Summit County Council claims member ‘bullied’ at meeting of state’s county leaders for being a Democrat
The presidential impeachment inquiry that has highlighted political divisions across the country became the center of attention at a recent nonpartisan meeting of Utah elected leaders and governmental workers, resulting in accusations from local officials of bullying and harassment.
After the meeting, the Summit County Council threatened to withdraw its support from the Utah Association of Counties barring a cultural shift, according to a letter addressed to the organization the Council sent Thursday.
UAC is a nonpartisan organization that organizes regular meetings for officials and lobbies on behalf of Utah counties at the Legislature.
The letter states Summit County Councilor Kim Carson was singled out at the meeting as one of the few Democrats in a room of about 100 people during a lengthy speech in support of President Trump at a September UAC conference. During the speech, the speaker asked for support for an op-ed piece opposing the impeachment efforts, the letter states. According to Carson, the speaker pointed to her and said, “We’re all friends here, right?” Carson said she then replied, “Oh, you talking to me?”
“In the course of his presentation, which is, in and of itself, unacceptable considering UAC is a nonpartisan and nonpolitical entity, our colleague, Councilmember Kim Carson, was singled out and ostracized from approximately 100 in the room, humiliated and essentially bullied for her perceived political affiliation,” the letter states.
It’s not the first time incidents Summit County officials deem inappropriate have occurred at UAC events, according to the letter, including members making comments based on gender, political affiliation and socioeconomic status.
“Summit County sees the value in participating in the association but we are at the point where we can no longer tolerate this treatment, which we feel is entrenched in the UAC culture,” the letter states.
Carson said the overt partisanship and call to action were striking.
“It’s gone on for so long I’m used to it,” Carson said of receiving different treatment when she meets with statewide colleagues. “You know, I’m always introduced kind of with the qualifier as being the lone Democrat or the lone woman or from wealthy Summit County. … Let’s just say that’s not uncommon.”
She added that these types of incidents happen more often at meetings more heavily attended by rural counties.
Carson said the incident was particularly frustrating because of the number of new members in the room. In addition to her being one of the few Democrats, Carson estimated maybe 15 of the 100 people present were women.
“I was concerned how this would be perceived by (the new members) and I don’t want them to think it’s appropriate,” Carson said. “I was really concerned what he was asking for. That action, requesting that action. That was very specifically partisan in nature.”
The speech occurred during a meeting of the Public Lands Committee at the September Utah State Association of County Commissioners and Councilmembers conference in Midway. That group is an affiliate of UAC.
Carson declined to name the speaker. According to UAC board President Victor Iverson, Garfield County Commission Chair Leland Pollock took the floor to praise President Trump during the conference.
In a phone interview, Pollock acknowledged speaking in favor of the work he said Trump has done for public lands but denied mentioning the opinion piece or attempting to garner support for it. Summit County’s letter says the speaker, whom it does not name, lobbied for the gathered officials to sign onto an anti-impeachment op-ed.
Pollock said he attempted to make it clear his and other commissioners’ support for the president was not official UAC business.
“I didn’t bring up an (opinion piece), that’s why I’m so shocked about this,” Pollock said. “I just said there’s a couple of commissioners that’s going to speak out in favor of Donald Trump and this administration because of what he’s done for us in public lands.”
That opinion piece, parts of which were quoted in a Deseret News article, describes the impeachment effort as “a deep state/media cabal” and urges the Utah congressional delegation to oppose it. The piece was dated Oct. 15, about three weeks after the UAC conference. It was signed by more than 40 current and former Utah elected officials, including Iverson and Pollock. It does not include signatures from leaders in Summit County.
The Summit County Council’s letter to UAC outlined the elected officials’ concerns and stated that, if no action is pursued to change the organization’s culture, the county will consider withdrawing its membership and stop paying dues.
Summit County paid $77,000 in dues to UAC last year, according to Deputy County Manager Janna Young.
The letter requests UAC take steps to address what it calls longstanding issues in time for the organization’s annual convention next month.
“We implore you and your fellow board members, committee and affiliate leaders to take up the issues of civility, professionalism and partisan political activity at the UAC convention in November and take action to change this culture,” the letter states. “Let us focus as an association on the areas we have in common and work together to address our collective challenges, so that we provide the best governance and services the people of Utah deserve.”
As for how to do that, Iverson said the organization hasn’t decided on an action plan but suggested some steps like hewing closer to agendas, raising awareness on the board and encouraging more sensitivity.
Carson suggested education as the key and said she is considering leading a breakout meeting at the November conference to explain what happened, why it had the effect it did and why, in her view, it stifles the kind of work the body aims to do.
Carson mentioned recent UAC successes like the coordination among county clerks in launching the vote-by-mail system and seemingly mundane changes that might have big effects, like lobbying to pass a law that enables counties to more effectively deal with failed septic systems.
“So much of what we deal with is not partisan in nature, it’s more functional: What works, what doesn’t work,” Carson said. “(Partisanship) just gets in the way of us doing the work we need to be working on.”
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