County shake-up heads to voters
The Summit County Commission on Wednesday, in a split vote that may foreshadow Election Day, agreed to ask voters in November whether to shake up the county’s form of government and replace it with one resembling that of Park City.
Sally Elliott and Bob Richer, County Commissioners from the West Side, cast the two ‘Yea’ votes and Ken Woolstenhulme, who is from the East Side, dissented.
The County Commission vote was expected. It’s been apparent for some time that the two West Side officials favored asking voters to make the decision and that Woolstenhulme, who frequently contradicts the other two, did not like the idea.
The split on the County Commission seems to mirror what many people see as a divide in Summit County regarding changing the government. Many predict that, on Election Day, the West Side voters will overwhelmingly support the change but those casting ballots on the East Side will choose the existing government structure.
The West Side is far more populous than the East Side but people on that side of the county typically show up at the polls at a much higher percentage that those in Park City and the Snyderville Basin.
If the measure passes, the size of the Summit County Commission will expand from three to five and it will be called a county council instead. A county manager will be hired. That arrangement is similar to how Park City is governed.
In casting his ‘Nay’ vote, Woolstenhulme said he was worried about how much the change would cost taxpayers, was concerned that the County Commission would be stripped of some of its powers and that a county manager, who he said would earn a "healthy, six-figure income," would not answer to voters.
"There are unknown costs out there," Woolstenhulme, who is a Democrat from Oakley, said, telling people in the County Commission chambers that he would have agreed to put the measure on the ballot if the figures were known.
But Richer, a Snyderville Basin Democrat, argued that the expanded county council allows for geographic diversity in the elected officials and spoke about the role of a county manager, predicting that person will be "a conductor, if you will, for our great orchestra."
Elliott, a Democrat from Park City, said it is "incumbent" that the measure be put on the ballot because voters in 2004 passed a ballot question asking whether Summit County should study changing the form of government. She indicated that she did not prefer one form over another.
If the voters approve the measure, an election in November 2008 would put people on the county council. They would be sworn into office the following January.
In 2004, 61 percent of the voters supported Summit County studying whether to change the form of government. A committee later recommended to the County Commission that the county council-manager form be put to the voters.
Under the proposed new government, the county manager would not hold authority over Summit County’s seven elected department heads, like the sheriff, the clerk and the auditor, but would oversee the work of lots of the other county staffers.
Three-person commissions are in place in most counties in Utah and, until the last decade, there was little discussion about changing the form of Summit County’s government.
But the spectacular growth of the West Side of Summit County in the 1990s spurred some to argue that the three-person County Commission was outdated and inefficient as it handled the divisive issues related to the growth.
A change to a county council would be the most significant alteration to the Summit County government since its planning commission was split into two one on the East Side and one in the Snyderville Basin in the 1990s.
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