The four Salt Lake County Commission candidates have one thing in common - government experience - but they bring different priorities, philosophies and personalities to the race.
Republicans Bill Barton and Brent Overson both served in the Utah Senate. Democrat John Hiskey has held top city and county jobs. Democrat Janet Rose is serving her third term in the Utah House.They are vying for the seat being vacated by the sole Republican on the commission, Mike Stewart, who bid unsuccessfully for his par
ty's nomination for governor.
All four candidates say experience is what qualifies them for the office of county commissioner. But when asked what sets them apart from their opponents, they come up with different answers.
John Hiskey says, "When I develop a strategy to accomplish a goal, I stay with it until the job is done."
Communication, cooperation and commitment are the qualities he says he would bring to county government.
Hiskey, 45, began working in local government in 1975 as assistant superintendent of Salt Lake parks. Two years later, then Mayor Ted Wilson hired him as his executive assistant.
He managed Kem Gardner's un
successful gubernatorial campaign in 1984. In 1986, he became Salt Lake County public works director, and served briefly as county commissioner in 1988 after Commissioner Dave Watson resigned. He served as West Jordan city manager for about a year, resigning in 1991 to become vice president of the Salt Lake County division of the Development Corp. of Utah.
"I am the only candidate with a broad base of experience in both county and municipal government," Hiskey said. "It's helpful to have that city insight as well as a county insight."
He said the county has more in common with the 12 local municipalities than it does with other counties in the state. Money the
county now spends in the Association of Counties could be better spent in countywide programs involving the 12 cities, Hiskey said.
Consolidation of services should be pursued in areas supported by the cities, but shared services through interlocal agreements are probably more realistic, according to Hiskey.
"Interlocal agreements protect the autonomy of local jurisdictions while wisely channeling experience and equipment where they are most needed."
While careful not to criticize Democrats Jim Bradley and Randy Horiuchi for the unpopular tax increase they enacted this year, Hiskey said he might have done things differently.
"I am strongly committed to living within available revenues," Hiskey said. "I think I've proven that in all the decisions I've made in government service."
He said he would not support any tax increase unless it were approved by taxpayers in a referendum.
Recognizing that "political balance" is likely to be the big issue in the general election campaign, Hiskey downplays the role of partisan politics in local government.
"There are no Democratic or Republican chuckholes," he said, explaining that local services involve practical responses to day-to-day problems.
He said he supports strong citizen involvement in the decision-making process. Communication is particularly important in the area of planning and zoning, "where you have to balance a property owner's legal rights with the interests of the neighborhood."
On the administrative level, he proposes giving front-line government workers more authority to make decisions. "It would reduce the public's frustration with bureaucracy, and I think the employees would respond favorably."
Janet Rose says, "I'm the only candidate qualified to administer the human services portfolio."
Rose, 45, has served in the Utah Legislature since 1986, sponsoring a number of bills dealing with consumer, domestic, handicapped and medical issues. She calls herself a "consumer-constituent-client advocate."
Born in Newark, N.J., Rose was raised in Chicago, where for a time she worked as a waitress in the Playboy Club. After she and her daughter, Jennifer Blackwell, moved to Utah in 1973, Rose obtained a degree from Westminster College.
She is enrolled in the University of Utah's master's of public administration program and works as a program specialist in the state Division of Substance Abuse. She is also a member of the Millcreek Community Council and other civic organizations.
"I've felt hamstrung at the Legislature because I haven't been allowed to serve on the Human Services Committee. So when it appeared that the human services portfolio on the County Commission would be available, I decided to run."
In addition to her experience in the area of human services, Rose said she would bring new ideas to parks and recreation programs, water quality issues, planning and zoning, and the budget.
For example, she said she would involve residents in the design of parks and recreation programs. And she would emphasize programs that meet the needs of youths and the elderly.
She said she is "strongly opposed" to any increase in the property tax, which hits persons on low or fixed incomes the hardest. "I've met with a lot of people during this campaign, and the message they are sending is, `Don't raise taxes.' "
The county can make existing revenues stretch farther through improvements at the administrative level, she said. A number of state and federal revenue sources that could relieve the burden on county taxpayers have been overlooked, according to Rose.
"There is no question that there is a growing need for leadership at the local level. I would bring a unique blend of administrative, legislative, fiscal and human services experience to the commission."
She is the only candidate who is not opposed to light rail but adds, "It is a decision that will be made by the public, not by me."
Rose proposes that more money be allocated to the development of arterial routes and buses. She suggests that more government meetings should be held at night to accommodate working people.
No woman has ever been elected to the County Commission, but Rose said gender is not an issue.
"I am not running as a woman; I am running as the best person for the job."
Bill Barton says, "Brent and I agree on many points, but I believe I'm more committed to fighting taxes and reducing costs in government. I've been through the experience at the Legislature, where I was one of only three who voted against the big tax increase in 1987."
A longtime West Valley resident and civic leader, Barton, 59, served three terms in the State Senate before losing a re-election bid in 1990. He and his wife, Karen, own and operate the Oaken Bucket Restaurant and Barton's Builders Mart. They have three children.
He said his 30 years in business have given him a different perspective on local government. "Government services are trying to solve all the problems, and that just makes people more dependent on government. What I have seen happening is government encroaching in our lives more and more."
With government growth comes higher taxes, he said, adding that it was the county tax hike of 1992 more than anything else that prompted him to run for the commission.
"Government has reached the bottom of the taxpayers' pockets," Barton said, calling not only for a halt to further tax increases but also tax cuts. "We can be innovative and find alternative methods of providing services."
Privatization of some services might offer cost reductions. For example, he said, the parks and recreation department had its own employees install the sprinkler system at Oquirrh Park rather than put the work out to competitive bidding.
Barton said the County Commission has not done enough to involve residents and businesses in planning and zoning discussions. The current administration is not listening to the public on zoning matters, he said.
He is "very much against" light rail, saying it will be too costly and serve too few people. "The time and money that would go into light rail could be better spent on roads, freeways and buses."
If elected, Barton said, his first task would be to review every agency in county government for efficiency and effectiveness. "I would also call upon citizens to sit in on our meetings and tell us what they think should be done to improve government."
Among Barton's suggestions for improvement is a plan to extend the hours of some agency offices to 7 p.m. so that working people could take care of government business without taking time off from work. Staggering the work hours of some county employees would make it possible and would also help reduce traffic congestion at peak hours, he added.
Brent Overson says, "I understand the budget and the sources of revenues. I can start work and be effective the day I'm elected."
Born in Nephi in 1950, Overson moved with his family to Magna and later to West Jordan in the mid-1950s. He graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in finance and was nominated to run for the state Senate on the same day in 1982.
After serving a term in the Legislature, he worked for three years as chief deputy assessor in Salt Lake County. He is currently vice president at Strategic Asset Valuation & Management Co., a firm that assists in the management of property tax liabilities.
He and his wife, Joanne, and their three children live in West Jordan.
With the Democrats who raised property taxes still in control of the County Commission, political balance and fiscal responsibility will be the major factors in the election, according to Overson.
"I think it's critical to have a Republican commissioner, and I think I'm the only Republican candidate who can win."
He said a Republican is needed to keep an eye on the two Democrats, who have demonstrated a propensity to "appoint political cronies," reorganize departments without public input and raise taxes.
The tax increase was a Democratic blunder, Overson said. "It wasn't necessary. The only reason they did it was to finance a 4 percent salary increase for elected officials and employees. Taxes should never be raised to pay for higher salaries."
Recent zoning conflicts are also indicative of deficient leadership, he added. "Planning and zoning needs to be sensitive to the master plan, and all zoning decisions should involve input from the impacted parties. If a master plan is drafted properly and adhered to, a lot of these problems won't arise."
Despite his criticism of the Democrats on the commission, he said he can work with them effectively. "But I will speak my mind."
He opposes the proposed light-rail system, saying it can't be efficient or effective without an exclusive right of way. And he argues that other transportation infrastructure needs should take priority over light rail.
Consolidation of city and county services should be pursued only where cities support the concept, Overson said.
With the new commissioner likely to take over the human services portfolio, Overson says he would like to expand the role of volunteers in the department's programs.
Overson describes his management style as "participatory." He said he tries to find the best people "and then give them the opportunity to exercise their skills."