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Small towns struggle to keep offices filled

The phone rings, jarring you from your sleep: The neighbor's dogs are barking again, one caller will say; another berates you for low water pressure.

Ah, the joys of being a small-town mayor or city council member. No wonder Utah's hamlets are finding it tough - sometimes impossible - to find anyone willing to run for office.When the Aug. 15 deadline to declare candidacy for this year's municipal elections passed, more than a few public offices went wanting.

"I've been town clerk 25 years, and this has never happened since I've been here," sighs M.D. Perry, town clerk of Deweyville, a Box Elder County town with 100 registered voters where just one person filed for two open City Council seats.

To the south in the Garfield County town of Henrieville, population 163, no one filed for the vacant job of mayor or the two open City Council seats.

Henrieville Town Clerk Zettie Kitner said that's "pretty standard here. What usually ends up happening is a few days before election the word gets out about who will do it, and then everybody just writes in that name and somebody gets elected."

Leamington town clerk Nancy Nielson said candidates often might feel they are being pressed into service by a grassroots write-in campaign, whether they like it or not.

"When there's only 250 people in town, it's more like a service project than political office," she said.

No one filed for mayor or two vacant City Council seats in the Millard County town. "Someone will start having people come up to them and say, `It's your turn,"' Nielson said.

Candidate pools ebb and flow in a small town for a multitude of reasons. In Deweyville, Town Clerk Perry is cryptic when asked why the citizenry broke its quarter-century string of at least one candidate filing for a local office.

"There's some things I can't discuss that has made folks gun-shy," he said. "But we've always had people who wanted to run so they could change something or do something different. Then you've got the ones in any town who say they're too busy to serve but they want to gripe about how things are run anyway."

Vernon Carr, the Bountiful ballot printer, said city council candidate pools can overflow when the popu-lace is peeved.

"A lot of it depends what's happening in a town," he said. "If they've got their ire stirred up over something going on, they don't like how the group in charge is doing it, then you get a lot of interest and a full ballot."

In the town of Emery in south-central Utah, town clerk Judy Mortensen has no idea why no one filed for the two empty council seats.

"I can't believe nobody's interested," she said. "We meet once a month and they get $25 for serving. That's considered travel money, too, so that may have something to do with it, but nobody has said anything."

In the event that not even a write-in candidate rises to the call of elected office in towns with blank ballots, the sitting mayor or council leaders are allowed to make appointments to fill the vacancies.

"Right now, you couldn't convince anybody to run if you wanted to, and you certainly won't see anybody campaigning," said Kitner, of Henrieville. "But on Election Day, it just sort of works out. It always has."