Political process doesn’t work for county department heads
You’re fired! And I am giving you eight months to clean out your desk!"
OK, that is a bit of an exaggeration but, in essence, that is what happened to one of the county’s seven elected department heads Tuesday night.
Summit County Clerk Sue Follett failed to earn her party’s vote of confidence at this week’s Democratic county convention and, as a result, she is out of the running for a second term. Former county clerk Kent Jones and Park City recorder Cindy LoPicolo both came away from the convention with more delegate votes than Follett and will face off in a June primary. In the meantime, the incumbent will finish her term that ends in December.
To her credit, Follett has pledged not to be a lame duck official and says she will continue to work hard for county residents. But the awkward situation, in which a lame duck ex-candidate will be overseeing the election of her successor highlights just one of the weaknesses of the current form of county government.
In the corporate world, it is considered a security risk to allow someone who has been dismissed, especially those who sit in on closed meetings or handle financial transactions, access to sensitive company information. While we have no reason to believe Follett would compromise the county’s interest by sharing proprietary information, it is clear she could be vulnerable to outside pressure.
Fortunately, Follett has a long record, going back to her position in the sheriff’s department, of loyalty and discretion. But let’s consider the circumstance independently of the person. What if it were the county auditor, or the treasurer? Would county citizens want to retain a department head of that stature for eight months after his or her own party has withdrawn their support?
Summit County is now a multimillion dollar corporation, complete with lawsuits and political intrigue. It’s a far cry from the rural coalition of small towns that once functioned effectively with a three-man commission and an assortment of elected managers.
This fall county citizens will have an opportunity to vote for or against changing the form of government to a five-member council with a professional manager. It is a great first step in the overdue evolution of the county seat. The next step should be a gradual change-over from partisan politics to professional hiring practices, beginning with the county clerk.
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“Our community is looking for strong, collaborative leaders who exhibit a commitment to serve,” writes Jeremy Rubell, a Park City Council candidate.