Salt Lake County commissioners have decided to appoint a county chief administrative officer next year to take over commissioners' daily executive duties, a move recommended 12 years ago by a government modernization study.

Commissioners Monday asked a committee of county managers and elected officials to report by the end of January with a job description for the administrator position.The job will be based on the third phase of a 1977 report by consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, which recommended creation of the executive administrator job.

The administrator would be delegated the commission's executive authority to handle time-consuming daily functions of county government, leaving commissioners free to pursue long-range policy goals and relationships with other elected officials at all levels, commissioners said.

The appointment would not signal a change in the county's form of government, nor would the administrator replace any elected official, said Commission Chairman Mike Stewart.

"The position would be a manager operation, a county administrator with a small `a,' not a CAO," said Stewart. "This would not be an elected chief executive-council form of government."

Commissioners now wear two hats - performing both legislative and executive functions in county government. With an appointed administrator functioning as a daily manager under the commission's leadership, commissioners could involve themselves more heavily in legislative functions and in intergovernmental relations, Stewart said.

The appointment of an administrator probably also would relieve commissioners of their assignments as executives of individual portfolios. Instead, responsibility for county departments without elected chiefs would be concentrated in the hands of the administrator. The result would be a more efficient county government, commissioners said.

"By delegating the executive authority, the commission would broaden its perspective," said Commissioner John Hiskey.

But the creation of the administrator's job is not without questions. The county's other elected officials wonder how they and their offices will interact with the commission and a chief administrator. And some elected officials wonder if a county administrator is the first step toward eliminating their elected offices.

"That's not on the agenda of this commission," Stewart said. "The 21st century is upon us and we have to start looking at these kinds of things because you and I want to be part of what the 21st century looks like and who pays for it."