Romney Hired for Salt Lake OlympicsKRISTEN MOULTON , Associated Press
Feb. 12, 1999 8:42 AM ET
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Salt Lake's Olympics have a new boss, a renovated leadership _ and a bribery scandal that just keeps spreading.
Mitt Romney, whose Boston firm turns around troubled companies, was hired Thursday to do the same for the 2002 Winter Games, which have been tarnished by misconduct that has scared sponsors and shaken the Olympic movement.
``These games and the preparations leading up to the games will comply with the highest level of ethical conduct,'' Romney vowed. ``There is absolutely no excuse for the compromise of principles.''
He will preside over a revamped Salt Lake Organizing Committee, which has been expanded, its role reduced and three of its members forced out _ two of them with a shove from Gov. Mike Leavitt, who said conflicts of interest no longer will be allowed.
Some of the changes are hard, Leavitt said, but the Olympic Games gain their power through trust.
``This is to raise our standard to the highest possible standard,'' said Leavitt, who gave any board member with a perceived conflict of interest 60 days to resign.
Romney's selection as president of SLOC will help move the Olympics' focus from ``money and materialism back to its roots of athletes and altruism,'' Leavitt said.
But Romney was no sooner introduced when trouble flared again, this time involving an IOC member from the United States.
James Easton, who also serves on the U.S. Olympic Committee and SLOC, said his sporting goods firm had responded to Salt Lake bidders' requests and hired the son another IOC member who has already resigned in the scandal.
Easton said he Sibo Sibandze, the son of David Sibandze of Swaziland, was paid by Easton Sports and did a good job. He said he saw nothing wrong with the hiring but acknowledged that in hindsight be probably should have turned down the request.
Easton said he did not consider his own behavior as unethical, but said he may resign from the IOC if five members already expelled are reinstated next month at a special meeting.
And Japanese Olympic officials investigating Nagano's bid for the 1998 Winter Games said today that nine IOC members might have broken rules during visits to the city.
Yushiro Yagi, who headed the team looking into possible misconduct during the bid, refused to give their names or details of their conduct. Those will be included in a report to the IOC, which will be sent by Monday.
He would only say that one IOC member visited Nagano several times, four brought ``large numbers'' of people, and four brought along families and friends.
Romney, whose ancestors were Mormon pioneers, was chosen by Leavitt and SLOC Chairman Robert Garff. Their choice was endorsed this week by a hastily formed search committee amid some complaints about a short-circuited search.
``It was my job to hire a leader now, not three or five months from now,'' said Garff, who alternately referred to Romney as ``the white knight'' and ``the cream of the crop.''
``We have been in a crisis and needed leadership now,'' Garff said.
The reorganizing of the board and the hiring of Romney came two days after SLOC's ethics panel issued a report blaming executives of Salt Lake City's bid committee for giving more than $1 million in cash, scholarships, shopping sprees, vacations and free medical care to 24 International Olympic Committee members in exchange for getting the games.
So far, nine IOC members have resigned or been expelled. That number could increase, as an IOC investigation prepares to reconvene to review allegations in the Salt Lake report.
Romney said he doesn't believe the Olympic movement will be permanently stained.
``The managers have messed up big time. The athletes haven't,'' he said.
Romney pledged to spend no more money than the games take in, to spare taxpayers, to protect the environment and to take no salary until the Olympics are over and in the black.
When he is paid, it will be $285,000 per year _ the same rate as his predecessor, Frank Joklik, who resigned Jan. 8. Joklik claimed to know nothing about the excesses of bid executives while he served as chairman of the committee.
The roles of Joklik, First Security Corp. Chairman Spence Eccles and PacifiCorp Vice President Verl Topham all came under question because of their importance on both the bid committee and SLOC, but the ethics panel found no fault with them beyond general criticism of a lack of oversight.
Joklik will remain on SLOC's board of trustees, which was expanded from 33 to 50 members. So will Eccles, who will also fill one of six at-large spots on the new management board.
Topham resigned from the board on his own, ``In careful consideration of my own personal interests, and probably in the interests of going forward.''
Leaving the board under the new no-conflict policy were Alan Layton and Earl Holding.
SLOC has a $13.8 million contract to hold downhill ski races at Holding's Snowbasin Ski Area and use his downtown Salt Lake properties. Layton's construction company is building a $29 million enclosure of the speedskating oval.
Leavitt said he wanted one more resignation, but would not identify the person. The Tribune said it was believed to be Nicholas Badami, who has ties to Park City Mountain Resort, a venue for skiing and snowboarding events. He was not at Thursday's meeting.
``The board's been purged,'' said House Speaker Marty Stephens, a new appointee to the board of trustees. ``The message needs to go out today that this is a new era. The Mitt Romney Era has begun.''
Selling the 2002 Winter Games to corporate sponsors will be a big part of Romney's focus.
Romney said he has little doubt corporations will jump at the chance to sponsor the first U.S. Winter Games in nearly two decades.
``I'll bet you see John Hancock and others like them standing in line to support the Salt Lake Olympics,'' Romney said, referring to comments Tuesday by the president of the insurance company. David D'Alessandro said he was protesting the IOC's failure to deal with the corruption scandal.
Dick Pound, the IOC vice president who negotiates key television and marketing deals, met for three hours with 11 key sponsors in New York Thursday and said there was no indication corporations were considering pulling out.
``The sponsors have been very supportive of the efforts we've been making to date to clean up this problem,'' Pound said. ``There is nobody that has withdrawn.''
Mike Sherman, a spokesman for Visa International, said the sponsors ``voiced our concerns and encouraged reforms and they listened,'' but declined to offer further details.
``The sponsor group has been very good, proper and businesslike,'' Pound said. ``They say, `We understand you have problems, we appreciate what you are doing to clean up and we are supportive of your efforts to do it.''