Summit County creates new position to improve East Side relations
Anita Lewis “bleeds the East Side.” The lifelong Summit County resident grew up on a working ranch in Upton, giving her, she said, an acute understanding of life in the more rural parts of the county.
“If you’ve ever had to work the dirt and make your income off of that, you feel the eastern part of the county a little more,” she said. “I have an understanding of what people are saying and how they feel their way of life is being threatened.”
Lewis, Summit County’s assistant manager, has a unique connection with East Side residents, which officials see as making her an appropriate person to fulfill a new role the county is creating for improving relations with those residents.
“The County Council has heard, and I’ve heard it too, that the East Side doesn’t have any representation and no one understands our issues,” she said. “I heard a couple weeks ago a resident said, ‘No one understands our customs, values and way of life.’ I feel like hopefully I can bring that understanding more to the forefront.”
As the County Council has reviewed the changes that are being proposed to the East Side Development Code and infrastructure issues that the East Side mayors have addressed, several comments have been made in meetings that suggest residents feel underrepresented.
County Manager Tom Fisher is referring to Lewis’ new role as rural affairs. He said the county needs to have someone concentrating on those issues, such as growth pressures, economic development and land use.
“It will be a government relations position,” he said. “As much as I have tried to be, a lot of my time is concentrated in the Snyderville Basin and Park City area. I don’t think the East Side has been neglected, but I think we could do better.”
When Fisher was considering creating the position, he said, he envisioned someone who has a background in agriculture and familiarity with how small towns in rural Utah relate to larger urban areas. He said Lewis is the “perfect person” to fill that role.
“We are taking advantage of what she brings to the county,” he said. “At the same time, I want this to be a position where those that see the growth of the county as somewhat intimidating, they can walk in the door and she can help them navigate county government.”
Fisher said the new position isn’t meant to address a lack of representation from the County Council. He added, “I truly believe that our Council does a very good job of trying to represent everyone.
“Under our current form, they are elected at-large and it’s really more on the operation side as we are forming policy and going before the Council trying to bring different viewpoints to them,” he said. “That is really what we are talking about here. We are not talking about the high level and policy side of things, and certainly not the political side of it. It really is about operations and we can be better at recognizing the uniqueness of some of the issues in our rural Summit County and dealing with them.”
Lewis echoed Fisher’s comments, adding “I feel like we have a great County Council.” However, she admitted she understands how a resident could feel like they don’t know the Council as well as they may have in the past.
“I think a citizen on the East Side thinks, ‘I’ll call this person and they won’t have a clue of what I am even talking about,” she said. “I don’t agree with that because I work closer with the Council, but I can understand if you are on the outside how you may think that.”
Lewis’ transition into her new role has already begun, with her attending meetings and becoming more acquainted with East Side policy. She will maintain her role as assistant county manager, a position she has held since about 2008, until a new deputy county manager is hired.
“I feel fortunate and the time is right for me now,” she said. “I’ve worked here long enough and spent enough time to sort of lead the path. When Tom (Fisher) and I discussed this position, I contacted some people in North and South Summit and told them this was something we were thinking about and they said, ‘It’s great and this is exactly what the county needs.’ I’ve had good support from people. Moving forward we’ll see how it goes. It will be a lot of trial and error, but I think this will really be an asset.”
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