Republican county commissioners and Democratic Party officials agree John Hiskey, the Salt Lake County public works director appointed 20 months ago by Dave Watson, is far and away the leading candidate to fill the remaining four months of Watson's term.
But while the process to nominate Watson's replacement may be only a formality, state Democratic chairman Randy Horiuchi says the party's two candidates for commission seats - Jim Bradley and Dale Gardiner - should also be on a list of six names nominated to replace Watson, who resigned effective Monday.Commissioners Bart Barker and Mike Stewart, both Republicans, have drafted a letter to the Salt Lake County Democratic central committee requesting that the committee submit its list of nominees to replace Watson.
After receiving the nominations, the two commissioners will have 30 days to appoint a replacement for Watson. But they will probably need very little time to agree on Hiskey, who Watson reccommended in his letter of resignation.
"He is the strongest contender," Stewart said Friday of Hiskey. "Because of the ease of transition, because we're already into the budget process for next year and he's familiar with that, and because he already has the confidence of everyone here at the county. He won't have to win anyone over."
Barker, the commission chairman, agreed.
"He's the most qualified for the job, and certainly someone we'll have to consider," Barker said. "We wouldn't have to spend a week interviewing candidates and a month showing him around (if we appoint Hiskey)."
Horiuchi said he can't be sure who will be nominated, but Hiskey is almost certain to be on the party's list.
The Democratic chairman said it's important that Bradley and Gardiner also be nominated, despite the statements some Republican Party officials made at the time of Watson's arrest on drunken driving and drug possession charges last May - that a current Democratic commission candidate would never be appointed should Watson resign.
"If we leave Jim and Dale off the list it would be doing the public a real disservice," Horiuchi said. "They have been very close to county government over the past six months."
Gardiner, who is running against Republican former commissioner Tom Shimizu for the two-year commission seat being vacated by Watson, said he already has been assured his name will be on the nominees list.
Bradley, who is challenging Stewart, said he does not want to be nominated, and that commissioners should chose Hiskey.
"I'd rather not be on the list because it wouldn't serve the public interest," Bradley said. "I'm involved in my campaign and couldn't pay the attention to the commissioner's job that it needs right now."
The party will submit the names of the six best and most competent individuals to fill Watson's term, Horiuchi said, but he would not speculate on other names that may be on the list.
The nominations will be submitted as soon as possible so county government "will not skip a beat," he said.
"We want to be helpful and make the process as as expedient as possible so we don't cause a problem for the sitting commissioners," Horiuchi said.