East Side tempers rise when governance committee comes to town | ParkRecord.com

East Side tempers rise when governance committee comes to town

Former Coalville Mayor Merlyn Johnson speaks to Summit County's form of government study committee Tuesday in Coalville. Photo by Scott Sine/Park Record

Summit County staffers who oppose changing the form of government in the area, last week countered statements that they lack daily supervision in the Coalville Courthouse.

"Not a single one of those [form-of-government study] committee members have sat down with a county employee to see what they do on a day-to-day basis," said Matt Leavitt, an Oakley resident who works in the Summit County Auditor’s Office. "Yet, they can draw the conclusion that we lack supervision. Isn’t that misleading the public?" Voters last year overwhelmingly supported forming a committee to study whether the county has outgrown its three-member commission. With a 5-2 vote, the committee has recommended the Summit County Commission change to a five-member county council. The legislative body would hire a manager to supervise employees and oversee most of the government’s executive functions, which many staffers are against. "We think [the recommendation] will address most of the shortcomings in the way the county government currently functions," study committee chair Eric Easterly said. Eastsiders blasted the form-of-governance study committee last week during public hearings in Oakley and Coalville. Roughly 20 people attended each meeting, compared to about three citizens who showed up in Snyderville. Leavitt blasted Parkites and Snyderville residents for their "West Side apathy."

"I think the East Side is a little bit more concerned about what’s going on," he said Friday. "If only three show up on the West Side, how informed are they going to be?"

He attended both East Side gatherings and heard former Coalville Mayor Merlyn Johnson also oppose hiring a county manager.

"You can get lousy county managers," Johnson said during the hearing Tuesday in Coalville. "I think there are a lot of worms in what you are proposing to the public."

Before voters have a chance to weigh in on the proposed change, the Summit County Commission must approve the committee’s report for next year’s general election ballot. Commissioners Bob Richer of Ranch Place and Park City resident Sally Elliott will likely support the plan, which Commissioner Ken Woolstenhulme is expected to oppose.

By paying part-time county councilors about $17,000 per year committee members expect the change to be mostly cost neutral.

"What are you going to get for $17,000 per year?" Leavitt asked. Meanwhile, hiring a decent county manager will require a six-figure salary and committee members haven’t included the cost for a secretary, Leavitt said.

He concedes five council seats would provide a better chance at representation for eastsiders but maintains that committee members are unaware of how the Courthouse operates.

"I heard (study committee member) Steve Dougherty say, ‘I don’t know why we even have to have these meetings,’" Leavitt said about a meeting he observed where last week’s schedule of hearings was discussed. "You have to inform the public Steve."

Before making the recommendation, the committee did not consult a majority of the county’s department heads that are against changing the form of government, he added.

But last November, 61 percent of the electorate supported studying the change. Every West Side voter precinct supported forming the committee while East Side precincts unanimously opposed the ballot proposition.

"I think West Side voters will vote for it, but how informed are they?" Leavitt said, blasting Park City’s meager 10-percent voter turnout for this month’s mayoral and council races.

The committee points to former Summit County Community Development Director Dave Allen as someone who supports a change, but Leavitt claims issues in the county are "usually brought about because somebody is dissatisfied with something that’s going on in the planning department."

"Why are you going to change the form of government because of the failure of one department?" Leavitt asked.

The Summit County Commission could decide before Jan. 10, 2005, whether to place the committee’s recommendation on next year’s ballot.

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