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Deseret Morning News graphic

Whether he wanted it or not, Alan Dayton has ascended to the top spot in Salt Lake County.

Sworn in Tuesday afternoon as interim mayor while his boss, Mayor Nancy Workman, is on paid administrative leave, Dayton moves to a starring role that he never really wanted, especially this way. Workman was placed on leave by the County Council after District Attorney David Yocom filed two felony charges against her.

"I just wanted to get through the year and find a good job after everything was done," Dayton said prior to his appointment by the council.

Despite taking the top spot, Dayton said he does not plan to drastically change the policies of Workman. Instead, he will try to return the focus to the county's core purposes.

"I consider this Mayor Workman's administration. I'm not going to move into her office or put my name on the door," Dayton said after being appointed Tuesday. "I'm just going to do the best job on this for as long as I need to do it. I would really like to see county government have a sense of stability and peace over the next few months."

Since being hired in 1997 by County Commissioner Brent Oversen to work on special projects and, after passing the bar exam, as a counselor for the commission, Dayton has thrived on operating behind the scenes. When Workman hired him in 2000 as her deputy mayor, he began representing the county at the Utah Legislature, where he helped push through legislation that gave the county fire department the power to become a special district with taxing authority and gave counties the right to competitively bid on ambulance service with private providers.

He has also butted heads with county prosecutors, including Yocom's office, which investigated fund raising by a political action committee formed by Dayton and Workman's intergovernmental affairs director, Geraldine Shaw, before the PAC was registered with the county clerk's office. The case was eventually forwarded to Salt Lake City prosecutors, but no charges were filed because the County Council changed campaign finance laws to make such offenses infractions instead of misdemeanors.

Dayton was also charged with three misdemeanors in Ogden city in 2000 because he warned motorists of a speed trap by standing on the side of the road holding a sign. The charges were eventually dismissed by a judge, who ruled that they violated his right to free speech.

Although better known to county insiders and fellow government officials, among those who have worked with him there is little doubt about Dayton's ability to run the county.

Councilman Randy Horiuchi, a Democrat and former commissioner, said he has immense respect for Dayton. Putting him at the helm was an easy decision, and the support for him was evidenced by the unanimous council vote to appoint him.

"Alan's one of the brightest people I've worked with in my 12 years at the county," Horiuchi said. "He'll do a good job taking over for Nancy, although I don't think he'll stray too far from her principles."

Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Cottonwood Heights, said that she is also confident the county will be fine with Dayton. As co-chair of the Utah Legislature's Political Subdivisions Interim Committee and chairwoman of the Senate Political Subdivision Committee, she has worked with Dayton on many of the issues that Salt Lake County presents to legislators.

"He's very good to work with, and I think that the county will be in good hands until a new mayor takes over," Walker said. "He'll keep a steady course. He's very capable."