Salt Lake County Commissioner Brent Overson knows what President Clinton feels like when confronted with the angry attacks of Bob Dole.

Overson holds a strong lead in the polls over his opponents, including Democrat Paulina Flint. He believes his lead is the reason that his personality, not government, has become the focus of this rough-and-tumble race."I guess if you don't have any real issues and you don't have any real chance of winning, the best thing to do is to take potshots to bring down the front-runner with false allegations, rumors, innuendos, whatever you can find," he said.

But Flint says the biggest problem in county government these days is the way Overson subverts the public process. She pointed to the recent secret meeting between Overson, colleague Randy Horiuchi and several members of the Utah Transit Authority Board. The meeting led to an attempt by board members to fire UTA General Manager John Pingree.

"That absolutely ignores public process," said Art Kimball, Flint's campaign adviser, who spoke on behalf of Flint.

Flint also cites Overson's attempts in several county commission meetings to silence Salt Lake County Attorney Doug Short when he objected to decisions the commission made.

"He's done that to a lot of people. He has a proclivity to disallow public comment," said Kimball, who has also been asked by Overson to stop speaking at a public hearing. "If I get up and say I don't agree with him, I'm persona non grata. Anybody, I don't care who you are, if you disagree with Brent, you are persona non grata."

Flint's complaints about Overson highlight what she believes is the fundamental issue of this race: Which candidate will give the public a greater voice in county government.

Overson isn't surprised that his publicized fights with fellow Republican Short have become campaign fodder. Early in the campaign, he asked Republican bosses to chat with Short about the damage he may do to Overson. Overson has also repeatedly included questions about Short in polls his campaign commissioned to measure his popularity.

But Overson denies Flint's claim that he excludes the public in favor of the voices he wants to hear. As the chairman of the commission, he has to make certain that meetings remain focused and on schedule, he said. Sometimes he has asked people to limit their remarks or told them that their remarks were off the subject. "I have been firm," he acknowledged. But he has always invited public input, at hearings and in person, he said. He asked Kimball to stop speaking because Kimball was not a citizen who would be impacted by the topic of that public hearing, Overson said.

However, Overson has publicly lost his temper with Short, Short's staff and some public groups, such as the United Association of Community Councils.

Although third-party candidate Pearl Meibos is expected to carry a slim percentage of the vote, she has challenged Overson's integrity at almost every public debate, and her signs, "Stop the Corruption," have rankled Overson.

"This is the most negative campaign I've ever been involved in. I think the most important issues are public safety, more jail space, developing programs to prevent juvenile crime, increasing parks and recreation programs and providing more open space," said Overson. "I've tried to address those issues. But all I get are negative attacks from my opponents."

But Flint's refusal to accept campaign donations from any political action groups has muted her attacks. Refusing PAC money is a way of emphasizing the difference between herself and Overson, Kimball said. Flint believes Overson gives special treatment to special-interest groups who have supported him, particularly the South Mountain housing development in Draper.

By refusing donations from special-interest groups, Flint underscores her commitment to answer only to the public, not special-interest groups.

Her slim campaign purse has made it tough for her to broadcast that commitment. Flint has clashed both with Kimball and Salt Lake Democratic Party Chairman Joe Hatch over this issue. Both men have urged Flint, as recently as last week, to accept donations that would buy radio ads in the critical weeks of the election.

"She's adamant about not taking any money," Kimball said, praising her integrity and determination to call the shots in her own campaign.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

S.L. County Commission

Relations between Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City are at an all-time low. What could be done to improve them?

BRENT OVERSON (R):

I disagree that our relationship is at an all-time low. There is controversy in some current issues, but we are working together on arts, recreation programs, finding jail space. The mayor and I meet every month. I think we are on pretty good terms.

PAULINA FLINT (D):

The County Commission should have a sit-down meeting with Salt Lake City leadership. It is time to put the swords down and have a heart-to-heart talk on needs vs. the personal agendas of both camps.

Those favoring various incorporations and townships have accused the County Commission of being pro-developer. What do you think?

BRENT OVERSON (R):

Incorporations and townships are in response to the annexation policies of cities and county residents' fear of being swallowed up by areas that they don't want to be part of. I think development is a minor issue. It makes for good press. But for every complaint we have from the citizens that we are pro-development, we have at least two from developers that we are anti-development.

PAULINA FLINT (D):

I believe that since 1991 the public's needs have been set aside for certain developers. This has been done with the guise that it takes too long to involve the public. The best example is the shortening of the 30-day notice provision for ordinance changes to 14 days. The current commission wants to expedite the process. Involving the public sometimes brings about delays that go counter to developers' wishes.

What would be your top priorities for the county for the next four years?

BRENT OVERSON (R):

My No. 1 priority is finding additional jail space to get us to the time when the new jail opens in 1998; second, to combat juvenile crime and gangs; third, reducing property taxes; fourth, finding other funding options for the general fund; and increase parks and recreation facilities and programs.

PAULINA FLINT (D):

My priorities would be minimizing the tax burden on the public; looking at true needs of the public in areas of youth facilities such as teen centers, community centers, whatever it takes to get the kids off the street and into productive programs; opening up the county planning process and making it more user-friendly; and sponsoring an ordinance that would require approved water systems in place before building permits are issued. I also support strict adherence to the hillside protection ordinance and having Salt Lake County truly represent all residents equally.

Do you think the county attorney should be appointed by the County Commission and serve at its pleasure? Why or why not?

BRENT OVERSON (R):

There are 13 cities in this county that have appointed city attorneys. It works well for them. It should work well for the county. The statutory responsibilities are almost identical.

PAULINA FLINT (D):

No! The county attorney should have the authority to question the commissioners on the legal process. It is the only check and balance in the process that the public has. It should remain the public's right to choose that attorney through the election process.

Do you support broadening the county's tax base. How and why?

BRENT OVERSON (R):

I absolutely support broadening the county's tax base. I would like to see a quarter-cent sales tax added on in the county. The general fund has only the property tax to rely on. I have been at the forefront of the battle at the Legislature to establish a countywide sales tax, so we can reduce our property tax."

PAULINA FLINT (D):

No. I believe fees for services is a more equitable solution. Taxes can be discriminatory when used for payment of services.

The Fort Union Family Center is a key contributor to the county's tax base. If the Holladay township fails, do you think the county should fight to hang onto the development?

BRENT OVERSON (R):

I believe the citizens in the Fort Union area should be able to determine their own destiny. While the Fort Union commercial development does provide a lot of tax base to the county, the residential area around it absorbs all of that revenue. In fact, when the Fort Union incorporation was proposed, they required a franchise tax to be economically viable. The amount of residential that is going with the commercial is balanced, so the net loss to the county is negligible.

PAULINA FLINT (D):

Yes.

Talk about changing the county form of government is surfacing again with all the contention in the county. Would you support or oppose a change to a council-manager form?

BRENT OVERSON (R):

There has been talk of changing the county government for over 20 years. It has been placed on the ballot at least twice and it has failed. However, I personally would support the change of the commission form to at least a seven-member council and an elected county administrator.

PAULINA FLINT (D):

We need to look at establishing a form of government that brings equity to all residents of the county. The best solution would be to have a municipal county providing services for all of the county with cost-based rates. On the leadership side, you need a five- to seven-member commission elected from regions. Community districts with community councils representing them on a local level can best recognize citizen needs.