Kim Carson, lauded by colleagues as ‘the conscience’ of the County Council, looks back on time in public office
Carson retires after second term on council
Summit County Councilor Kim Carson’s days have been peppered with unusual scenes in recent years, she said, from driving a rodeo queen around before the annual demolition derby at the Summit County Fair to trying her hand at cutting a car apart while training with the Park City Fire Department.
Carson’s tenure as a Summit County councilor ends this year after two terms on the county’s highest legislative body, but she said in a recent interview her service has brought some lifelong memories.
Carson was lauded by her colleagues and county staff in the final council meetings of the year, with many complimenting her strength of character in equal measure to her preparedness and competence.
“Kim has been the conscience of the council for as long as I’ve been on the council,” said Councilor Glenn Wright, “and I’ve been privileged to work with her.”
Others lauded Carson as an example to other women, a steadfast proponent of Summit County’s interests in statewide settings like the Utah Association of Counties or on Capitol Hill and an advocate for the people affected by the council’s decisions, be they constituents or staffers.
Carson, 60, will be replaced by Snyderville Basin Planning Commissioner Malena Stevens, who was elected in November. Carson did not seek reelection.
“Serving on this council has been one of the greatest honors of my life,” Carson told her colleagues at her last council meeting Dec. 16.
Carson’s time on the council began in 2013 after serving two terms on the Park City Board of Education. She recalled the early days as slightly overwhelming, but said two early land-use appeals — one involving a property known as the Colby School and another that, she said, hinged on whether a wall was considered development — were good introductions to the kinds of decisions she would make for the better part of the next decade.
“Those were things that actually were so helpful. You can sit and read the general plan or the development code, and it’s a lot of words on the page until you actually have something to apply it to,” she said. “Having a couple of big appeals right off the bat taught me, No. 1, I was going to have to start reading faster, and No. 2, you learned how to pick things out.”
Carson estimates that she put in about 25-30 hours a week on council-related duties, including reading briefing materials that can reach thousands of pages each week.
And while she’ll miss the people and the relationships she’s crafted, she said she won’t miss the time commitment.
Carson said she attended council meetings for about a year before she was elected to the body and had done her homework to familiarize herself with some issues she’d be facing.
She said many people don’t realize the vastness of the work the county oversees.
“When I first started, I thought, ‘How am I going to do it?’” she recalled. “… One of the things I enjoyed about it, I was constantly learning. Everything from solid waste to water to behavioral health to, you know, roads. I mean, I could go on and on.”
The responsibilities weren’t always as glamorous as shuttling around rodeo royalty, however.
“I got assigned during my first year to lead a leash law committee,” she said. “One of those things that, you know, no thanks — but we got a group together of diverse stakeholders. While there’s still issues of dogs off leash, people not respecting laws in place … one outcome was development of Run-a-Muk and the dog park by Willow Creek. Those have been well received.”
Carson named a number of accomplishments the council achieved during her career that she is particularly proud of, including water concurrency work, behavioral health programming, the drug court alternative justice program, sustainability goals and public lands negotiations.
“One of the most special days I had was when the Utah law was passed to allow same-sex marriage,” Carson said. “I had had my officiant license through the Universal Life Church, so I checked with the clerk and asked if this was good. He said it sure is, and I sat up in chambers and married people in the afternoon as they came through. It was incredibly special. I wouldn’t have been there if (I was) not on council.”
County Manager Tom Fisher lauded Carson’s contributions to the county, saying the county’s work to establish a new transit district owes a lot to Carson’s influence.
“She’s calm, she’s deliberate, she’s efficient. She wants to push the county’s business,” Fisher said. “… She is always balancing that with thinking about the people that are providing the services.”
For her part, Carson noted there is more work to do for the fledgling transit district, which is slated to take over operating bus lines in July but was only recently approved by the council. She also said she hoped the council would get further in reviewing and updating the Snyderville Basin Development Code.
In County Council meetings, Carson frequently reigned in conversations that had veered away from their original purpose by suggesting things like focusing on deliverable objectives for staff members to bring back to a future meeting.
She often offered empathetic comments to applicants when the council ruled against them, explaining the reasoning and thanking them for their time. She appeared to focus on how the council’s decisions impact people.
After the council approved the Snyderville Basin Recreation District’s request to increase property taxes, for example, Carson advised the district to find a way to lower the impact on residents and suggested specific budget areas that could be reduced. And in this year’s pandemic-related budget cuts, Carson advocated for the importance of maintaining or improving pay for county staff.
A proclamation celebrating her career of service says, “Kim’s colleagues and Summit County staff will remember her as a calming voice in the midst of conflict and controversy, as the Council member who was always thoroughly prepared for everything, a fierce advocate for women in the workplace and in political and appointed office, the leader who remembered everyone’s birthday and special life events, and always thanked/recognized the staff for their hard work and accomplishments.”
Carson indicated she likely isn’t done with community service, though she declined to say what projects she plans to pursue in the future.
“There’s always more work to be done,” she said.
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