County unknowingly created two townships |

County unknowingly created two townships


All 14 planning commissioners in Summit County could receive pink slips this December.

A newly-passed amendment to state law requires the Summit County Council to write new procedures for appointing commissioners by New Year’s Day, 2012. That could mean the dissolution of both the Snyderville Basin and East Side planning commissions.

The problem goes back to 1997 when the Utah Legislature clarified rules for creating planning commissions over unincorporated counties. David Thomas with the county attorney’s office said the council believed its procedures were "grandfathered in" with the 1997 change.

Then several months ago South Summit attorney Bruce Margolius brought more recent legislation to the council’s attention pointing out that the county has been in clear violation of the law for almost 15 years.

After seeking help from Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, who was Speaker of the House in 1997 and now heads the House’s Appropriations Committee, an amendment was proposed and passed this month.

The new law, House Bill 434, buys Summit County some time to work out the most complicated aspect of compliance: holding elections for three members of each commission.

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"They needed some latitude," Brown said.

On Wednesday, members of the council complained that it was unfair for some residents to spend money and time campaigning for a spot on a commission, while others were only interviewed for the same position.

An alternative would be to abolish both planning commissions and create a single county-wide board. The council must make its decision by Jan. 1.

One aspect of the law that the council has elected to follow immediately disqualifies four candidates from being considered. The applicants – one of whom formerly served on the planning commission – are Park City residents, and the council is not supposed to appoint people who live inside municipalities.

In addition to holding elections for three of the seats, the council is not supposed to allow more than two members’ terms to expire per year. Since the council is currently filling three expiring seats held by Bassam Salem, Jeff Smith and Katharine Kinsman, that rule will have to wait. Salem is applying to be reappointed.

The cause of the confusion has to do with the definition of townships – the organization of unincorporated county areas into city-like entities, like Kearns and East Millcreek.

According to Thomas, Brown, and Councilmember David Ure – all of whom have served as state lawmakers – it was not understood that areas overseen by planning commissions automatically become townships without a vote from the public – like Summit County’s East and West sides.

"Summit has two townships," Thomas said. "There has been a lot of confusion – it has happened in other counties as well."

The only alternative is to dismiss both commissions and create a single county-wide planning commission, Thomas explained. Then elections would not be necessary.

One other thing Brown’s bill did was create provisions for when no one wants to serve on a planning commission. Summit County does not have that problem with about a dozen applicants vying for three spots on the West Side.

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