When an incumbent or a government office employee campaigns, he had better be prepared to defend his past performance and political philosophy.

And that's exactly what Malcolm Beck and Kay Bryson found themselves doing Wednesday night.A forum at the Orem Civic Center for Utah County attorney and Utah County Commission candidates began as a meet-the-candidate and question-and-answer night. It ended in a debate between county attorney candidates Bryson and C. Robert Collins and commission candidates Beck and Wayne Hill.

Collins spent much of his time criticizing the current operation and structure of the Utah County attorney's office, where Bryson works as deputy county attorney. The Democratic candidate said the county attorney's office is not aggressive enough in seeking grants. He said money is available to fund needed programs and the county is not going after it.

Collins also criticized the county attorney's office for its plea bargaining techniques and lack of a plea bargaining policy. He was especially critical of the way it handled a recent DUI case involving County Republican Chairman Wayne Watson.

"I am running for county attorney because I think we have a lot of problems in our county system and I think they need to be corrected . . . and it seems that people who cannot address their own problems are going to continue to have them and they are going to compound and get worse," Collins said.

Bryson, a Republican, agreed that the county attorney's office needs more leadership and promised to provide that leadership. He said he has the support of the majority of Utah County's attorneys and law enforcement officers.

Bryson said Watson's case was handled just like any other DUI case and that there was not sufficient evidence to convict Watson because he refused to take a breath test. He said to handle it any other way would have been reverse discrimination and that Watson likely will lose his driver license for one year for refusing to take a breath test.

"The case was handled exactly how the officer on the scene said it should have been handled. We followed the same standards that we always follow," Bryson said.

Independent county attorney candidate William S. Christian had little to say except that he is "not a Republican, not a Democrat and not a politician." He said there are more qualified candidates than himself, but he has the ability to assemble a qualified county attorney staff.

Hill, an Independent, said the current commission has no direction and is not following the will of people. He accused Beck of showing favoritism to a friend when he voted to exempt Utah Valley Regional Medical Center and American Fork Hospital from paying more than $300,000 in property taxes. He also said Beck had a conflict of interest because he served on the American Fork Hospital board.

"If we don't have somebody that stands up for the people and do what you want instead of what the old boys want then you have no representation," Hill said.

Beck said he did not have a conflict of interest because his board position was not a paid position. He said he simply followed the criteria established by the U.S. Supreme Court in determining tax-exempt status for hospitals.

"When anybody runs ads in the papers indicating that somebody is violating the law, and I have all types of evidence . . . that I have not exempted anybody from anything. The State Tax Commission took all the rulings and took it back under their jurisdiction and is now writing new rules," Beck said.

Democratic county commissioner candidate George Tripp, his incumbent Republican opponent Gary Herbert and commission candidate Democrat Marie Van Wagenen did not aim their remarks at each other. Instead, they discussed general issues and outlined their qualifications. Van Wagenen's Republican opponent Richard Johnson did not attend the forum.