Janice Snyder has been afraid to let her children answer the phone lately.

A cassette tape from her answering machine shows she has some enemies."Will you drop dead, lady? Why don't you leave things alone? You're nothing but a trashy b----," says the first caller on one tape she carries with her. The voice sounds like an elderly woman. Several similar messages are on the tape. One woman blows a whistle loudly and calls her a prostitute.

Snyder is a member of a community council - the Kearns Town Council, to be exact.

Community councils exist throughout the unincorporated areas of Salt Lake County. Their members are volunteers elected by the people who live within narrow community boundaries.

Community councils provide advice to the county on planning and zoning matters. They are supposed to be an example of grass-roots government representing the will of individual neighborhoods to a large and often intimidating county bureaucracy.

But in Kearns and nearby Taylorsville-Bennion, they are an example of bickering and political fights thought by many to exist only in the higher echelons of government - where at least money and power are at stake.

The Kearns and Taylorsville-Bennion councils both lay claim to an area roughly between 4700 South and 5600 South and between 4015 West and the soon-to-be-built West Valley Highway.

The area includes business that the Kearns council refers to as its downtown, and it includes several homes. Both sides concede most of the area's residents would rather be part of the Taylorsville-Bennion council. The battle has been raging for years.

Some county officials are baffled by the dispute. The councils do nothing more than advise on planning and zoning matters. The communities get no tax advantages for having businesses within their boundaries. Both areas are unincorporated. Taylorsville-Bennion residents, who have tried unsuccessfully to incorporate in the past, would be able to try again using whatever boundaries they want regardless of where community council borders are drawn.

Snyder believes snobbery is at the heart of the dispute. The wealthier people of Taylorsville-Bennion don't want to be associated with Kearns people, whom they consider inferior, she believes.

"The issue is one of social-class distinction," she said.

But Jim Whitehead, chairman of the Taylorsville-Bennion council, believes that's nonsense. He claims no responsibility for the obnoxious phone calls Snyder is getting and said he is as offended by them as she is. But community councils do more than just advise, he said. They help develop parks and plan the future of a neighborhood. Historically, his council and the Kearns council have had philosophical differences.

"We have been upset at the way strip zoning has occurred in Kearns," he said, referring to apartments being allowed next to businesses.

County commissioners thought they solved the dispute in January. Back then, the disputed area was much larger. They simply divided the area in half.

But people living in the portion that now is in dispute did not like the fact they were made part of Kearns. Shortly after the compromise, a Kearns recreation district, represented by some of the same people who sit on the Kearns council, tried unsuccessfully to annex some of the disputed area, and the controversy flared again.

Newly elected commissioners decided to rescind the compromise and hold an election in May. Now, they're not so sure.

"I believe this is a social-class issue, quite frankly, which I didn't believe at first, and I find that repugnant," said Commission Chairman Jim Bradley, who said he may try to halt the election.

Meanwhile, the Kearns council believes the commission acted illegally by calling for an election after the earlier commission drew new boundaries. They have decided to hire an attorney.

And the Taylorsville-Bennion council applauds the move toward an election. "They (Kearns council members) are against an election because they know the outcome," Whitehead said. "But hey, that's the American process."


(Additional story)

Future in doubt?

The future of community councils is in doubt because of bickering.

Salt Lake County commissioners said Tuesday they have canceled voting to settle boundary disputes both in the Kearns and Taylorsville-Bennion areas and in the Holladay-Cottonwood and Cottonwood Heights areas.

In addition to those disputes, Magna has experienced a long-standing conflict between two community councils, both of which claim jurisdiction over the area.

Commissioners said they also may consider scrapping the ordinance recognizing community councils and write a new one. In any case, a new ordinance won't take effect until the councils work out their differences, officials said.