Olympic boss Mitt Romney, concerned about volunteer numbers, promised to hire thousands of BYU students if the school would cancel classes during the Olympics. In a Jan. 5 letter to Brigham Young University President Merrill Bateman, Romney said the Olympics "could very productively employ the full number of students which would be expected to be available if classes were not in session." Copies of the letter were sent to LDS Church apostles Henry Eyring and Robert Hales. One month later, BYU announced it would suspend classes next February for four days. It is one of several requests Romney and SLOC have made to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its affiliates, so many, in fact, that church leaders recently wrote to Romney asking him to pare the list. The letter was sent as SLOC prepared to release church-related correspondence to The Salt Lake Tribune under a March 17 records request. The documents show SLOC has passed the Olympic collection plate often -- and rarely come away empty-handed. Six months into his new job, Romney sent a memo to his officers and directors laying out two edicts: That all contacts with the media on any topic be directed by SLOC's communications department -- "No exceptions" -- and that all requests for church assistance be submitted through him. "Given the many resources of the LDS Church, it is natural that any number of us might want to discuss possible use of their facilities or capabilities," Romney wrote. "At their request, all inquiries, even the most preliminary in nature . . . are to be directed to me first."
During the next two years, SLOC considered seeking many favors from the church. Among them: To donate use of parking facilities at the BYU stadium, the Kearns chapel and the field adjacent to it, the Bountiful Regional Center and any lots in downtown Salt Lake City such as the one at 375 E. 100 South. These, along with lots in Park City, were approved. To participate in SLOC's "cityscape" program by hanging huge Olympic banners on the church office building and other LDS-owned buildings in downtown Salt Lake City. The church agreed. To operate a genealogical library at the athletes' village. Although approved by the church, this request probably will be dropped as part of the effort to scale back, Romney said. To provide accommodations in the church-owned Brigham Street apartments for about 60 people involved with Olympic ceremonies. SLOC, which had previously received two apartments rent-free, decided not to forward this request. To make a religious pageant known as the "Spectacular" part of the 2002 Cultural Olympiad. Romney said SLOC and the church "mutually agreed" not to pursue it. The pageant will be presented during the Games, but not as part of the Olympiad. To provide translation equipment and interpretation services. SLOC instead opted to rely on private vendors and university students and personnel. To host International Youth Conference activities, such as choir performances, organ recitals, films, tours of Temple Square, Welfare Square, the Conference Center and Family History Center. Romney, with approval from the International Olympic Committee, canceled the youth camp.
The status of a SLOC request to use licensed radio channels controlled by the church is unknown. Correspondence also shows church leaders have been consulted on the opening and closing ceremonies, the pageants that set the tone for the Games and often depict a host city's self-image. In December 1999, church leaders were invited to give suggestions on the events, "in order to best represent Utah, its history, culture, values and spirit." A follow-up letter from Don Mischer, producer of the ceremonies, noted that he had a "very productive and informative meeting" with BYU President Bateman, who provided his "thoughts about the ceremonies" and "the many BYU performance groups that might somehow participate in the proceedings." And a Feb. 13 letter from producer Geoff Bennett asked the church to help locate space for a rehearsal site, wardrobe shop and storage facility near Rice-Eccles Stadium. Not all requests made it past Romney. An Aug. 14 memo suggests the LDS Relief Society be asked to provide housekeeping services at the athletes' village. Romney said he did not forward the request. Another he tabled was an Aug. 25 request to hang posters and install volunteer and job application holders in LDS and other church chapels. Some requested items were blacked out in the documents, such as the location of church property for security functions. And SLOC withheld 12 letters in their entirety. Three of them were from Don Mischer Productions regarding aspects of the opening and closing ceremonies that have not yet been made public.
The other nine were between Romney and church leaders, letters that, while received at SLOC or written on Olympic stationary, were deemed personal correspondence. The letters, which Romney showed to The Tribune under the condition they not be directly quoted, dealt mostly with charitable work, church duties such as his son's missionary assignment, and family matters. There were occasional references to the Olympics. Other letters offered congratulations and pats on the back. Another area in which SLOC encountered some difficulty was in the recruitment of BYU students as volunteers. The two organizations locked horns when SLOC refused to let students share jobs and volunteer assignments on an every-other-day basis. "This puts us in the awkward position of being asked to encourage students to miss two weeks of school -- which we do not think we should do -- or to sit out first block or the whole semester -- which would cause direct income loss to the University," wrote BYU associate academic vice president Noel Reynolds in an August e-mail. Reynolds said BYU students would have plenty of opportunities to take part in Olympic activities as volunteers for the church effort. "Should SLOC be willing to reconsider its position, I would encourage you to keep in mind that the students you would sign up for shared assignments may be far more reliable over the full span of the Olympic events. Training them may also be somewhat easier and more effective. These are fast learners." And followers. Since Bateman's announcement that BYU would cancel classes for part of the Games, the number of student volunteer registrations has tripled to 3,814, according to SLOC spokeswoman Caroline Shaw.
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