A Salt Lake City employee running for the Utah Legislature not only has to overcome an incumbent opponent but also a city ordinance if he wants to win a seat at the state capitol.
Chris Shulz, a Republican legislative candidate in District 22 and a city planner, is petitioning the city to amend an ordinance preventing him from simultaneously holding his job at city hall and a seat in the Legislature.The ordinance states no city employee "shall be an officer of a political party or hold political office during his or her employment . . . ." The ordinance permits city employees, however, to be voting district officers or party delegates.
"I think it would be an unjust thing to preclude a city employee from serving in the state Legislature," said Shulz, who is running against Ted Lewis, D-Salt Lake, for the House seat Lewis has held since 1983.
The ordinance is designed to prohibit Salt Lake City employees from seeking Salt Lake City offices on the city council, Shulz said. Councilwoman Florence Bittner, for example, quit her job as director of the city's Community Affairs office to take her seat on the council in 1986.
But as the ordinance is written, Salt Lake City employees who live in other municipalities can't run for their city councils or for the Legislature either.
"It's a little too all-encompassing to preclude city employees from becoming involved in their civic obligation,' Shulz said, noting the prohibition is ironic considering that some state employees hold legislative seats.
The Attorney General's office, however, is suing two Legislators, Reps. R. Mont Evans and Janet Rose, who work for the state, on the grounds their positions breach separation of powers provisions of the Utah Constitution.
Shulz said city employees serving in a state office pose no conflict of interest since, "the Legislature has no direct budgetary or fiscal impact on the city."
In a letter to Mayor Palmer DePaulis, Shulz proposed the ordinance be amended to prohibit city employees from holding public office or party positions except for voting districts, delegates and "in the Utah State Legislature or part-time political office." The amended ordinance would permit him to hold an office in the Legislature as well as allow other city employees to seek other part-time public positions, he said.
DePaulis' Chief of Staff, Mike Zuhl, said the mayor sent the petition to the city attorney without recommendation. The city attorney will review the amendment and then forward it to the city council with a recommendation.
If the council fails to act before Sept. 14, the day after primary elections in Utah, one section of the ordinance may force Shulz to take a temporary leave of absence from his city job until the general election in November.
The ordinance says that an employee running for office must take leave the day after the the candidate wins in a primary election. Although Shulz does not face a primary run-off, he is unsure whether he is bound by the ordinance's language regarding leave.
City Attorney Roger Cutler said if the council chooses not to amend the ordinance, Shulz must decide whether to challenge its constitutionality in court, seek a stay of the ordinance in court, or choose between his city career and a legislative seat.