Glitch delays decision on new government proposal
March 25, 2006
A procedural glitch this week delayed a much-anticipated vote by the Summit County Commission about whether residents should be allowed to weigh in on changing the county’s form of government.
Commissioners properly noticed Wednesday’s public hearing, but a vote was not slated on the agenda. Before the announcement that a decision could not be made that evening, County Commissioner Sally Elliott had made a motion to place the matter on the ballot.
At issue is whether to replace the Summit County Commission with a five-member county council and hired manager. Three Democrats, Summit County Commissioners Ken Woolstenhulme, Bob Richer and Elliott, currently oversee both the executive and legislative branches of government in Summit County.
On March 29, the commissioners will vote on whether residents should be allowed to decide on Election Day whether to change the form of government.
An appointed manager to handle day-to-day executive duties at the County Courthouse would provide much needed separation of powers in county government, said Summit County resident DeeDee Corridini, a former mayor of Salt Lake City.
She spoke to commissioners during the public hearing this week at the Sheldon Richins Building. About 30 people attended the meeting and those who spoke offered mixed opinions about changing the form of government.
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"I think it is critical that those duties be separated because I think there is an innate conflict of interest if the same people are performing both duties," Corridini continued.
She also supports hiring professional management for Summit County.
"Even though I was elected as a strong mayor and was the CEO, I had the sense to hire someone who had training as a professional manager as my number two," Corridini said.
Three-member commissions govern most counties in Utah, including four of the five largest.
But in 2004, 61 percent of Summit County residents who voted in the general election supported studying whether the County Commission should change.
State law has allowed a handful of counties to form seven- or nine-member councils as legislative bodies. To accompany those boards, however, managers must be hired or voters must elect mayors to oversee their executive branches.
With a 5-2 vote, the seven-member Summit County Form of Governance Committee recommended voters switch to a five-member council/manager option.
Though changes have been debated twice in Summit County — during the 1980s and ’90s voters have never opted to tamper with their traditional three-member board.
But growth in the Snyderville Basin now demands more urban-like services that county officials haven’t needed to deliver in the past, Form of Governance Committee chair Eric Easterly said.
"County government would benefit from professional management," Easterly said.
The change would not impact the powers of Summit County’s seven elected department heads and their deputies, but a county manager would supervise other appointed directors and rank-and-file staffers, he said, adding that the manager would not have veto power over decisions made by the council.
Eastsiders fill many county positions and the majority of voters between Francis and Henefer are against adopting the council/manager option. However, a vocal group of residents from the Snyderville Basin recently emerged to also oppose the change.
According to Silver Creek resident Rob Weyher, elected officials already oversee most of the county’s staff.
"I don’t understand really what departments [a manager] would be running, other than the planning and garbage," Weyher said. "This is a mistake. If it goes on the ballot, I will work day and night to oppose it."
Others who spoke did not express opinions but did say that voters should be allowed to decide the debate during the general election, Nov. 7. If Summit County commissioners do not allow a vote, residents, through a petition process, could force the recommendation on the ballot.
Form of Governance Committee member Steve Dougherty cautioned the commission not to deny the issue a place on the ballot.
"We’re not going to see a debate unless we get it on the ballot," Dougherty said.
Though, in a brief but testy exchange near the conclusion of the meeting, Woolstenhulme, who is against changing the form of government and is running unopposed this year for another term on the County Commission, may have called Dougherty’s bluff.
"If you’d like to run against me," Woolstenhulme told Dougherty. "I’d welcome it."