the Family Support and Treatment Center in Orem and the House of Hope in Provo were selected to receive CDBG funding. Both non-profit service organizations serve residents throughout the county.
It isn’t often that taxpayers can have input on where there money goes, said Gonzalez. In this case the community is invited to take a survey to help determine where the greatest needs are.
“One of the things we’d like the community to do is take a five question survey on community needs,” Gonzalzes said.
Utah County also receives funding and is the administrator to disburse money upon application to a consortium of other cities in the county. The cities and towns of Fairfield, Eagle Mountain, Woodland Hills and at times Alpine and Highland have opted out of receiving entitlement funding, according to Gonzalez.
Provo is the only city to receive direct funding from HOME.
Funding through Home Investment and Partnership Program (HOME) is just for housing issues. The better known Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) may be used for public services (15%) and capital projects (85%).
Gonzalez said programs for housing must be used in areas where 51% of the residents earn 80% or less of the area median income as directed by HUD.
About 10% of HOME funding and 20% CDBG is used for administrative purposes, Gonzalez said.
The collaborative effort is part of a five-year process that includes a strategic plan, according to Kena Mathews, Orem’s Community Services manager.
“By getting a strategic plan together we truly are identifying community needs and where funding needs to be placed,” Mathews said.
Mathews added that the collaboration effort leaves less of a burden on the administration of the funds and on the public service organizations.
“It reduces time because we divide responsibility,” Mathews said.
Each city council must approve funding for projects that have been selected and vetted through a citizens committee. They can accept it, reject it or modify it, according to Mathews.
To participate in the survey, visit https://surveymonkey.com/r/LS3DDBN.
Alpine School District’s electronics policy is getting its first update since 2013.
“This needed drastic overhaul,” said Sara Hacken, a member of the Alpine School District Board of Education, during a meeting Tuesday.
The board discussed the policy Tuesday, which centers around providing individual schools with the ability to create their own rules about the use of communication devices.
Policy No. 5250, Electronic Communication and Entertainment Devices, allows schools to prohibit all use of personal electronic devices during instructional time whether or not the device is being used to send or receive messages.
It also states that communication devices should not be used either at school or in connection with a school activity to violate the district’s bullying policy.
The updated policy includes language that allows schools the option to require a parent meeting before a confiscated device can be returned.
The policy was brought before the board after being studied by the district’s policy committee for six months.
Julie King, a member of the Alpine School District Board of Education, said during the Tuesday meeting that she liked that the policy gives control to schools.
“I really value that,” King said.
King said she wanted the policy to include an exemption for students who use cell phones or tablets as medical devices, such as students who have diabetes and use smartphones to monitor their blood sugar levels or students who have hearing or speech difficulties who use electronic devices to communicate.
Scott Carlson, the board’s president, said that people’s understanding and tolerance of electronic devices has changed.
“I know that maybe most of us went to school at a time when calculators were not allowed,” he said during the Tuesday meeting. “...I am hoping that in all that we do, that our focus is on guiding students to have proper use of devices that are available to them, whether that is at school or at home.”
The updated policy may be approved during the board’s Jan. 28 meeting.
During a weekend retreat Jan. 11, the Orem City Council and city leadership set their top five goals for 2020, with the No. 1 priority centered on homeowners.
Mayor Richard Brunst said the retreat produced some good discussion on issues important to residents.
“We had an excellent retreat,” Brunst said. The group set goals ranging from keeping neighborhoods family-oriented while allowing for properly maintained growth, to city facilities and infrastructure upkeep.
Councilman Tom Macdonald said he was glad the council could come together with good feelings and good interaction.
“The way any organization I’ve been with that works well is dropping egos at the door and to work as a team,” Macdonald said.
The top goal for the council is to execute the neighborhood plans, which include protecting internal bedroom communities while allowing all types of housing but in the right location, Brunst said.
“How we grow matters,” Brunst said. “We want to manage our growth properly. We want to protect schools, parks and homes.”
Brunst recognized the State Street Master Plan as a reasonable accommodation for mixed-use high density housing. Apartments are to be built along the main corridor and with reason in the Utah Valley University area, such as the new apartments, The Green on Campus Drive, formerly the Palos Verdes project.
The council also discussed legal and illegal apartments, fixed incomes and how they might adjust or rethink uses for renting rooms, detached apartments, and basement apartments as the homeowners age and need some form of additional income and who could also provide low income housing.
“It’s time to revisit the rental issues,” said Councilwoman Debby Lauret, who is serving as mayor pro tem.
Another of the group’s priorities after housing is employee compensation.
According to Lauret, the city is doing an employee compensation study to look at first responder’s pay and other jobs within the city.
“We need to make sure we’re competitive and also retaining employees,” Lauret said. “We may have to do a one-time (compensation) bump, and then how are we going to fund this in the long run.”
Lauret said the council is concerned about having sustainable funds for compensation in case another recession hits and sales tax revenues drop.
“We can’t be so dependent on sales tax,” she said.
The city is also being impacted by a healthy job market. According to Steven Downs, city spokesman, there are jobs open in the city but not enough qualified applicants to fill them.
Brunst added the council will be taking a really good look at the study numbers to make sure the city is not losing out by not being competitive.
Macdonald added that the council is grateful to the LDS Church, Woodbury Corp. and many others who continue to bring jobs and attention to Orem.
The council wants to also take a deeper dive into sustainability. Brunst said the three prong focus is on revenues, expenditures and infrastructure.
“We’ve got to stay up with this,” Brunst said, referring to infrastructure. “This city is one of the best I’ve seen for planning ahead for infrastructure. Our city has stayed on top of water issues since 1905.”
From having a compliant wastewater treatment plant by Utah State law to replacing all the street lights and stop lights with LED energy saving lights, Brunst said the city goal is to stay out in front of any potential problems.
“We stand on the shoulders of great people that came before us,” Macdonald said. “We are beneficiaries of wise planning. The economy was tough from 2008 to 2012. We didn’t keep up with infrastructure.”
The retreat discussion turned to residents who have given some pushback on water rates, which are scheduled to raise to more than $82 a month for an average home in the next two years as part of a five-year capital improvements plan. Those same homes were paying about $17 five years ago. Macdonald noted that even with the fee increases, Orem is still comparable to most cities with lower water rates along the Wasatch Front.
Lauret said the council must take a second or third look at those fee impacts.
“We need to go back and look closer at the water fee structure and see where we are at,” Lauret said. “We need to look at our utilities to see if we are meeting the seven-year plan.”
Another goal the council feels is critical to have is a better communication and relationship with state legislators representing Orem.
“We want to make sure there is better communication,” Lauret said. “We need to understand their priorities and they need to understand ours.”
The city council and the legislators have the same constituents and that means it is important to have that two-way communication, Downs said.
Coming in at fifth place in the list of priorities is the council looking at developing plans for a new city hall.
“We know it’s something we must look at,” Lauret said. “But a new building doesn’t make sense until the first responders (compensation) issue is taken care of. We are going to have to bite the bullet.”
Brunst is very concerned about the safety of the building and how much money is being dumped into it for repairs. Some portions of the building are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In the past two years, according to Brunst, more than $800,000 has been put into repairs for the city building.
“This building was built the same time the Provo city hall was built 50 years ago,” Brunst said. “It is unsafe, insufficient and in constant repair.”
According to Downs the council will devote this year to evaluating how they could build a new city hall without money coming from the taxpayer.