Absentee ballots could still decide governance debate | ParkRecord.com

Absentee ballots could still decide governance debate

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

About 200 provisional and absentee ballots need to be counted, but Summit County Proposition 1, which would change the current three-member Summit County Commission to a five-member council with a hired executive manager, is poised to pass.

Though nearly 51 percent of voters supported the ballot measure on Election Day, Thursday, only 110 votes separated the proposition from failure.

The final outcome will be determined when the Summit County Commission canvasses votes Nov. 15.

If Proposition 1 succeeds, five county councilors would be elected in 2008 as Summit County begins to transition to the type of council/manger form of government that has been embraced in other areas of the state.

But the controversial ballot measure divided Summit County as precincts on the East Side unanimously opposed the plan, while West Side voters passed Proposition 1 in every voting district.

"It’s like a football game that you lose in the last seconds on a field-goal kick," said Matt Leavitt, an Oakley resident who is against Proposition 1.

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However, county employees like Leavitt, who claimed the government doesn’t need a chief executive officer to watch over daily affairs in the County Courthouse, should expect a drastic change if five councilors are elected and a manager is hired in two years.

"It will give professional management to the county government at the highest level and it will free up the county legislators so they can focus on larger issues," said Parkite Eric Easterly, who chaired a seven-member committee that recommended the council/manager form of government for Summit County.

With opponents claiming changing the form of government could costs taxpayers $750,000 during the first year, Easterly insisted the switch would actually save money.

"Professional management will create efficiencies," Easterly said. "I think there will be a significant tax savings to the county."

Meanwhile, five, instead of three representatives, "will bring more thoughts and viewpoints to the legislative body," he added.

Among the handful of counties in Utah that have changed forms of government, are neighboring Wasatch, Salt Lake and Morgan counties.

Three commissioners, however, still govern most of the state’s 29 counties.

"We need to find a way to have that opposition cease and people sit down at the table and make this thing work," said Summit County Democratic Party chairman Rob Weyher, who was against the ballot measure.

Proposition 1 helped mark a particularly ugly year in county politics.

"What I want to see is the division between the east and west side, particularly in light of the forthcoming change in county government, to work," Weyher said. "Everyone has to be positive about it."

A separation of powers is needed because the Summit County Commission functions currently as the area’s executive and legislative branches of government, said Basin resident Steve Dougherty, a Proposition 1 supporter who served on the governance study committee.

The citizen board voted 5-2 to recommend the change to voters. Proposition 1 passed Election Day having garnered almost 51 percent of the votes.

In parts of Park Meadows, Deer Valley and Silver Springs, more than 70 percent of voters supported the proposal.

But the ballot measure failed miserably in areas like Woodland, Marion and Coalville.

Overall, 5,236 of Summit County’s 21,884 registered voters supported Proposition 1, while 5,126 opposed the proposal.

"The government will be more responsive," pledged Easterly. "The opposition to the county manager form of government was based on a lot of fear about what was going to happen. I think people will find that those were just fears that will not come to fruition."