Wasatch, Morgan voters praise government change
November 1, 2006
With voters set to decide Tuesday whether to dissolve the Summit County Commission, citizens in Wasatch and Morgan counties say they’re satisfied with their new governments.
"They haven’t bothered me," said Wasatch County resident Dick Nicol about the Wasatch County Council that was first elected in Heber about three years ago. "Things are running fine but there is always controversy."
Summit County Proposition 1 asks if the current three-member Summit County Commission should change to a five-member county council with an executive manager.
Nicol insists his county has run more smoothly since it hired Wasatch County Manager Mike Davis after the form of government changed.
"But I wished they had went to five instead of seven (councilors)," Nicol lamented last weekend in an interview at his barbershop in Heber. "Too many people in charge."
A plan to bestow Summit County’s executive powers on a hired manager is dividing citizens as the Nov. 7 election approaches.
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The part-time Summit County Commission functions currently as the legislative and executive branches of government.
Naming the manager the county’s chief executive officer would provide a needed separation of powers, said Snyderville Basin resident Steve Dougherty, who supports the change and served on the seven-member committee that recommended the proposal with a 5-2 vote.
Giving that much power to someone residents can’t elect, however, is distasteful, the proposition’s opponents say.
But Davis insists he answers to the Wasatch County Council.
"If you’ve got a problem or whatever, you go to (Davis). Yet, you’ve got seven guys above him that he has to report to," Nicol said. "Five would probably be fine."
Voters in Wasatch County wanted a separation of powers when they split the executive and legislative duties, said Natalie Mair, a waitress at Chick’s Café in Heber.
"You need to have a CEO," Mair said. "They deal with a lot of things."
Though all five councilors in Summit County would represent citizens at large, Mair says allowing some representatives to serve smaller districts has helped unite Wasatch County.
On the Wasatch County Council, five members represent specific geographic areas and two are elected at large.
Laurie Wynn, managing editor of the Wasatch Wave, says seven Wasatch County councilors have proven to be too many.
"We have been pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as much of a chaotic mess as it could have been," said Wynn, who added that her newspaper would have endorsed for Wasatch what is being proposed in Summit County as long as some councilors could represent districts.
Doug Johnston, who publishes the Morgan County News, says when voters replaced the Morgan County Commission with seven councilors several years ago they helped reduce the potential for conflicts of interest between politicians and landowners seeking development approvals.
Morgan County has councilors who serve districts and at large without a county manager.
"If Morgan County had an election and they said let’s go back to three commissioners, I think it would be beaten 90 (percent) to 10," Johnston said. "When it was a three-member council you had two Republicans and one Democrat and whatever the Republicans wanted would pass."
Special interests that persuaded one commissioner would "get to two of them," Johnston said while bashing the defunct Morgan County Commission.
"I think when there are three of them they pretty much think that they are God," Johnston said. "It’s harder to get to seven people than it is to three."
Allowing some councilors to represent districts, however, has been important for helping ensure everyone in fast-growing Morgan County has representation on the council, Johnston said.
"If I have a problem in south Morgan where I live, I go to the person who’s over south Morgan," Johnston said, insisting Summit County voters also deserve district representation.
But a manager is unnecessary in a relatively small county like Summit, he said.
Meanwhile, Dougherty claims councilors could draw districts in the county after they’re elected.
He blasted critics of the plan like Summit County Auditor Blake Frazier, who Dougherty alleges is spreading misinformation about the plan to change the form of government to scare voters and hasn’t been upfront about the salary and benefits package he receives from the county worth more than $100,000.
"It’s a bunch of guys who work in the courthouse who are trying to keep their little fiefdoms going on," Dougherty said about many of Proposition 1’s opponents.
According to Frazier, implementing the change of government the first year could cost roughly $750,000 because of additional salaries and the cost to provide more office space.
"Costs are not something that were integral to the task that was before the study group," Dougherty said, insisting estimates from Frazier are not based on facts.