Ask a Councilman: Chris Wharton
by Sarah Pike (’10)
Chris Wharton (’06) is a sixth-generation Salt Lake City resident and has been a practicing attorney for nearly a decade. Now he’s a Salt Lake City Council member, representing Council District 3. Chris has also served on the Utah Pride Center Board of Directors, as well as two terms on the Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission.
You come from a family with deep Salt Lake roots. What do you love most about the area, and why have you chosen to stay?
“I have traveled a lot, but I never found a reason to leave. I always thought that, for me, Salt Lake had something for everyone. It represents the best of Utah; I think that it’s the most diverse and the most welcoming city here. And growing up gay in Utah—I was born in Salt Lake but then we lived in the Cottonwood Heights area—I always wanted to get back to downtown because I felt like that was a place where everything felt more inclusive.”
What led you to Westminster?
“I had a teacher in high school who I was really close with, and she really was the reason that I started thinking more seriously about it. She pulled me aside and said, ‘You know, I really think that you should think about Westminster. I think that you would do really well there.’ I toured the campus and, I mean, it was game over.”
What are some of your favorite Westminster memories?
“Honestly, almost every memory I have of Westminster is one of my favorite memories. The obvious one was being the president of Associated Students of Westminster College (ASWC); having the opportunity to get involved with student government was huge for me and I really felt like I poured myself into that election and worked really hard—and then I really threw myself into the job of being student body president. I think back on the times that we would just sit around in Stock in the residential village—my roommates and I had this little apartment in Stock and we used to have study parties where everyone was working on different things and then we’d bake cookies. Also, the year before I was ASWC president was when we started the campus concierge program, and I was the first campus concierge—I was actually the head concierge.”
What about Westminster faculty? Were there any professors in particular who were especially impactful?
“All of the faculty in the history department, which was one of my majors—Susan Cottler, Mike Markowski, Jeff Nichols. They all had such different styles of mentoring that were really helpful to me. And obviously, with being involved in student government Mark Ferne was a go-to person for me for life advice. And Bonnie Baxter—even though I don’t think I ever had a class from her—she was always such a supportive person. And Lesa Ellis and Dick Chapman!”
Reflecting back to your Salt Lake City Council race, were there any things you learned about yourself or lessons in general that are meaningful to you now?
“It’s a lot easier to go out and campaign for somebody else and explain why you think they’re great and why you think they should be elected. It’s hard to go out and talk about yourself in that way because any time you do, you feel like you’re being a self-promoter. You’re trying to walk that line of telling people why you think you’re qualified and why they should pick you, but also still sounding humble and relatable and that you’re in this for the right reasons. That is a lesson that you can’t learn until you do it. You’re dealing with people’s livelihoods—you’re dealing with property tax, sales tax, the fees that they’re paying for water, sewage, and trash. You’re making decisions about the long-term future of a whole community and that is hard to appreciate until you’re actually doing it. Seeing your name on a ballot is really a sobering experience. As the first level of government and a nonpartisan office, we really are just neighbors who are chosen by our community to try to make the best decisions with the information that we have.”
What have been the most meaningful moments for you in your time on Salt Lake City Council so far?
“We recently passed the budget, and we were able to secure over half a million dollars for parks that have not been funded for the previous two years—they have fallen into disrepair. And we found funding for a census worker, which is not usually something that the city would do—but because this presidential administration has really gutted the census program, we really need to make sure that people in Salt Lake are filling out their census forms. We need to make sure we’re reaching marginalized communities that are less likely to fill out their census forms, which determine so much for the next 10 years. I’m really proud to have funded this position; it’s going to ensure that Salt Lake City gets the funding and the representation that we deserve for the next ten years at the federal level.
I was also really proud to work with the Salt Lake City School District to sponsor Buddy Benches for all of the elementary schools in the district. That’s something really personal to me because these Buddy Benches are a place where kids can go if they’re feeling like they need a friend or a place to feel secure. It encourages kids to reach out to their peers that are struggling, and our hope is with these Buddy Benches that we’re able to intervene when a child is being bullied or when a child is feeling frustrated—and that we keep them out of becoming violent, hurting other kids, or hurting themselves.”
What advice might you have for our fellow Griffins who may feel helpless or discouraged in the current political climate?
“Honestly, a core value that Westminster instilled in me—and that is becoming ever more important—is kindness. Sometimes we think of that as being the bare minimum. With all that’s going on in the world, and with all that’s going on in our personal lives, the most important thing that you can do is be kind to the people around you, and to show basic care, compassion, and decency for other humans. That’s what’s going to change this toxic environment that we have. So much of this toxicity comes from a lack of compassion and an unwillingness to try to put ourselves in the position of our opponents, and put ourselves in the position of those who are disadvantaged. We’re all in this together. Instead of trying to create this fiercely competitive, divisive, us-versus-them/winner-take-all mentality, showing kindness and compassion, and being dedicated to that in every aspect of your life is so important.”
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster College’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.