Coincidence or conspiracy? That's what Davis County Democrats and members of a tax limitation group are wondering over the decision by County Commissioner Glen E. Saunders to withdraw from a re-election bid to the commission in favor of seeking election as county clerk.

The Republicans involved say coincidence, and an unexpected sequence of events, led to the office-changing and race-switching.Saunders, a Republican, announced on April 25 his intent to seek the clerk position, moments after Clerk Michael Allphin, also a Republican, tendered his resignation to take a position with the state district court system. Allphin's resignation is effective May 31, or as soon as a replacement is named by the County Commission.

Some groups have cried foul, saying Saunders' earlier filing for the four-year commission race discouraged others who might have run had he not filed. Saunders had indicated last year that he would not seek re-election in 1988.

The timing of Saunders' action, coming just 10 days after the closing of candidate filings, has given rise to speculation that he was aware of Allphin's intended resignation and had no intention of following through with a re-election bid.

Saunders denies the allegations, saying he had no advanced notice that Allphin would receive the court system appointment.

Allphin said his intentions were not related to the commissioners until April 21, the day he received notice that he had the state job. He said the commissioners had known for some time that he was seeking the post, since he applied in January. He said state officials decided to wait until after the Legislature met to fill the post because the Legislature's actions would affect the final implementation of a plan to switch the district courts solely to state control.

"I was informed that I had the position at 9:30 a.m. on April 21," Allphin said. "The commissioners did not know of my intent until I came back from that meeting."

Responding to the claims of conspiracy, Allphin said he thinks it is "crazy that people have these kinds of ideas."

Allphin said he knew Saunders had feelings over an unexpected challenge from Gayle A. Stevenson (also a Republican), but did not know what Saunders' plans were.

Saunders was visibly affected by the Stevenson filing. While Saunders did not specifically state his plans on the afternoon of April 15, several people in the courthouse confirmed that indications were that Saunders might drop from the commission race. By April 17, Saunders said he had basically decided to withdraw and had drafted a letter to that effect. His planned announcement, however, was delayed on April 18 when several friends urged him to take a wait-and-see position, at least until the county Republican convention on May 21.

Saunders said he fully intended not to seek re-election this year but filed after he was urged to enter the race by high-ranking party officials and friends. He said he was told that no other high-profile candidate was interested in the post.

On the opening day of filing, March 15, he and fellow Commissioner Harold J. Tippetts, who is seeking the two-year seat, filed the necessary papers. If Saunders' filing discouraged people, it was not readily evident. Three Republicans and two Democrats filed by the April 15 deadline.

The filing by Stevenson upset Saunders, especially since it came virtually at the last minute. Saunders said he had met with Stevenson two days earlier and came away with the impression that Stevenson would not file.

Stevenson said he left the meeting with mixed emotions and uncertainty as to what he would do. He said his eventual filing was a spur of the moment decision. But much thought had gone into his consideration.

Stevenson said he met with party officials last fall about a possible candidacy when he learned that Saunders was not planning to file. No decisions were reached at that time, and he said the matter was not actively pursued even though County GOP Chairman Steve Smoot is a relative by marriage.

Smoot said he had no contact with Stevenson in the weeks preceding the filing period and thought that Stevenson, a recent retiree as associate superintendent of the Davis School District, had dropped plans to run. He said he, too, was surprised by the last-minute filing.

Saunders said the decision to switch races was not done lightly. He said he had long considered a run for one of the other elected posts, but had decided he would not oppose an incumbent. He said he knew that some officials were considering not seeking re-election in 1990, and he had geared his plans in that direction. He was surprised at the subsequent chain of events that played to his desires.

In a letter announcing his plans to switch races, Saunders said he was prompted by family concerns and the demands of his LDS Church calling to switch to an office that placed fewer time demands on the officeholder. Saunders said that with the change in clerk responsibilities involving the courts, he believes the clerk could assume an administrative assistance role for the commissioners. He said his experience as a commissioner would help in developing a workable plan for that function.

Still to be determined is who will replace Allphin for the remainder of this year. The final two years of Allphin's term will be filled by the winner of the November election, for which Saunders and Margene Isom have filed on the Republican side and Ella Anderson for the Democrats. Like Saunders, Anderson withdrew from the commission race to file for the clerk contest.

The Republican Party will submit a list of three candidates for the commissioners to consider in replacing Allphin. It appears that list will not be submitted until after the May 21 GOP convention, when delegates have an opportunity to decide if Saunders or Isom will advance directly to the November ballot or, instead, face off in the Sept. 13 primary election.

Saunders has asked to be considered for appointment to replace Allphin for the remainder of the year. He indicated, however, that if he does not fare well in the county convention, he will likely withdraw from the interim appointment and retain his commission post for the remainder of 1988.

If he does remain under consideration, he said he will disqualify himself from deliberations on the appointment.

If he is appointed, he will resign from the commission, and a similar replacement procedure will be used in selecting someone for the commission post, with the likely winner being Stevenson, who is considered the front-runner for the Republican four-year commission nomination.