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Guest Editorial

ERIC EASTERLYChair of the Summit County Form of Governance Committee

Folks, there is nothing wrong with a five-member county council and a county manager:

It’s one of the four forms of county government that the Utah Legislature has approved.

It’s not new. Thousands of counties across the nation (including Wasatch County) have a manager.

It won’t require any additional taxes. All of the incumbent commissioners have signed a letter stating exactly that.

The manager must have a bachelor’s degree in public administration, public finance or similar degree and five years experience as a government administrator. That seems like a good idea. Professional management has to be better than nonprofessional management.

The manager will be chosen from three candidates submitted by an independent search committee.

The council can fire the manager at any time for any reason or no reason.

The manager can’t exercise any powers the commissioners don’t already have.

The elected officials won’t be affected. By law, the manager cannot supervise any of the elected officials in the performance of their statutory duties.

The manager may recommend persons to fill positions on boards and committees but the council will retain the power to make the actual appointments.

Freed of the task of day-to-day administration of county government, the council will be able to focus on important county issues, including land-use planning, transportation, water and a $44 million annual budget.

Opponents argue only that a five-member council and separate person exercising executive power will transform Summit County from "small government" to "big government." But, looking around the county, I see that every incorporated town and city has a five-member council and a mayor. So, the town of Oakley (pop. est. 1,300) is "big government" but Summit County (pop. est. 35,000) is presumably "small government." Go figure.

If there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the council-manager plan, opposition to the plan must reflect anxiety over its collateral consequences. And those would include:

1. The plan will change the timing of the elections of the council members. Presently, two Commissioners are elected during non-presidential election years. In off year elections, only about 25 percent of west-side voters can remember where they vote. East-side voters have a staggeringly high turnout (70 percent) so they are able to exercise considerable control over the county commission. In presidential election years however, west-side voters turn out in much higher numbers. Under the council-manager plan, a majority of the council members will be elected during presidential election years, thus substantially diminishing the electoral influence of east-side voters. Predictably, most of those opposed to the plan are from the east side.

2. The county auditor will lose control over the budget. While the commissioners ultimately approve the budget, the auditor assembles the budget and exercises the associated political clout. Under the council-manager plan, the auditor prepares a tentative budget, but the manager prepares the final budget for submission to the council. Not unexpectedly, Blake Frazier, the incumbent auditor, is one of the leaders of the opposition.

3. County employees will have on-site, daily supervision. The Commissioners do not have offices and do not oversee the daily operation of county government. The manager will have an office at the courthouse and daily oversight of county employees. Much of the opposition to a manager is therefore fueled by county employees who understandably enjoy the relative autonomy of their jobs.

In the end, it will all turn on voter turnout. Our last opportunity to step forward into this century with an efficient, professionally managed government will die if West-side voters stay home on Nov. 7.

So please vote.


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