PROVO — Provo City Council members are taking sides for and against each other this election season.

Keeping track of who's on whose side is a political Abbott-and-Costello skit.

It's no secret council chairman George Stewart has taken an interest in unseating fellow council members Midge Johnson and Steve Turley. Stewart gave $200 to Johnson's opponent, Melanie McCoard. He has a sign in his yard supporting Turley's challenger, Coy Porter.

"I'm not going to lose sleep over it," Johnson said, "but it doesn't seem like it's really good policy."

Stewart admitted Johnson is right. Johnson could repeat her 2004 win over McCoard and be back on the council with him, as could Turley.

"From a political standpoint, it's probably not a smart thing to do," Stewart said, "but I'd rather have (McCoard) on the council. If I feel that way, I ought to put my money and my words where my thoughts are."

Stewart wants to keep on the council the incumbents in Provo's other two races, Cynthia Dayton and Barbara Sandstrom. He has put up signs and raised money for Sandstrom.

"I'm supporting Cynthia, too," he said. "She has been very balanced. She has not voted all the time against development, and she has been very neighborhood-oriented when appropriate. I think she's done an excellent job."

Council member Cindy Clark gave $500 to Dayton, who faces a 3-to-1 fund-raising deficit in her bid to hold her seat against challenger Mark Sumsion.

Johnson, Turley and Sumsion said the cash, endorsements and signs are evidence a majority of the seven-member council is trying to retain or even expand its majority.

"George ran as a consensus builder?" Turley said. "He said he was going to be a consensus builder, and now he is actively campaigning against two of the City

Council members. George wants to get rid of me and Midge because we haven't aligned with him."

"I'm sure George would like to have me off (the council), because George doesn't scare me," Johnson said. "He came in and made himself chair and got a four-vote group and likes to be in charge of everything. He's been a fine chairman, but I think when he can't control you and know how you'll vote, he doesn't like that. Nobody can control me. That's who I am, and I'm proud of that."

Turley said a council with the candidates supported by Stewart would be single-minded.

"It would be so homogenous," he said. "Where is the room for a vigorous interchange of ideas? Where would the lively debate go? I've proudly stood behind the fact I'm my own man."

Stewart said McCoard would provide plenty of vigorous debate.

"I feel that Melanie, by her own admission, has some rough edges," he said. "She says it. But, at the same time, she is as bright and as committed to trying to do a good job as anybody I know. When I've challenged her on something, she's always responded. She performs an interesting function. I like things to be open, I like things to be discussed. She's confrontational. She's not bashful. Is she always right? Of course not."

Council vice chairwoman Cindy Richards also has endorsed McCoard and Porter. She defended the endorsements, saying council members have insights on candidates the public doesn't.

"You know who is trustworthy," Richards said. "It's like a team. You know strengths and weaknesses. It's hard for the citizen to know how incredibly important to their everyday well-being and the quality of life in their neighborhood the council's makeup and leadership is. That team can dialogue honestly and frankly, be very professional, have unflinching integrity and a genuine concern for others and for Provo than for themselves. You need council members who are straightforward with mature thinking and credibility and will tell you something fact-based and reliable."

Johnson characterized Stewart's problems with her as "weird." He agreed with her assessment that he was upset she didn't help him with his election. She didn't, she said, because she thought that was taboo.

"I didn't support his opponent, either, but me just being neutral to him was a big deal," Johnson said. "He held it against me and said he wouldn't support me in anything because I didn't support him. Now how am I supposed to feel when he's come out and given my opponent money? If I win, what's he going to do then? Should I say to him, I won't support him in anything because he didn't help me?"

Stewart and Johnson said another rift in their relationship appeared when Johnson encouraged people in her district to ask Mayor Lewis Billings to veto a general plan amendment for which Stewart voted. The amendment changed a designation on a map for property that Anderson Development hopes to develop in southwest Provo.

Billings didn't veto the amendment, but Stewart hasn't forgotten.

"When she encouraged him to veto, that pushed me over the edge," Stewart said, "though she has a perfect right to do that."