The ongoing problems created by Salt Lake County Attorney Doug Short refusing to represent county officers were solved by brute force Monday.
In a surprise move, the County Commission voted to cut Short's staff almost in half, taking eight attorneys and six office workers and putting them under its own control."It's major," said commission chairman Brent Overson, "but it's needed. We can't afford to keep hiring outside counsel."
A memorandum containing the terms of the unprecedented reorganization states it will remain in place only until Short leaves office, at which time the transferred attorneys and staff will rejoin the attorney's office.
"I think it's an unfortunate set of circumstances developing from what I think are rather unusual positions that the county attorney has taken on who his clients are," said transferred attorney William Hyde, who until Monday's action was one of Short's two chief deputy attorneys. "We want to get some work done, represent the parties we can and make county government work a little better."
For some time now, Hyde has been unhappy with Short's refusal to represent the County Commission and other officials in matters ranging from a Utah Transit Authority lawsuit to planning and zoning matters, particularly a suit arising from the county's granting of a permit to the LDS Church to mine granite from Little Cottonwood Canyon. Until now, however, he has never gone public with his frustrations.
"We thought it had been resolved somewhat" by a judicial decision last fall directing Short to represent the commission absent conflicts of interest, Hyde said. "But he seems to have changed directions a little, and who we represent seems to be getting more and more unclear."
At one point, the commission was reduced to having Jim Braden, who is over public relations and not an attorney, draft a motion to file in court.
Short challenged Monday's action, saying the commission has overstated the number of cases he has refused and hinting that it was illegal.
All transferred attorneys and office workers apparently are happy with the action. In fact, Hyde said the transfer was initially only going to include three attorneys, but as word spread of the action, more and more wanted to join in.
"They were all very willing signatories" on the memorandum, Hyde said.
Short's office has for some time been in turmoil. Last fall, in fact, a consultant came in to try to instill a better working environment there.
"Basically, there was not only a vote of no confidence from his attorneys, but a total breakdown of the county attorney's office," said Commissioner Randy Horiuchi.
Commission chief of staff David Marshall said the move will benefit taxpayers by enabling the commission and other elected officials to use county-paid attorneys in the cases Short refuses.