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Change to a council would limit commissioners’ power

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

A plan to change the current three-member Summit County Commission to a county council with five at-large representatives would result in the power of the sitting commissioners being significantly reduced.

Still, according to former Summit County Commissioner Patrick Cone, he and current Commissioners Bob Richer and Sally Elliott and former Commissioners Eric Schifferli and Shauna Kerr are encouraging people to vote for the change Nov. 7.

Summit County Commissioner Ken Woolstenhulme is against the change.

By approving Summit County Proposition 1, voters would separate the executive and legislative powers in county government. Along with electing the county’s first five-member council in 2008, a manager would be hired in Coalville to oversee the executive branch.

Legislative and executive duties are currently performed by the County Commission, which must change, said Snyderville resident Steve Dougherty who served on the committee that recommended the change in form of government.

"Go back to your high school civics class," said Dougherty in a telephone interview Monday. "It is very important we separate them to enhance the fulfillment of the responsibilities of each."

Overwhelmed by administrative work, part-time Summit County commissioners currently aren’t able to focus fully on lawmaking, he insists.

With three commissioners, it takes just one other vote for a commissioner to ramrod through "knee-jerk" legislation, Dougherty said.

County councilors would have responsibility for passing county ordinances, levying taxes and investigating the government’s other elected officials who may misbehave, according to the Proposition 1 plan.

Though the hired manager would present financials, councilors must approve the county’s roughly $45 million budget, the plan states.

According to Proposition 1, the County Council would set the salaries of other elected officials and, for example, could choose to restructure the power of the county’s clerk, auditor or other elected officials.

Also, councilors could veto the hiring of employees by the manager and appointments the manager makes to volunteer boards.

"A county manager would exercise the executive powers independently of the [county council]," said David Thomas, Summit County’s chief civil deputy attorney.

Executive orders issued by the manager could also be vetoed by the council, states the plan, which is available at http://www.summitcounty.org.

Dougherty claimed he supported a plan to divide the county into districts, where neighborhoods would elect their own representatives to the council based on population.

Criticism leveled by residents from eastern Summit County, however, helped kill the districting proposal, lamented Dougherty.

"The districting thing is just another red herring," said Dougherty, while conceding that because most county residents live on the West Side, they’d likely be entitled to most of the districts. "Frankly, there wasn’t a way to do it (fairly)."

Meanwhile, Woodland resident Mike Marty, who is against the proposed change, explained that establishing districts could help ensure eastsiders maintain representation on the council in the face of explosive West Side growth.

"I think we’ve got some good commissioners right now," said, Marty, a spokesman for Less is Best, a group urging citizens to vote against Proposition 1.

Critics of the plan are concerned the manager, who voters would not elect and who would likely command a six-figure salary, would function too independently of the county council outside of public meetings.

Mike Davis, the manager of Wasatch County, insists he has great influence on the county’s selection of employees and appointments to boards like the planning commission when he submits names for nominees.

"All [the council] can do is they can either accept the name or reject the name, they can’t tell me what name to bring," said Davis, who is a Wasatch County resident. "Ultimately, I can hire whoever I want by presenting the same name."

The three-member Wasatch County Commission changed in 2003 after voters about three years earlier supported hiring a manager and forming the seven-member Wasatch County Council, Davis said.

"I felt that five (councilors) would probably be better," he said, adding that state law at the time didn’t allow governments to change to a five-member council/manager form of government.

Though he votes for a councilor in his district and for two at large, "there are four others out there who I don’t get to vote for, so, I don’t know that I’m really represented better," Davis said.

But he dismissed critics’ claims that state laws prohibit communication between councilors and the manager when not publicly noticed in advance.

"I work with the chair and other council members almost daily," Davis said.

Only when Summit County’s manager meets with three or more councilors would the discussion need to be noticed in accordance with Utah’s open-meetings laws, Thomas explained.

Salary for councilors: $1?

Salaries for county councilors became a controversial issue when a member of the governance study committee proposed paying the five part-time officials each nearly $40,000 per year.

Proposition 1, however, sets the annual pay at $1, which councilors may opt to increase after they’re elected, Dougherty said, adding, "We do want to encourage the best people to run for office."


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