Public access to county government, leadership and priorities in spending tax dollars were the focus of an animated campaign debate between Salt Lake County Commissioner Bart Barker and candidate Jim Bradley Tuesday.
Barker, a Republican, said the high level of public involvement in county government is demonstrated by the fact that 1,450 residents serve on advisory and policy boards and community councils, and some 12,600 residents volunteer time to the county.But Bradley, the Democrat challenging Barker, made reference to closed negotiating meetings regarding the Salt Palace and other items debated away from public view to argue that the County Commission has hidden its decisionmaking process from the public.
County Commission meetings should be held at a variety of locations around the valley and at different times of the day to make it possible for more people to attend, Bradley said, instead of always being held in the County Government Center on Monday and Wednesday mornings.
Barker countered that the reason Bradley doesn't know the debate process is because he hasn't attended very many of the commission's meetings. "The debate is occurring, you have to be there to watch it," he said.
Bradley said he would make governmental process more public. "The style of leadership is different between me and Barker. I'm proactive," he said. "That shows leadership."
"It's interesting to have Jim stand here and say it's a matter of leadership and he's a leader. That's like saying, `I'm humble.' You really can't say that `I'm a leader' unless you've proved it," Barker said.
Debate moderators had to throw water on the verbal exchange several times. The discussion was the most agitated when the two candidates began sparring over questions about spending priorities and taxes. Bradley accused Barker of wasting county money on compensatory time for Salt Palace managers and architectural work for the controversial Dimple Dell golf course proposal while neglecting safety concerns like sidewalks and pedestrian over-passes.
"Salt Lake County has many streets that need sidewalks, many streets that need (pedestrian) overpasses. To put a price on all of those and achieve that would cost several million dollars to build all at once," Barker said. "Where would you get the money? Would you raise taxes to do it?" he asked Bradley.
"You're telling me that your hands are so tied that you can't find a couple of million dollars for overpasses?" Bradley shot back. "It's an issue of leadership to be able to take the public and say, `Hey, I'm going to have to raise the taxes in a particular area because there are services we really need' and have the wherewithal and the leadership ability and style to get the people to buy into it and say, `OK, we believe you, we don't want to pay it but we believe you,' " he said. "But as long as the public believes you're wasting their money . . . they're not going to be very enamored with the idea of raising their taxes."
Shared services throughout the county is another area Bradley accused the County Commission of neglecting. "Why don't we have a common metro (police) force? And why haven't we seen the political leadership that can take us there?"
"If you want to find out why law enforcement is not better coordinated in this valley," Barker said, "you have to look at the Democrat (Sheriff) Pete Hayward, with whom most city police chiefs cannot work."
Tuesday's debate was sponsored by the Hinckley Institute at the University of Utah, which has also scheduled a debate between Republican County Commissioner M. Tom Shimizu and Democrat challenger Randy Horiuchi Thursday morning.