Voters will likely decide governance debate
March 22, 2006
Park City and Snyderville citizens voted overwhelmingly to study whether the form of government in Summit County should change but some vocal westsiders are against the new plan.
A Form of Governance Committee was created in 2005 to examine whether the three-member commission that governs the county should include more representatives or be replaced by a county council and either an elected or appointed executive.
With a 5-2 vote, seven citizens from eastern and western Summit County recommended that in 2008 voters elect the first five-member Summit County Council, which should hire a manager to oversee daily operations in the County Courthouse. In the 2004 general election, roughly 61 percent of the electorate mandated the yearlong study.
The Summit County Commission now must decide whether to place the five-member council/manager option before voters in November. Most of the crowd that attended a public hearing last week in Coalville opposed the change.
Residents from western Summit County can weigh in during a hearing scheduled Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Sheldon Richins Building. The County Commission is expected to vote that evening.
"This is the most important topic on the ballot because it completely is going to change the structure of the way the county is run," said Silver Creek resident Rob Weyher, who also chairs the Summit County Democratic Party.
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Because members of the county Democratic Central Committee are divided on the issue, the party will take no position, said Weyher, who added that he personally opposes the governance committee’s recommendation.
"I believe it’s a mistake," he said.
Though the local GOP has also avoided taking a position, Summit County Republican Party chairwoman Diane Walker acknowledged the importance of the debate.
"It could have a major impact on everything and everyone in the county," Walker said. "I just urge everyone to get involved."
Three commissioners traditionally oversaw operations in Utah’s 29 counties, however, a handful of governments have adopted different options allowed by the Utah Legislature. Neighboring Wasatch County switched to a seven-member council with a hired manager. Morgan County, near the northern boundary of Summit, is governed by seven councilors without a manager.
And there has been no shortage of headlines written about Salt Lake County since the commission there morphed into nine councilors with an elected mayor.
As population growth continues to widen the political disparity that divides eastern and western Summit County residents, supporters of the proposed council/manager form of government say five representatives would provide eastsiders — who are much fewer in numbers — more opportunities to win seats on the board.
The opinions of East and West Side voters often clash at the polls on Election Day.
But state law requires county councils be accompanied by managers/mayors, which has become the most contentious part of the debate.
The manager wouldn’t supervise the county’s seven elected department heads, however, high-profile departments like the county’s Public Works and Community Development Department need more executive oversight, said Form of Governance Committee chairman Eric Easterly, who voted for the recommendation.
Committee members Chris Boyer and H.G. Linford both of eastern Summit County — cast the dissenting votes.
Snyderville Basin resident Ron Duyker agrees the recommendation should be quashed.
"Is Summit County out of control?" Duyker asked during last week’s public hearing in Coalville. "I don’t think so. Is everyone doing an excellent job, is everybody perfect, maybe not."
County Commissioners Bob Richer, Ken Woolstenhulme and Sally Elliott have hinted that voters should be allowed to decide. However, if the board refuses to place the recommendation on the ballot, citizens could pursue a petition to put the matter to a vote.
Refusing to take sides, Summit County Attorney David Brickey encouraged voters to learn about the debate’s ramifications.
"I’d hate to think that we would have 25 percent of our population force a change, or not force a change, that really the majority want," Brickey said, citing a past average voter turnout statistic. "There is real apathy because of the off-presidential election year. We have a lot of other offices that are very critical to the success of the county. As a result, this issue hopefully will not be completely ignored."