A recent poll for Salt Lake County commissioners has been criticized for its content and for the selection of the pollster without bidding.

The commissioners paid Dan Jones & Associates $13,800 to survey attitudes about changing the county's form of government. But more than a third of the 76 questions asked residents to identify - by name and political party - county officials other than the commissioners. Then residents were asked to measure the job performance of all the county's elected leaders.Only 7 percent of respondents knew County Clerk Sherrie Swensen is a Democrat. Another 27 percent thought she was a Republican.

Swensen wonders why commissioners made such political queries.

"I don't think that kind of thing should be done with taxpayer money," Swensen said.

David Magelby, professor of political science at Brigham Young University, said the action could constitute a misuse of public funds.

"If the county wants to ask if the commission is doing a good job, that's fine," Magelby said. "But once you get into individual performance ratings, that's problematic. I don't know why the public should be paying for that."

The questions were necessary to determine if residents were unhappy with the form of government or those who are running it, commissioners said. More to the point, commissioners wanted to know if County Attorney Doug Short was to blame for the recent reform effort, Commissioner Randy Horiuchi said.

When the poll results were released to the public April 11, commissioners did not disclose the job ratings - proof that the questions were not politically motivated, Horiuchi said.

"The purpose wasn't to make us feel good or bad," he said. "It was to find out what's driving the desire for change."

Other county officials believe the purpose is to prove their expendability. "It looked like an excuse to say, `They don't know you, so, adios,' " County Recorder Nancy Workman said.

Commissioner Brent Overson said county officials received advance copies of the poll questions and none of them objected. Most elected officers, however, said they learned about the questions after polling was in progress.

"The whole thing doesn't pass the smell test," said Anthony Musci, chairman of Utah Common Cause. "I don't have a problem with a commissioner wanting to conduct a poll to help guide public policy, but popularity polling? It's incredibly self-serving."

The County Commission has commissioned four polls in the past four years, and each time it picked Dan Jones & Associates to do the job.

County procurement procedures require officials to get bids for jobs that exceed $7,500, except in emergency situations.

Asked why the county didn't seek bids for the latest poll, Hor-i-u-chi said there are no other full-time market research firms in the Salt Lake Valley to do the work and timing was a factor.

There are 24 listings under market research and analysis in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area Yellow Pages. Several firms said they could do the work on short notice, and they were upset to learn they were excluded from bidding on county jobs.

Jones is the pollster of choice for Horiuchi and Overson, and that relationship concerns Musci.

"The connection is there. Dan Jones is involved in their campaigns, and he has exclusive contracts," said Musci.

Commissioners said they favor Jones not because he works for their campaigns but because he is a pollster of repute.