Two Utah County constables and several local attorneys say the quality of constable service may be hurt by the county's decision to appoint only three constables.
In the past, the public elected five constables. But new legislation gives the county the authority to appoint constables if it determines they are needed. There is no set number on how many constables a county can appoint.Last week county commissioners appointed three constables to serve six-year terms. The three were the only ones recommended out of five interviewed by a nominating commission.
Two constables whose offices expire Monday, James Phelps and Jerry Miller, were those not appointed. Both say three constables cannot adequately serve the public and claim to have a bigger clientele than those appointed. They both say they meet the qualifications and are willing to abide by state regulations, and say they too should have been appointed.
Anyone over the age of 18 can serve summons and initial court orders. But only appointed constables or sheriff's deputies can serve supplemental court orders, such as orders to show cause, writ of executions and writ of garnishments.
"What the reasons are I'd like to know," Miller said. "I'm amazed that they would appoint someone without much experience and not appoint two with a wealth of experience."
Phelps said the quality of constable service probably will suffer because the incentive to do quality work has been reduced. Many of his and Miller's clients switched from those appointed because they were unsatisfied with the service they were receiving, he said.
"Competition is good for the constable business. If you do the job right you will have the work, if you don't then the clients will find someone else," Phelps said. "The public deserves the opportunity to choose a constable they feel comfortable with. Now they either have to deal with one of the three or go to the sheriff's office."
Several local attorneys agree. They say some constables provide better service than others and fear the lack of competition will result in poor service. Service to north Utah County may also suffer because none of the constables appointed live north of Provo."The more people with the authority the better off we are. Now we are forced to use somebody we may be unhappy with," one local attorney said.
A county ordinance states that three individuals should be submitted for each vacancy. Since only five people were interviewed, Phelps said all should have been submitted to the County Commission for appointment. He believes a personality conflict with some members of the nominating committee is the real reason he was not appointed.
Phelps also believes a conflict of interest existed with those who served on the commission. He said Commissioner Sid Sandberg voted twice, once on the nominating commission and once as a county commissioner. Sheriff Dave Bateman lobbied to have the sheriff's office do all the constable work and he did not want any constables. Other members of the nominating commission include deputy county attorney Jeril Wilson, private attorney Richard D. Bradford and 4th Circuit Judge Joseph I. Dimick.
However, state law requires that the nominating commission be made up of one county commissioner, one judge, a private citizen and a representative each from the county attorney's office and the sheriff's office.
Miller said the nominating commission asked him questions that were more personal in nature and had nothing to do with his constable abilities. He said his qualifications and past performance were not considered.
"They never even asked me how many papers I served last year," he said.
Sandberg said the commission never discussed limiting the number of constables to three. However, he said the three who were appointed were the only ones endorsed by the commission. He said the commission gave no reason for not nominating Phelps and Miller.
All county commissioners said if the need for more constables becomes apparent then the county will make more appointments.
"At this point it is a little premature to complain," Sandberg said. "All the ones appointed are experienced and should be given a chance to carry out the office as mandated by state statute and to establish a track record. If it proves that there are not enough constables then it will become apparent. The Commission should always be open to comment and should add constables if the need arises."
Both Phelps and Miller say they hope to keep enough business to keep their deputies working. Phelps has four full-time deputies and Miller has three part-time deputies.
"I'll probably go with a constable that can serve all papers because I don't want to worry about keeping track of what a person can serve and what he can't serve," a local attorney said.
- Darrell Tucker
- Dave Carter
- Anthony Fernlund
Constables take office on Jan. 7.