Leery of getting into a cat fight over Salt Lake County's vote to change its form of government, legislators last week opted not to even study the issue of county government this year.

The hourlong hearing before the Legislature's Political Subdivision Interim Committee had moments of levity and enlightenment.Three interested Salt Lake County officials, Commissioner Brent Overson, County Attorney Doug Short and County Assessor Lee Gardner, showed up to testify.

Overson helped draft a change-of-government plan that goes before county voters this November. Short, whose fights with Overson have become legendary, supports a change in government but worries about Overson's plan. And Gardner is worried the proposed elected "county executive' will hold too much power, especially if he's given authority now reserved for the elected auditor.

At one point, Overson attempted to explain Gardner's concerns, with Gardner interrupting to say Overson shouldn't be speaking for him. After other squabbles, Rep. Brian Allen, R-Cottonwood Heights, said: "This is exactly the very thing I fear - that if we even air (the change-of-government issue) all will disagree. (To even study the issue) is a huge mistake."

The vote to change the form of Salt Lake County government - from the three-member commission form to a county executive/council form - came about mainly because of fights between Short and the commission: Overson and fellow commissioners Randy Horiuchi and Mary Callaghan.

Callaghan attended last Wednesday's meeting but didn't testify. Horiuchi was out of town.

In the 1997 Legislature, Rep. Richard Walsh, R-Sandy, introduced a bill that would have required a change of county gov-ern-ment election this year.

Walsh's bill passed the House. County commissioners then became active and promised they'd call for such an election themselves if the Legislature wouldn't act. Walsh pulled his bill. But after seeing the county ex-ec-u-tive/

council form of government proposed by commissioners, Walsh has withdrawn his support and wants to take a year to study different forms of government.

Last week, Walsh, a member of the legislative committee, urged colleagues to study the forms of county government allowed under state law. "By the 1998 Legislature, the county will have decided (in the election on its type of government)," Walsh said. "We can study this issue (without influencing the election)."

But Allen argued just the opposite. He said the fact that legislators are studying county government changes will allow opponents to Salt Lake County's change to say in their ads "don't vote to change the government, the Legislature is studying the matter."

Opponents of the change will "manipulate" the Legislature's study, Allen warned.

In a rare public agreement with Overson, Short said the Legislature shouldn't do anything before November to derail the change-of-government vote. However, Short said there are real problems with the county executive/council plan as proposed, both in how it is set up in state law and how it is applied under the commission's drafted change.

Overson, who served as a state senator from his West Jordan area in the early 1980s, said every time local governments want to do some-thing, those who don't want such actions run to the Legislature and ask lawmakers to change the law to stop them.

"I know. I did that myself," Overson said.

In the early 1980s, West Jordan City changed its form of government. "I didn't like it," said Overson. As a state senator, Over-son introduced a bill that altered the time restriction required between votes to change municipal-government forms. It went from six years to four.

He then left the Senate "and tried as hard as I could" to change the form of West Jordan's government. "I failed, but I manipulated the system to allow me" to organize for a change-of-government vote two years ahead of schedule.

Overson is reportedly interested in running for the post of county executive should citizens vote the change of government this November.

At one point during last week's hearing, Gardner challenged "all those who are planning to run for office" under the new government form to announce their intentions now, thus letting citizens know where they are coming from.

In a voice loud enough for the room to hear, Overson said, "I'm running for county assessor," thus letting Gardner know he didn't appreciate the assessor's opposition to the commission's plan.

After the committee voted not to study county forms of government this year, Overson clinched his fists and said "Yes!" in celebration.