The race for the four-year seat on the Davis County Commission has been low-key and clean, both candidates agree. They also agree they like and respect each other and either of them would make a good county commissioner.

But Democrat Howard Stoddard and incumbent Republican Gayle Stevenson disagree on a key issue: Each thinks he's a little bit better qualified than the other for the job.Stevenson was appointed interim commissioner in July after incumbent Glen Saunders resigned to take the county clerk's job. Stevenson, a lifelong Davis County resident, was ready to enter the political arena anyway and had announced as a candidate.

Stoddard, also a lifetime county resident, is retired from the U.S. Postal Service and has run previously and unsuccessfully for the county commission and clerk.

But Stoddard sees the political scene as different this year and is running on the theme "It's an Excellent Time for a Change." County government has come under strong criticism lately, including a lawsuit charging two commissioners and a former commissioner with misuse of county funds and malfeasance.

He believes his 38 years of federal employment, including 10 years as Clearfield postmaster and his 11 years as a West Point city councilman, give him the experience he needs for the commission job.

Stevenson cites his 33 years as a teacher and administrator in the Davis school system as his greatest asset, along with the hands-on experience he's gained since being appointed to the job in July.

Some of that experience, Stevenson readily admits, has not been pleasant. The ongoing battle between the commissioners and the county auditor and the legal complaint against his two fellow commissioners - Stevenson was not named in the suit - have made the job tough, he said.

"I've had second thoughts about staying in; I'd be less than honest if I didn't say so," Stevenson said. "I don't function too well in this kind of controversial atmosphere.

"It's not my style. My leadership style is to get people to achieve, to work to their potential, and their productivity drops in this kind of confrontational situation.

"I believe in working toward a consensus rather than through confrontation, but I'm going to stick with it," Stevenson said. "Quitting isn't my style, either."

Stevenson said the job of county commissioner is more complex and involves many more hours than he imagined, and the job has been an education for him. "The citizens of Davis County have very good government. I took a lot of things for granted - roads, flood control, police and fire protection - before I stepped in here."

With the county's growth rate projected for 10 percent to 12 percent, from the current 179,000 population to 300,000 by the year 2010, Stevenson said the challenge to provide good government at low cost will grow proportionately.

Those concerns are echoed by Stoddard, who adds one of his own: The north end of the county, where he lives, needs more representation. And, Stoddard said, he opposes the last pay increase the commissioners voted for themselves, raising their pay to $44,000 annually, and he would turn back the extra $3,200.

"The county has a problem with fiscal responsibility," Stoddard said. "All of the county departments should be audited and the audits used as management tools, not just for fiscal reasons.

"And, the commissioners need to be more open, need to sit down and listen to people, their department heads, and get their ideas."

Stoddard said he favors economic development in the county to broaden its tax base, but local businesses should receive first priority. "We should encourage our local businesses to expand rather than giving tax breaks to a big company that may benefit an out-of-state corporation rather than locally," Stoddard said.

Both candidates oppose passage of the tax-limitation initiatives, saying they will cripple government because they cut too deep.

But Stoddard said the message behind the initiatives - more efficient government at lower cost - is clear and should be heeded. He points to his record as a city councilman in West Point, where the property tax levy has dropped three mills over the past four years.

As for his opponent, Stoddard refers to Stevenson as "a real good friend. I've known him for 40 years. The county will be well-represented by either of us. But it's still an excellent time for a change."

And Stevenson, who worked for Stoddard years ago in a part-time post office job, said his opponent is "a fine individual with good qualities and a sound character."