November 4, 2006
On Tuesday, Summit County residents have the opportunity to make history. The voters’ decision on Summit County Proposition 1, whether to change the county’s form of government from a three-member commission to a five-member council with an appointed manager, is one of the most important decisions they have been asked to make in the last century and will profoundly affect Summit County’s future. The Record enthusiastically urges citizens on both sides of the county, east and west, to support the change because: it will ensure greater representation of the diverse segments of the community, will add a measure of professional support to the elected officials and because it would more effectively serve the growing metropolitan needs of the unincorporated areas of the county.
To put it more bluntly expanding the commission to five members will give the rural interests in the county a better shot at not getting bucked off the commission altogether and hiring a manager with a degree in public administration and a track record in local government will give the average citizen-commissioner an opportunity to get some advice from a professional before approving some cock-eyed piece of legislation that is bound to get the county sued.
Also, and this is important, having a full time manager means there is a full-time employee to scream at when a citizen has been wronged and to make sure that citizen gets some answers. After all, the elected officials can pass the buck around for a few years but the manager’s job is on the line every day.
Opponents of Proposition 1. suggest that hiring a county manager could reduce the powers, and accountability, of the commissioners and the county’s seven other elected officials. That is not true. The commissioners have the power to fire the county manager at any time and, unlike the voters’ relationship with elected officials, they don’t have to suffer through a four-year term of incompetence to get rid of a bad apple. The commissioners can also veto any employee or appointee decision the manager makes.
We have no doubt that all of Summit County’s recent commissioners have worked hard with the residents’ best interests at heart. But the job has grown too big and complex for a three-person board of citizens to handle.
As to the $12 million Snyderville Basin Special Recreation District Bond, The Record supports the concepts of a leisure pool and expanding the Basin Field House, but we believe voters need more details before approving this measure. Basin taxpayers will be hit hard this year with tax increases from ballooning property values, and asking them to approve another increase should not be taken lightly. Another reason to delay is that the Park City School District has concerns about how this proposed leisure pool would affect their own taxpayer-funded pool at Ecker Hill. We’d like to see the two public entities reach a consensus before asking for more money.
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In the race for County Commission, seat A, The Record wholeheartedly supports incumbent commissioner, Bob Richer. Rarely have we seen a citizen devote as much time and energy to a part-time elected position. And, yes, Richer is a realtor, but his record on controlling growth and supporting open space is unimpeachable.
Richer has a number of vocal critics but we urge voters to look closely at the names and affiliations of those who want to turn him out of office. The loudest of Richer’s detractors are those who are suing the county and who stand to gain financially from replacing him with those who want to circumvent or loosen the county’s development standards.
Perhaps Richer’s most admirable accomplishment to date has been his patient ushering of Proposition 1 through the bureaucratic process. If the change of government is approved and Richer wins another term on Tuesday, his annual compensation as a commissioner will be less. The commissioners’ current salary and benefits package is worth about $70,000. The councilors’ salary has tentatively been set at $1 per year pending further budget review. His support of the change, in spite of its potential to drastically cut his salary, is proof of his commitment to the county’s best interests.
The sheriff’s race also presents a clear choice. Incumbent county sheriff Dave Edmunds surpassed our expectations for his first term. Edmunds faced extraordinary challenges at the onset of his term. The department had seen few changes in administration or philosophy for over 20 years. Edmunds promised to change that and he delivered. The process ruffled some feathers but, over time, Edmunds’ energy and commitment won respect even from the old guard. Now, with four years of experience and additional training we look forward to seeing his vision for a reinvigorated law enforcement team come to fruition.
Summit County voters also have an important vested interest in the race for Utah House of Representatives District 53. The state legislature exerts an enormous influence over funding for education and tourism and has the potential to either override or support local land use policies. Park City and Summit County have often battled the legislature and of the three candidates running this year Democrat Laura Bonham would be the most likely to champion our interests. She is adamant about increasing funding for education and also understands Summit County’s need for support in controlling rampant development.
Bonham’s opponent, former House Speaker Mel Brown was entrenched in the legislature’s conservative Republican inner circle at a time when new laws were written behind closed doors and when legislators and lobbyists were best buddies. That time has passed.
Finally, the clerk’s race. This contest was especially difficult because The Record is not comfortable with either candidate. Having worked with Kent Jones during his previous stint as clerk, we are skeptical about his motives for returning. During Jones’ tenure, the Summit County Commission was criticized for frequently meeting behind closed doors. Also, minutes of the meetings were less detailed than they should have been and, in general, Jones seemed more interested in keeping information confidential than sharing it with the public. He was competent but not innovative and it would have been preferable to have a candidate who had more experience and enthusiasm about new technology.
Kathy Dopp, on the other hand, is brimming with passion. She has been unrelenting in her criticism of the Diebold electronic voting machines. While her devotion to alerting the nation about the potential for election tampering is admirable, it is hard to envision Dopp doing the important, but mundane, clerk’s tasks like taking minutes at the commissioners’ weekly meetings.
Our concern is that Dopp wants to use the county courthouse as a platform for her national crusade against the Diebold machines. The clerk’s race is a perfect example of why politics is not always the best way to hire someone for a professional position. It has always seemed a bit absurd to elect a person to run elections, especially when that person may eventually be overseeing an election in which he or she is a candidate.
Wouldn’t it be far better to run a classified ad for someone with the specific skills needed for the job, and to fire him or her if it didn’t work out? Unfortunately, under the current form of county government, we don’t have that option. But if voters choose to upgrade to the newer, more efficient form of council-manager government on Tuesday’s ballot, it could be an option.