Change of county government decision will require an informed electorate
March 22, 2006
This spring, Summit County residents will spend a fair amount of time narrowing November’s slate of candidates for local and statewide offices. But perhaps the most important decision to be made this month regarding the general election ballot is not who will lead, but how the county will be governed.
One last public meeting to hear residents’ opinions about keeping the current three-man commission versus switching to a five-member, council/manager format will be held tonight at 7 p.m. at the Sheldon Richins Building at Kimball Junction.
After sifting through the comments received throughout the county, Commissioners Bob Richer, Sally Elliott and Ken Woolstenhulme are expected to decide this week whether to put the issue to voters in November.
Tonight’s hearing caps a painstakingly slow process of studying and proposing a new form of government for Summit County.
In June 2004 the commission decided to let the citizens choose whether or not to study the issue. In November of that year, 61 percent of those who voted supported the formation of a governance study committee. It was apparent in that election, however, that sentiment for and against changing the existing system was sharply divided along geographic lines. Residents on the East Side of the county opposed changing the current system, while West Side residents generally favored looking at an expanded council.
If anything, it seems, the rift between the East and West on this issue has deepened since 2004. In a recent hearing on this topic in Coalville, East Side residents were steadfast in their opposition to enlarging the county’s administration.
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However, North and South Summit together do not constitute a majority of county voters. While they tend to be more involved in county politics and are more vocal, they are now outnumbered by residents in the Snyderville Basin.
It is, therefore, important that West Side residents attend tonight’s meeting in order to balance the input that commissioners have already received on the East Side. Those who are unable to attend should nevertheless take time to review the Optional Form of Government Final Report (www.co.summit.ut.us/) and let one of the commissioners know whether they support or oppose putting the matter on November’s ballot.
The proposal to change Summit County’s three-man commission to a five-member council would likely have different ramifications for the predominantly rural East Side and the more suburban West Side, for those who live within cities and towns and those who live in unincorporated areas.
It could also drastically alter the relationship between the county’s elected department heads and the commission. A change might also shift representation away from the county seat and toward the Basin. It is up to the commissioners to examine the advantages and disadvantages of both alternatives and to steer county policy in the direction that will best serve most of the citizens. They need your input to accomplish that.