Sparks flew during a City Council meeting this week when the council voted to appoint Rick Barry, who was elected last year by voters, as constable for the city.
Barry was elected constable for an area with boundaries that mimic West Valley's, City Manager John Newman said. But that does not mean the city has to contract with Barry for services as constable.The issue is so confusing that the Legislature has appointed a task force to study constables. Utah law allows municipalities to contract with one or more constables to serve warrants and track down offenders. But constables also are elected positions for specific geographic areas.
"The office of constable is one of the oldest (law enforcement positions) in the state," Barry told council members during Thursday night's meeting.
The West Valley City attorney's office, however, maintains that the community can contract with whomever it chooses to serve warrants.
"It is our opinion he (Barry) is not the West Valley City constable." It just so happens that the boundaries within which he was elected mirror the city's, Newman said.
For the past year, the city has used both Barry and Jay Weaver as constables. The contract calls for constables to be paid $20 for each warrant served. The community issued 6,000 warrants in 1987.
The council tabled the issue at its June 30 meeting to study whether it would use Barry or go with Weaver exclusively for its constable services.
Council members and citizens questioned the wisdom of approving a contract with someone not elected by residents.
"It isn't ethical - I don't care what you say," said Councilman Gordon Evans, pounding the table for emphasis.
"I was elected by the people in this community to do a job. And I would hate to see somebody in Murray to come in and take my job because they thought I couldn't do it," said Councilman Duane Moss.
City administrators, however, wanted to see Weaver and deputy Sue Stowers given exclusive right to serve warrants issued by the city. Stowers and Weaver could provide the city with computer ability to track down people, could guarantee the city a $50,000 return on the contract and could provide insurance.
Part of the confusion is that the state task force has not yet issued its findings on Utah constables, and it was unclear whether any decision the council made would be voided by the task force's conclusions.