East Side mayors say they’ve been left out of Summit County’s COVID-19 planning
The mayors of the six Summit County municipalities meet with county officials every few months in a formal setting to discuss things like road projects, grants and other issues that might affect their cities and towns.
Wednesday’s Council of Governments meeting was a bit different.
Health Director Rich Bullough started off by addressing what he characterized as the county’s failure to involve other elected officials in communicating and crafting the county’s mask mandate.
“First of all, just to get it on the table, I apologize to the East Side mayors,” Bullough said. “… I don’t want to make excuses, so the bottom line is we did not include you as we should have, and there’s not a whole lot more to say about that.”
Kamas Mayor Matt McCormick said that, while he supports wearing masks, he wished the East Side cities had been given a chance to weigh in on the mandate and to offer their viewpoints, which might have diverged from the viewpoints of many on the West Side.
“Let’s be honest — two very different sides of the community with different viewpoints, different residents, different businesses,” he said. “… What you’re talking about is the communication of just giving those folks on this side an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, this is what we believe our community needs in this situation.’ And maybe it makes a difference in the decision and maybe it doesn’t, but at least the voice to say so might make a difference.”
The discussion came on the heels of comments at Monday’s Summit County Board of Health meeting by board member and South Summit resident Chris Ure indicating that East Side business owners feel they’ve been unduly burdened by the restrictions the county has put in place to fight COVID-19, saying they felt they’d been made “the kicking post.”
“I was sitting over here in the diner in town chatting with the owner. First comment out of his mouth was, ‘This county is trying to put me out of business.’ And the business owners over here feel that Summit County is not listening to them. Right now is their busy time of the year. It’s not the ski season, it’s right now,” Ure said. “… They’re just saying that it seems like everything that we’re doing is keying to Park City businesses because it’s their slow time of the year.”
County elected officials have said repeatedly that saving Park City’s upcoming ski season is a key goal. But summer is the busy time on the East Side, with visitors streaming through Kamas on their way to the Uinta Mountains or getting a bite to eat at the Road Island Diner in Oakley while out for a drive.
During a meeting when the county’s mask mandate was amended, one county councilor referred to these months as an opportunity to experiment with coronavirus-fighting measures before winter hit. But these months are crucial for many East Side businesses, the mayors said.
Bullough acknowledged the sentiment at the Council of Governments meeting Wednesday.
“I have to confess, I just did not put those glasses on,” he said. “I’ve been going to the Uintas since I was a kid. Kamas is a busy place. … That’s certainly a different lens on this that opened my eyes.”
Councilor Kim Carson, who is also on the Board of Health, said that she spends a lot of time in the Uintas and one of her chief concerns was protecting East Side communities from the possibility of tourists bringing COVID-19 to the towns. It was tourist-related spread that caused the initial outbreak in Park City in March.
“I was really concerned about the people that would be coming through town and the impact that would have on those businesses when they came in, and what that could do to that community, knowing where those people were coming from and what those rates of infection were,” Carson said.
Coalville Mayor Trever Johnson said in an interview that he echoed what he heard of McCormick’s comments and that he wished he’d had a chance to weigh in on the county’s actions. While he doesn’t support the mask mandate, he said people should act responsibly to protect themselves and others.
He said there has been historical distrust between the East Side and the county government, but he credited the County Council for attempting to bridge that gap in recent years.
“My fear is that something like this would only set that back,” he said. “It’s so simple to some people: Don’t tell me what to do.”
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A man’s death in Francis last month has prompted changes to how East Side emergency services are provided.