Community Development Director Don Sargent resigns
Ryan Summerlin March 15, 2013
Summit County Community Development Director Don Sargent announced his resignation on March 13, saying criticism to himself and staff has become too severe to continue working with the county.
"I’ve been thinking about resignation for some time, with all the angst that seems to be relentless with the criticism," Sargent said. "And it’s been personal. When it started to affect me that way and I saw it in my wife, I thought maybe this isn’t worth it for me anymore."
Sargent acknowledged that the nature of the job invites criticism but that it had crossed the line.
"At that point it just isn’t worth it anymore," he said. "I was hoping that as we got through some major issues, that it would subside. But it seemed to be getting worse, and I thought, there’s no win here."
Sargent came under fire in late 2011 for a decision regarding Boyer Research Park.
After Sargent overturned a Snyderville Basin Planning Commission decision to deny the first Boyer building in the park, it came to light that Sargent may have been personally acquainted with the park’s project manager, David Allen, who officiated at Sargent’s wedding.
Sargent told the County Council at the time that Allen had only participated in his wedding years prior because Allen had been Sargent’s church bishop at the time.
Sargent underwent an ethics investigation early the next year following a complaint on another matter filed by a resident. The investigation, conducted by the Cache County attorney, concluded that Sargent’s employment with the county should be terminated, though Summit County Manger Bob Jasper chose not to do so.
At the time of the investigation, Sargent maintained he had done nothing wrong, and said that the complaint had been filed by a man upset by building department decisions.
Sargent has held the position of Community Development Director for almost five years, outlasting the previous five Community Development Directors.
"There’s been six Community Development Directors in the last 18 years," he said. "I hold the longevity record by a couple years. My goal was to beat the record, but I thought I could go a little longer. I have friends who have been Development Directors for 20 to 30 years, so this is not common. But we have such a diverse county and politics gets so volatile, and this position becomes an easy target."
The Planning Department has the difficult task of working with a county diverse in perspectives, cultures and traditions, Sargent said.
"Sometimes it gets pretty difficult to understand which direction an application review should go based on the diversification issues of our population," he said. "I think we do a good job. I think the staff is very astute at respecting the needs and desires of the community, and making recommendations according to those."
Sargent added that the Planning Department relies on the Planning Commission and citizens to guide decisions.
"But it’s been a little frustrating, the lack of respect for staff and their abilities to make recommendations, knowing the recommendations are per the code and ordinances," he said. "There has been some a few very outspoken critics that have been absolutely relentless, harsh, negative and downright mean sometimes. And that’s not acceptable as far as I’m concerned. It does no one any good at any time in the process of trying to make good decisions for the betterment for the community."
Sargent said public input is critical in making decisions, and he’s tried to encourage it and provide every opportunity for it.
"But when the current is so negative, accusatory and critical, it becomes unproductive to the process and starts to taint the whole public arena," he said.
The hardest part of resigning is leaving his staff, Sargent said.
"When I made the announcement, I teared up a bit," he said. "I have a close association with the staff, their skills and abilities, and who they are. It’s difficult to step out of the family circle."
Sargent has been working for Summit County since 1992, when he was hired as a county planner. He held the job for three years, before moving to the private sector until 2004, when he returned to the county as the principal planning director.
Although his expertise is in government planning and he loves what he does, Sargent said he needs a break from it for a while.
"I need to step back and do something different," he said. "I’m looking at some related positions, but they are not directly related to government planning, though they are related to being a director, supervisor or manager. My wife and I are assessing things right now to see where we want to go and what we want to do."
Sargent said he hopes to move to Southern Utah where he has family.
"We like that area and go down quite often to hike and enjoy the red rock country," he said. "And things appear to be falling into place in that direction, so we’ll see where it goes."
Sargent’s final day with the county is April 30.
"I’ve been feeling the relief from the pressures already," he said. "I think it’s going to be good for me personally and for my family, and I think it might even help the Planning Department move on. Hopefully the community will change perspective and give the new director the benefit of the doubt and try to move forward with the things we’ve been trying to do for so long."
County Councilmember Claudia McMullin said she had worked with Sargent for nine years and was sorry to see him leave.
"He’s a great addition to the community," she said.
Jasper said he plans to hire someone to replace Sargent as quickly as possible.
"I don’t know if I’ll do the full-blown formal recruiting process," he said. "I’m in a hurry. There are head hunters and a variety of other ways to get good people interested. I just want to move quickly."