Critics call it the return of the spoils system.

But Democratic Salt Lake County commissioners say government will be more responsive to the public if elected officials are allowed to appoint more people to serve at their will and pleasure.Democratic commissioners Randy Horiuchi and Jim Bradley, who defeated incumbents last November and took control of county government, said Wednesday they have appointed a committee to study the 30 or so division directors in the county and decide which ones are charged with making policies.

Currently, those directors are protected by the county's merit system. In other words, county commissioners can't fire them without proving they had a good reason. Horiuchi and Bradley want to change that, at least for the directors who make policy.

"There's no one I'm dying to get rid of," Bradley said, trying to reassure nervous division directors. "This is not an issue of me having a vendetta."

But Bradley and Horiuchi feel division directors should set policies that reflect the philosophies of the elected officials for whom they work. Currently, division directors can defy elected officials without fear of losing their jobs.

"I feel this will generate a much stronger loyalty and bond to the public," Horiuchi said.

The committee consists of five people from private businesses. Their job will be to decide which jobs, if any, should be appointed by elected officials. The county's Merit Commission, a three-member panel appointed by county commissioners, then will make the final decision.

The lone Republican county commissioner, Mike Stewart, has opposed the idea. He was in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday when Horiuchi and Bradley approved the committee, a fact Bradley said was mere coincidence.

Bradley said Stewart now is less concerned about the change because the Democrats assured him they would impose minimum requirements for the jobs, such as education and experience levels.

Some division directors feel they should be paid more if their jobs no longer are protected by the county's merit system. But Horiuchi disagreed.

"If they're going to take the responsibility and risk of making policy decisions, there ought to be the same risk of whether they will hold that job or not," he said.