Guest Editorial, February 1-3, 2012
February 1, 2012
The Summit County Council would like to put a proposition on November’s ballot to transfer, from the county manager to the council, the power to settle lawsuits and to buy and sell property. They want to make major changes to the form of government that was narrowly approved by voters five years ago and went into effect just three years ago. I don’t disagree that changes should be considered, but I’d sure be more comfortable if the process leading to those changes were more deliberate and informative.
In theory, the vote created a council with purely legislative powers and vested all executive power in the appointed county manager. In fact, the county got along for the first year with an interim manager who exercised very little independence from the council. Then Bob Jasper was hired and the council wasted no time in usurping as much of his supposedly independent authority as it wanted, constantly reminding him that it can fire him at any time But each time they grab more power, they only make things worse.
For example, under Utah law, the members of our two township planning commissions are supposed to be appointed by the county executive, with the advice and consent of the council. We’re all familiar with how "advice and consent" works in America. The executive names a candidate, then the legislature holds a hearing. In Summit County, however, planning commission applicants are all interviewed by the council. Often, Jasper doesn’t even attend. Then the council advises Jasper as to whom it consents, he "appoints" that person, and the council agrees. Even with this procedure in place for several years now, the council has had deep disagreements with the commissions, leading to frustration and public recriminations.
The council in the person of Chris Robinson became deeply involved in the settlement of the movie-studio litigation. It seems inevitable that a studio complex will be built on the site in question, and likely it will be annexed into Park City. Thus, the county failed in its stated goal to block the project and will forfeit hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in tax revenues. If this is an example of its best work, it stands as an irrefutable warning against letting the council meddle in settlements at all.
There are other examples of questionable conduct in how Summit County business is handled. They improperly taxed property at Empire Pass that had been annexed into Park City. They decided to pay Smith’s and other landowners at Newpark hundreds of thousands of dollars for land to build roundabouts to ease traffic flow in and out of Smith’s and the other landowners’ parking lots. There was the misappropriation from the "rainy day" fund that voters had to approve retroactively. There are continued shenanigans with Mountain Regional, which creeps closer and closer to being a drain on the general fund.
The council/manager form was voted in only after a (supposedly) independent study committee was created to examine Summit County government and make a recommendation. Before we rush to the polls to fundamentally undo that recent change and, in effect, install a five-member commission, I say we need another detailed study. There must be a hard look taken at what’s right and what’s wrong with the way Summit County does business. The county council has the power to call for a public vote whether to conduct such a study and, if they don’t, the citizens may do so by petition.
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