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Hearings scheduled to debate controversial government change

Patrick Parkinson Of the Record staff

A committee of citizens has proposed major changes for county government and two upcoming meetings will be the last opportunities for voters to comment on whether the Summit County Commission should expand and hire an executive manager.

The issue has divided the east and west sides of the county for decades as study committees in the 1980s and ’90s made no changes to the three-member commission. But 61 percent of the electorate in 2004 voted to examine the issue again. A report completed last week by the study committee recommends commissioners disband and form an at-large, five-member Summit County Council. The legislative body would hire a full-time county manager to act as the government’s executive branch and oversee the actions of most county employees.

"Summit County will continue to face new and emerging challenges that signal substantial opportunities," states a letter written by the committee to the Summit County Commission Nov. 10. "The existing (commission) structure is not well suited to meet these challenges or respond to the opportunities they will present."

The recommendation does not ax the positions of any elected officials, but some appointed staffers are concerned about the possibility of receiving daily supervision from a county manager.

"There’s nobody overseeing the conduct of the government of Summit County on a daily basis," governance study committee chair Eric Easterly said. "This is really something the county absolutely needs we need to have somebody at the head of government."

Easterly, who lives in Park City, is one of seven people appointed to make a recommendation. The board voted 5-2 to change the government, with eastsiders H.G. Linford and Chris Boyer opposed to the plan.

"There is a big problem because nobody is running the ship," said committee member and westsider Steve Dougherty, about the need for daily supervision in the Courthouse.

During the ’80s, a similar proposal to change county government that was placed before voters passed in Park City and Snyderville but failed on the East Side, said Pinebrook resident Max Greenhalgh, who has twice studied changing the county’s form of government.

"Park City did not have a majority of the registered voters as they do now," Greenhalgh said, adding that a proposal to hire a county manager for the commission during the 1990s didn’t make it out of committee.

But voter numbers have changed dramatically.

According to Summit County Clerk Sue Follett, the West Side now has roughly 16,000 registered voters compared to about 7,000 in eastern Summit County. The electorate may have overwhelmingly supported the ballot proposition to form the study committee, but not one East Side voter precinct passed the proposal last November.

Nevertheless, committee members believe there is support from both sides of the county.

"We are confident of broad, [countywide] support for the plan," the committee’s letter to the commissioners states.

Summit County Commissioner Ken Woolstenhulme, however, may vote against even placing the proposal before voters. The Oakley resident, who is often the sole political voice for many eastsiders, is against gutting the County Commission.

But Summit County Commission chair Bob Richer claims he is overworked. A manager would handle administrative items that currently consume much of the commissioners’ time, he says.

And because the five councilors’ workload would decrease, so should their salaries, Snyderville resident Bill Aho said.

Commissioners currently receive around $51,000 per year plus benefits. The committee recommends eliminating benefits and cutting the pay for county councilors to around $17,000.

Though Richer opposes a drastic pay reduction, with his and County Commissioner Sally Elliott’s support, "no matter what we send them, it’ll go in front of the voters," Easterly said.

Residents can comment about the recommendation during public hearings scheduled Nov. 17 at the Oakley Park Building, 911 West Center Street and Nov. 22 at the Summit County Courthouse in Coalville. Both meetings start at 6:30 p.m.

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