FARMINGTON — Davis County commissioners make roughly $180,000 per year in salary and benefits, and Terry Spencer thinks that's wrong.
It's also wrong, Spencer says, that Reagan Outdoor Advertising won't allow him to post that information on a billboard.
He said commissioners' compensation is an issue Davis County Republicans should be aware of as they cast their ballots in the June 26 primary between him and incumbent County Commissioner John Petroff.
According to a voice mail message left for Spencer by Reagan's Marc Davey, company managers nixed the campaign billboard because "the commission is one of our landlords, and (management) doesn't want to make a big stink out of that."
"(Reagan officials) don't want to get involved in the (issue of) Davis County commissioners making $180,000," Spencer said.
In lieu of the billboard, Spencer spent about $15,000 to send postcards to the 22,000 Davis County residents who voted in the 2006, 2008 and 2010 primary elections to get his message across. The first batch of postcards were mailed Wednesday.
"I'm just this little guy who's using his own money to shine some light on the government and what they're doing here in the county," he said.
Reagan's decision to reject the billboard raises questions about whether the company should be in the business of censoring political ads.
Matthew Burbank, an associate professor of political science at the University of Utah called Reagan's actions "rather odd."
"(Reagan) really ought not to be censoring what that message is, particularly in this case, where it seems for all the world to be a perfectly legitimate issue," Burbank said. "How much public officials are paid, that seems like a campaign issue."
Dewey Reagan, president and general manager of Reagan Outdoor Advertising, said the billboard could be perceived as negative campaigning "...and negative political advertising is not something we want to be involved with."
Reagan, Utah's largest billboard company, has long had a foothold in local politics, particularity at the state Legislature. During the past 10 years, Reagan has donated more than $800,000 to local political campaigns.
Spencer, a state senator from 1999 to 2002, received an in-kind donation from Reagan Outdoor Advertising for his legislative campaign in 1998. He said Reagan's rejection of his billboard in this campaign contradicts the company's longtime mantra at the state Capitol.
"All I got from Reagan Outdoor Advertising when I was in the Legislature was how important the First Amendment is," Spencer said. "And now they're doing self-censorship."
He contends that Reagan is playing politics and favoring an incumbent commissioner in the race, an allegation Reagan denies.
"It has nothing to do with our support of one political candidate or not supporting another," the billboard company's president said. "It's that we don't want to get involved in negative campaign advertising."
Commissioner Petroff agreed with Reagan's contention that the ad could be perceived as negative.
"It's negative when you don't compare apples to apples," he said. "I think that's the part that's unfair. The salary is what it is."
According to the Davis County clerk/auditor, Petroff and his fellow commissioners make a salary of $119,500 per year. The overall compensation — salary and benefits — for Davis County commissioners ranges between $177,600 and $181,200.
In his postcard to Davis County voters, Spencer compares Davis County commissioners' compensation with those of Gov. Gary Herbert ($149,475), Salt Lake County Council members ($60,000) and Utah County commissioners ($108,000).
"Something is wrong," the postcard reads. "Why do Davis County commissioners make $180,000 per year?"
The postcard is fairly accurate, according to county officials and public records. Gov. Herbert makes $109,900 per year in salary and $149,475 when all benefits are included.
Spencer's mailer aims a little high on compensations for Salt Lake County Council members and Utah County commissioners.
The average compensation for Salt Lake County Council members is about $53,200, with a base salary of between $34,600 and $38,400. But Salt Lake County's form of government differs from that of Davis and Utah counties in that it has nine council members and a mayor.
In Utah County, the three commissioners each make a base salary of $104,000, with benefits bringing the total compensation to between $115,000 and $150,000 per commissioner, according to the county personnel office.
Spencer also notes that Utah County is larger than Davis. According to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau totals, Utah County has a population of 517,000, compared with Davis' 306,000.
"In these times of economic uncertainty, when families are losing their homes, people are losing their jobs and seniors are losing their retirement, it is simply wrong to ask the taxpayers to fund over a half-million dollars in salary and benefits for three county commissioners," the postcard states.
Spencer said, if elected, he would accept "no more than $40,000."
Davis County Clerk/Auditor Steve Rawlings addresses the issue of commissioners' salaries in a recent letter to the Utah Republican Party. Rawlings' intention, he wrote, was to "clear up some inconsistencies" in what's being said about the salaries.
Rawlings said salaries, benefits, travel, equipment, supplies and all other expenditures for the three commissioners and their two assistants for 2012 represents $747,000 of Davis County's $62 million general fund — 1.2 percent of the budget.
By contrast, Salt Lake County's expenditures for mayor, council members and related assistants represents 3.6 percent of its $232 million budget for 2012.
Petroff said that's a more accurate way to compare Davis and Salt Lake County salaries and benefits.
Aside from that, Petroff says he's not sure how to respond to Spencer's criticisms. The salary was in place when he took office in 2009, and it's stayed the same.
"In all of this discussion Terry keeps bringing up, he's never talked about how well-run Davis County is or how we're doing as a county government," he said.1 comment on this story
Since 2006, two candidates for Davis County commissioner have contracted with Reagan for billboard advertising, including current Commissioner P. Bret Millburn.
Millburn paid Reagan a little more than $2,100 in September 2006 for billboard advertising, according to campaign finance disclosures.
In May 2006, former Centerville Mayor Michael Deamer paid nearly $3,000 to Reagan for billboard advertising in his primary race with Louenda Downs. Downs prevailed and has been serving on the commission since 2007.