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Manager cannot have free reign

Officials are leery of allowing the new county manager they hire next year to have too much power.

The form of government in Summit County will change from a three-person commission to a five-member council/manger when the County Commission disbands permanently in December.

"We’re going to find out legally exactly what we can and can’t do," Summit County Commissioner Bob Richer said about defining powers for councilpersons and the manager.

With 11 people vying for five new council seats, the winners will choose whom to appoint as the county’s powerful chief executive.

Under the new form the manger is the executive and the Summit County Council the legislative arm of county government, deputy Summit County attorney David Thomas explained.

"It’s basically a political choice. There is the school of thought that says everyone making final decisions should be elected officials. There is the other school of thought that the one who manages the county, the chief executive officer, has to have experience and the professional background to administer a large organization," Thomas said about hiring a top executive. "Those are the competing two philosophies."

The Summit County Council can fire its manager for any reason with a majority vote, he said, adding that county managers have average life spans "of about three years."

"That can’t happen in a strong mayor form of government because they’re elected officials," Thomas said. "A manager and a mayor are different."

But planning commissioners in Summit County were concerned future commissioners would be hired by the county manager.

"The planning commissioners are going to be appointed by the County Council," Thomas stressed.

County managers also "cannot veto any law made by the county council," Thomas explained.

"We’re following a well-settled area in terms of the executive and legislative powers," he said.

The manger must also cooperate with other elected officials in the county including the assessor, attorney, auditor, clerk, recorder, sheriff and treasurer.

"All these other executive offices have specific statutory duties and the county manager cannot interfere with the execution of any of those statutory duties," Thomas said.

Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said he looks forward to the new County Council hiring a manager.

"You have to believe that they’re going to go get someone who is formally trained in government operations. Why would you do anything else?" Edmunds said Monday. "I’m cautiously optimistic because I have to believe that somebody with the proper experience and the proper training is going to be a good thing for me."

County Treasurer Glen Thompson said he is confident the manager will not interfere with his duties as an elected official.

"I don’t have any problem following the lead of the County Council and the county manager and other elected and appointed officials," Thompson said Tuesday. "As long as I am working in this capacity I have the responsibility to do whatever I can to make it work."

But the manager could oversee purchasing and hiring decisions from elected department heads.

"It’s an adjustment that’s going to take some time for all of us to get used to and for all of us to understand," Thompson said. "I don’t envision things being that difficult to work with and it’s just not necessary to have conflict."

Meanwhile, Thomas, who resides in Davis County, said he will not apply for the county manager post.

"You can have a preference for the county manager living in the county," Thomas said. "It’s not required but it’s certainly something that can be taken into consideration."

The county manager could earn $130,000 per year. Voters in 2006 opted to switch from the traditional three-member commissioner form of government to the five-member council/manger form.


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