Randy Horiuchi says Salt Lake County voters shouldn't change the county's form of government simply because they want change or because they are mad at County Attorney Doug Short. He's right. They shouldn't vote for change because of the price of milk, either.
To our memory, no one has seriously linked the need for change to anger at Short. What this page has said consistently is that the running battles between Short and the County Commission, including Commissioner Horiuchi, demonstrate the need for a division of powers within county government. Short claims he is a watchdog over the commission. Commissioners disagree. Under a council-executive form of government, no one would dispute that the council and the executive act as watchdogs over each other.Shouldn't someone act as a check and balance to the actions of county leaders?
Nor has anyone said change is necessary for its own sake. The need to change the county's form of government has been well understood in official circles for years. Twelve years ago, the county appointed a committee known as the "Salt Lake County Government for the Next Century Task Force." It studied the issue for one year before concluding a council-executive form was needed. That report was issued seven years before Short was elected. It was shelved because county commissioners at the time insisted on doing away with many of the other election offices, as well, and that was politically unpalatable.
Horiuchi has a sincere desire to thwart this year's ballot initiative that would change to a council-executive form. He called a press conference recently to repeat his objections and continue his campaign. But he has yet to raise a legitimate problem with the proposed change that will face voters this fall.
Among his more serious objections are these: the county deals with very few legislative matters other than the budget and therefore doesn't need a separate legislative branch; and the change would shortchange unincorporated residents.
The first point is misleading at best. True, a county council would primarily concern itself with the budget, but that is no small matter. Salt Lake County has a $500 million budget, second only to state government in size. Budgeting and the many appropriation decisions needed during the year would be no minor matters.
As it is, each commissioner is responsible for a portion of the budget, and all three are responsible for adopting it. Obviously, taxpayers would be better served if one branch of government approved the budget and another administered it.
The second point also strains logic. Horiuchi would have unincorporated residents believe they are better off entrusting their public services to three commissioners who don't necessarily have to live in an unincorporated area, just because they get to vote directly for them. Under the proposed plan, one or two of the council members would actually live in unincorporated areas. Residents of those areas would get to vote for these people as well as the county executive.
Isn't some form of direct representation better than none?
The problem with governing the unincorporated area is that it cannot be considered as one mass. There is a pocket in Kearns, another in Emigration Canyon, and still others in Millcreek, Cottonwood Heights, Olympus Cove, White City and Magna - 300,000 people spread far and wide and woven among cities.
The issue, then, is not so much unincorporated representation as it is neighborhood representation. Decisions affecting unincorporated residents should not be made in a vacuum but with full consideration of the impacts to neighboring areas. That would be one of the chief benefits of a county council.
County residents have needed this change for a long time. A half-billion dollars in taxpayer money is at stake. Direct representation and a division of powers makes sense. Voters should support it wholeheartedly.