Salt Lake County has set a policy regulating county employees' campaign activity for or against three tax limitation initiatives that will appear on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
But county officials say the policy will not halt seminars, which outline the potential effect of the initiatives on county services, that are being presented to county employees by budget director Nelson Williams.Independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook called on county commissioners earlier this week to set a policy prohibiting employees from campaigning for or against the initiatives during work hours.
Cook appeared at a commission meeting to protest a seminar Williams presented to employees of the county parks and recreation division, charging Williams, an admitted opponent of the initiatives, was campaigning against them on county time.
The new policy says employees may express individual opinions on the initiatives, educate the public on possible impacts to county services, 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, express opinions representing the county, arrange meetings in county facilities on county time or coerce fellow employees to contribute money to campaigns.
County employees also may not take any job action, positive or negative, affecting a fellow employee based on that employee's opinion of the initiatives, and may not engage in any political activity related to the initiatives during work hours.
The policy further states that Salt Lake County will take no position for or against the initiatives. However, the county does have a responsibility to analyze the potential impact of the initiatives on county services and to inform voters. If voters approve the measures, the county "will responsibly implement their decision," according to the policy.
County officials say the policy was established because many employees have inquired what they can and cannot do to campaign for or against the initiatives. The policy already was in draft form when Cook issued his call to commissioners.
Officials say the policy is not applicable to Williams' seminars because he is informing employees about the possible effects of the initiatives, not campaigning for or against them.
However, Cook had demanded "a stronger statement" from commissioners. The independent candidate could not be reached Friday for comment on the new policy.
County division managers say Williams' one-hour presentation includes no political lobbying, but clarifies the potential impact of the initiatives on county department budgets.
The clarifications are needed to help county managers now preparing next year's budgets, and to reassure county employees who are concerned that their jobs may be eliminated in budget cuts if the initiatives pass, the managers say.
The new policy is based on an opinion prepared by Deputy County Attorney Gavin J. Anderson. Williams gave his presentation to employees of the county attorney's office last week.