Groups begin to square off over government change
People wanting Summit County voters to scrap the county’s current form of government have mobilized into a lobbying group, hoping to counter another such group that opposes the controversial ballot measure, which it sees as a big-government alternative.
"I’m pretty excited about it," said Olympian Jim Shea, Jr., a spokesman for the group, Summit Steps Forward.
Shea and other members of the newly formed political committee plan to persuade citizens to vote in November to change the current three-member Summit County Commission to a five-member council.
The change would alter significantly the structure of county government by stripping the executive powers from the County Commission. If approved, voters in 2009 could begin electing five at-large councilors to legislate from Coalville.
Councilors would hire a manager to oversee daily executive operations in the County Courthouse.
Summit County Commissioner Bob Richer, a Democrat, says the executive’s six-figure salary would be "money well spent."
"It’s not about, in my opinion, big government," said Richer, who strongly supports changing the county’s form of government. "It’s about the democratic process. It’s about better government."
The ballot on Nov. 7 will ask Summit County voters whether they support scrapping the three-member commission for a council/manager form of government.
"I would be crazy if I didn’t advocate for it because I do believe it’s the right thing," Summit Steps Forward spokeswoman Diane Murphy said.
Murphy also was one of seven citizens who served on a committee that voted 5-2 to recommend the change to voters.
Meanwhile, the public is not well informed about the issue and campaign signs posted by members of a political committee called Less is Best that blast Richer for his position on the change further confuse voters, Murphy said.
"I don’t really understand some of the messages [Less is Best] is putting out right now and I’m not focused on them," she said, adding, "We’re not going to go negative."
Former Summit County Democratic Party chairman Mike Marty says Less is Best formed in the spring to fight passage of the ballot measure.
The group’s bipartisan supporters include Democratic County Commissioner Ken Woolstenhulme, County Auditor Blake Frazier, a Democrat, and Summit County Democratic Party chairman Rob Weyher, who has contributed cash to the group, Marty said.
"I would rather have the resolution fail more than the re-election of Bob Richer, but I really want both," Weyher recently told The Park Record.
Political signs posted by Less is Best currently portray Richer as a supporter of "big government," with a top hat and smoking tobacco.
"I try to keep these things in perspective and have a sense of humor," Richer responded. "I’m neither fat nor have I ever smoked."
However, Marty contends the signs are an accurate depiction of Richer’s stance.
"[Less is Best] thinks that the change in government is not a good thing, that [the study] was not done appropriately. The people who promoted it had a foregone conclusion of what they wanted the results to be," Marty said. "If you like big government, then you can vote for Bob Richer."
But Richer insists his critics have misrepresented his record in public office.
"I’ve approved seven public budgets and I’ve never voted for a tax increase," Richer said. "Politics is about slogans and sloganeering and I hope that the facts are put forward to the voters of the county so they can evaluate whether this is a good idea."
Richer will vie in November to retain his seat on the County Commission against Woodland Republican Bill Miles.
Miles criticized Richer, a resident of Ranch Place, for using the governance issue to coddle voters in western Summit County.
"[Richer] kind of talks West Side," Miles said referring to the perceived political divide between eastern and western Summit County. "To me it’s totally wrong. We’re not two counties, we’re one county."
Many westsiders are "frustrated" with Richer’s push to change the form of government, Miles added.
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Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson has decried what she called a lenient sentence in a child sex abuse case in which a 20-year-old reportedly attempted to impregnate a 12-year-old. The perpetrator was sentenced to 20 days in jail and 10 years of probation.