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Panel acts as referee in S.L. County turf wars

In this corner, ladies and gentlemen, we have Daring Doug Short, ready to do battle with those who would restrict his power of contract approval.

And in this corner, we have the troika of Marauding Mary Callaghan, Rowdy Randy Horiuchi and Bowl-you-over Brent Overson, Salt Lake County commissioners, who say they want to streamline county processes and keep Daring Doug, the county attorney, from holding things up.Your referee is the Salt Lake County Executive Committee, comprising the county's 12 elected officials, which is looking at proposed changes in the county's purchasing ordinance that would bypass Daring Doug as well as his occasional ally, Crusher Craig Sorenson, the county auditor, in contract approval.

Monday the committee looked at the proposed changes but decided to put off a decision until deputy county attorney Richard Nixon has a chance to explain some modifications he has suggested to the changed ordinance.

Nixon is laid up with a back problem and is incommunicado even by telephone because, as executive chief deputy county attorney Rob Howell puts it, "he's on drugs" - pain pills.

The proposed changes curtail Short's power of approval in various ways. One change, for example, would eliminate the requirement that Short approve contracts of $7,500 or less.

Though Short would still approve other contracts "as to form," one new provision states that "the authority to approve a contract as to form does not grant the county attorney's office the authority to review the terms of the proposed agreement for reasonableness or marketability, nor does it grant the authority to determine whether the proposed agreement represents good public policy, or is in the best interest of the county, or is the most cost-effective transaction."

County commissioners say Short has made a habit of holding up approval of contracts for political or other reasons having nothing to do with approval "as to form" simply to exert his power.

Short counters that removing restrictions on the County Commission is a bad idea since they will be able to do whatever they want without checks and balances from other county offices.

The Executive Committee is slated to examine the changes again Oct. 20. After it makes a determination, the matter will go to the County Commission for final decision.