Are voters apathetic about government change? | ParkRecord.com

Are voters apathetic about government change?

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

Many voters if asked in November whether the form of government in Summit County should change, won’t likely understand what they’re deciding.

That worries a handful of citizens who claim that expanding the current three-member Summit County Commission to five representatives is a mistake.

"How many of the electorate are informed on what is going to happen?" said Oakley resident Matt Leavitt, a county employee who supports the present form of government. "How many of those voters are going to go into the voter booth with a chip on their shoulder because of something that has happened somewhere in county government and they’re going to want to see something different?"

More controversial, however, is the possibility a manager will be hired to oversee daily operations at the County Courthouse.

"I am not personally confident or comfortable with a non-elected manager," Silver Springs resident Ron Duyker said during a public hearing Wednesday in Coalville. "I like accountability."

The Summit County Commission is considering a recommendation that a five-member county council and appointed manager begin overseeing the government in 2009. Roughly 20 people attended this week’s hearing and Park City and Snyderville residents will have an opportunity to speak about the plan at the Sheldon Richins Building Wednesday at 7 p.m.

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The issue has divided Summit County residents since 61 percent of voters in 2004 chose to study a change. This year, a citizen committee voted 5-2 to recommend the council/manager option.

But government costs would increase if a new manager receives a six-figure salary, Duyker said, adding, "I would wager that income is going to be $150,000 plus."

The County Form of Governance Committee recommends county councilors receive $1 per year in compensation. If the plan is passed, however, politicians are expected to raise the pay.

Those who support morphing into a different form of government claim the county’s rank-and-file workers lack supervision.

"What the government of Summit County lacks is a centralized, day-to-day, on-site manager," said Park City resident Eric Easterly, chair of the Form of Governance Committee. "There isn’t an overall administrator watching over everything."

The committee’s recommendation does not modify county elected officials’ positions, whom the manager, would not supervise.

"You can fire the manager at any time," Easterly said.

Most county staffers, however, now report to elected officials, said Henefer Mayor Randy Ovard, who opposes changing the form of government.

"What is the county manager going to manage?" Ovard asked.

But elected officials do not oversee high-profile departments like the county’s Public Works and Community Development Department, Easterly counters, adding that the three commissioners are spread too thin to effectively oversee the county’s roughly $40 million budget.

Voters in neighboring Morgan and Wasatch counties have changed to seven-member county councils.

"Both of those counties will tell you a good idea is ruined quickly by throwing it out in front of that many heads," Ovard said. "Why do we want to lay another layer of bureaucracy on the citizens of Summit County?"

A five-member board governs no county in Utah.

"It’s true, most of the counties in Utah have three-member county commissions and I don’t think there is a person alive in the state who actually voted for that form of government," Easterly said, adding that no county that has adopted a new form has changed back.

Summit County commissioners are expected to decide later this month whether to place the plan before voters in November. If they reject the recommendation, 10 percent of the number of registered voters in the county who cast ballots in the 2004 general election could force a vote, Easterly said.

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