Independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook says a new Salt Lake County policy regulating county employees' campaign activity for or against three tax limitation initiatives isn't good enough.
Cook, who appeared at a commission meeting last week to call for just such a policy, said commissioners have not done enough to prevent employees from campaigning against the initiatives on county time."I don't think the commissioners addressed the question at all," Cook said. "The governor, to his credit, went further in his policy for state employees, and I think the county needs a better standard."
The new policy allows employees to express their opinions on the initiatives, to educate the public on possible impacts, to contribute personal resources to campaigns for or against voter approval and work for or against the initiatives on their own time.
Employees may not use county resources to campaign, arrange meetings in county facilities on county time, coerce fellow employees to contribute money to campaigns or engage in any political activity related to the initiatives during work hours.
Cook, whose independent candidacy draws support mainly from tax limitation advocates, admits his real concern is not with the new policy, but with the actions of county budget director Nelson G. Williams, who has presented a series of one-hour seminars to various county departments.
The seminars are held to educate employees and managers on the potential effects voter approval of the three initiatives, which will appear on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, could have on county budgets and service levels.
But what Williams is actually doing, Cook claims, is using county time and resources - all paid for by taxpayers - to campaign against the initiatives. The independent candidate says he has no objection to Williams speaking out against the initiatives on his own time.
County commissioners and managers repeatedly have called Cook's claim false. Since Williams does not take a stand for or against the initiatives during his lectures, he is not engaged in political activity and therefore is not prohibited from making his presentations to county employees, officials say.
But Cook, who attended a Williams presentation to county parks and recreation employees last week, is unconvinced.
"Just because he doesn't tell them to vote against (the initiatives) doesn't mean he isn't campaigning," Cook said of Williams. "He makes county recruits think they'll lose their jobs if the initiatives pass. They may call them budget meetings to make it look like they're not political, but it's nothing less than straight political propaganda."