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Committee advances Brown’s bill

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

A bill Parkites say could make it easier to undo the controversial government change they approved in November is now poised for debate on the House floor.

A substitute version of House Bill 348 passed out of committee late Friday afternoon.

With the 3-person Summit County Commission slated in 2009 to morph into a 5-person legislative council with a hired executive manager, state Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, says citizens need a way to repeal the change if the new government fails.

Brown’s HB348 could undo a 2-year process that spanned a yearlong study and two elections by allowing a handful of those who voted in the last governor election to petition for a change, the lawmaker’s critics charge.

"I’m offended by [HB348] and what it’s trying to do," said Summit County Commissioner Bob Richer, a Democrat from Ranch Place.

As this week’s Capitol Hill brouhaha ignited the political divisions between eastern and western Summit County, the House Government Operations Committee voted unanimously Friday to advance HB348 to the floor.

Switching to a 5-person council with a hired manager means someone in Summit County not elected by voters will make most executive decisions, Brown laments.

But he represents Park City and the Snyderville Basin where, last year most voters supported changing the form of county government. Most people in eastern Summit County, however, voted against the new plan.

Richer, a strong proponent of the change, insists chief executive officers who are hired, like Park City Manager Tom Bakaly, help govern nearly half of all American citizens.

"Why do you have such a fear of an appointed manager?" Richer asked Brown during a heated exchange with the lawmaker Wednesday. "[Citizens] don’t need a political animal."

Hired managers aren’t accountable to voters, Brown countered, adding, "I don’t think it’s good representative government."

"I don’t know why you’re so worried about [HB348]," Brown told Richer. "If this is such a good system, then why are you worried about it?"

Richer accused Brown of "trying to circumvent the will of the voters of Summit County."

Brown, a former House speaker and well-connected political insider, replied, "We’ll see what the will of the body is."

The divisiveness associated with hiring a county manager prompted HB348, which would allow citizens dismayed by similar changes in the forms of government in Morgan and Wasatch counties a way to repeal the new plans, said Brown, who added that with his bill, after two years a majority of voters could opt to change back.

"There is no process for turning the process back," Brown said.

But Richer insists changing a new form of government should require the same lengthy process that resulted in the original switch.

"What’s good for the goose is good for the gander," Richer said.

Having five representatives means as western Summit County continues to grow voters on the East Side would have more opportunities to elect representatives from rural parts of the county, he claims.

"You don’t respect the five out of the last six commissioners who have been in the belly of the beast," Richer told Brown about past politicians who support the plan.

Still, County Commissioner Ken Woolstenhulme, a Democrat from Oakley, is against the change.

"The study was not a study, they didn’t listen to the people who went to the meetings," Woolstenhulme griped this week while chiding Richer for his treatment of Brown. "I didn’t come here to listen to you lecture a legislator."

Brown’s bill would also prevent county officers from being elected in non-partisan elections.


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