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Groups fill war chests for governance fight

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

Members of a new political committee called Summit Steps Forward hope to persuade voters Nov. 7 to support a ballot proposition that calls for changing Summit County’s form of government.

Park City resident Jim Shea Jr. insists a chance to square off against a former political foe is not what lured him to become a spokesman for the group. But one of the ballot proposition’s harshest critics helped quash Shea’s brief run for a seat in the State House last spring.

"This is a professional organization and we’re not into the political stuff," said Shea, an Olympic gold medallist, in an interview Monday. "I’m not going to be in any trenches."

Summit Steps Forward merely wants to educate people about the proposal, he said.

Voters in November will be asked to decide whether a five-member county council should replace the current three-member, part-time Summit County Commission.

The change would alter significantly the structure of county government by stripping executive powers from the County Commission and bestowing those responsibilities on a new manager hired by elected officials to run the County Courthouse.

In 2004 more than 60 percent of the electorate voted to study whether the form of government should change. However, no voter precincts in eastern Summit County supported the study.

If approved, voters could begin electing five at-large councilors instead of three commissioners to legislate from Coalville.

Summit Steps Forward was formed partly to counter messages from a group called Less is Best that is against changing the form of government in the county, Shea said.

With Summit County Democratic Party chair Rob Weyher poised to be one of Less is Best’s largest contributors, Shea, a Republican, could have a chance to debate the man largely responsible for his decision to withdraw this year from a race to represent Park City in the Utah House of Representatives.

"I don’t think it has to be nasty," Summit Steps Forward spokeswoman Diane Murphy said.

Shea withdrew from the race to replace outgoing state Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas, in House District 53, because he did not meet Utah’s residency requirements after he voted in an election in 2003 in New York.

"I think [Weyher’s] looking at it from more of a political end," Shea said, responding to recent attacks made by Less is Best against the proposal to change county government. "We’re looking at it from a professional end."

A manager is necessary to better supervise the county’s rank and file, said Murphy, a Wanship resident.

"Anything we can do to make the system less political is a good thing," she said. "Managers, by nature, are not politicians."

A five-member county council would result in better representation and access to government for citizens, Murphy added.

"We don’t have the right structure," she said. "Three part-time people are running our county and they’re already busy."

Murphy served on the seven-member board that recommended this year with a 5-2 vote that the form of government in Summit County should change.

"It’s going to be more representative and it’s the most popular form of government around the country," she said about the number of cities and counties nationwide with councilors and appointed mangers. "It’s important because it really represents where we’re going with the future of our county."

But the proposal has generated controversy, even anger, among many residents in eastern Summit County who complain the change would make government more intrusive and expensive.

Murphy insists changing the form of government would require "absolutely no tax increase."

"There is no tax increase and the salaries will be set by the incoming councilors," she said.

But with a six-figure salary the manager would become the county’s highest paid employee, said South Summit resident Mike Marty, a spokesman for Less is Best.

"I don’t see the advantage of changing the form of government and the expense involved," Marty said, countering that, county councilors shouldn’t be allowed to set their own salaries. "It’s going to cost a million bucks a year."

And because the five councilors like county commissioners — are at large, representation for citizens wouldn’t improve, Marty said.

"I’m looking forward to a very interesting discussion," said Weyher, who claims defeating the proposal is one of the "most important" decisions Summit County voters have ever been asked to make.

To obtain more information about Summit Steps Forward visit summitstepsforward.org. More information about Less is Best can be obtained by calling Marty at (801) 450-0405.


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