Tired of allegations he is discriminating against women and ethnic minorities, Salt Lake County Sheriff N.D. Hayward has released figures showing only two women have failed rigorous hiring exams in the past five years.

In a letter to the County Commission, Hayward said only 29 women have applied to be deputies since 1983, compared with 322 men. Overall, women scored higher on the exams than the men. The letter was co-authored by County Attorney David Yocom.Applicants had to score at least 75 percent on oral and written exams to reach the "assessment stage" of hiring, during which the list of applicants is reduced to three finalists.

Hayward and Yocom, both Democrats, were angered by comments attorney L. John Lewis recently made during a closed-door session with Republican Commissioners Mike Stewart and Bart Barker. Lewis was a member of an independent panel that recently released a scathing report on sexual and ethnic discrimination throughout county government.

The report angered Hayward because it was based on the testimony of about 100 employees who asked to remain anonymous. It said discrimination and harassment were pervasive in divisions countywide.

Although they wouldn't let reporters into the meeting with Lewis because it concerned personnel matters, commissioners made an audio recording of the meeting and subsequently released the tape to reporters.

Lewis said the hiring system is arbitrary with no adequate appeal process.

Hayward and Yocom said they should have been invited to the meeting because it involved a possible lawsuit against the county. They also questioned Lewis' credibility.

"As far as we can tell, Mr. Lewis is nothing more than a citizen with a law degree who previously served on an (qual employment opportunity) panel," the letter said. "Giving Mr. Lewis a public forum with the official trappings of your offices is indeed questionable, especially in light of the many false and misleading comments he was able to make without challenge."

Lewis could not be reached for comment Friday.

Barker's administrative assistant, Larry Meyer, said the meeting concerned personnel matters, not a potential lawsuit. The attorney and sheriff rarely are invited to meetings to discuss personnel matters, he said.

The letter defended Hayward's hiring practices and denied claims that the system is arbitrary.

Earlier this week, Barker proposed organizing a committee to bring the sheriff's hiring and promotion practices in line with the rest of the county.

He also wants the county's equal employment officer to study whether goals should be set. An original draft of Barker's proposal mentioned possible hiring quotas, but the wording was changed because county attorneys worried the plan would be an admission of wrongful hiring practices, Barker said.

County administrators, including the sheriff, will discuss the proposal.