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S.L. County, Short spar again

The Salt Lake County Commission and County Attorney Doug Short are locking horns again, this time over legal services Short was paid to provide but didn't.

While Short doesn't specifically deny that his office didn't provide all the agreed-upon services to the City-County Health Department, he says various contractual and procedural problems prevented it."It's another one of those issues where (the commission) is trying to get us," Short said. "It's just another one of these crybaby things where they're ready to cry to the press."

But commissioners view the situation much more seriously than Short's characterization of it as a "non-issue."

"This smacks of misappropriation of funds," Commission Chairman Brent Overson said.

In 1994, the Health Department agreed to have $136,000 per year transferred to the attorney's office in exchange for legal services on behalf of the department's environmental enforcement program. The money was intended to finance one full-time attorney, one full-time investigator and one half-time secretary for work in the area.

The County Commission increased tipping fees at the county landfill to fund the program.

Health Department officials say Short has taken the money but hasn't kept his end of the bargain. They report that in 1997, monthly attorney hours devoted to the program ranged from a high of 91 percent of the agreed-upon 180 hours to a low of 18 percent.

"We're not getting the services we agreed to get," said Kerry Steadman, director of the county's Department of Human Services.

Short said he's not sure a formal agreement was ever signed, which technically would void any obligation on his part.

Commission attorney Gavin Anderson responded that it's a little late to say there was never a contract, since the money has been flowing to the attorney's office for four years.

Short has also noted discrepancies in the agreement that he contends have hamstrung him and has raised other objections such as the press of other work and failure of subordinates that commissioners dismiss as superficial and avoiding the issue.

An ongoing reorganization of Short's office does not yet include a unit devoted to health and environmental services, but he has indicated a willingness to work something out with commissioners for the next budget year.

Given their history with Short, the commissioners aren't much inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt or spend much time working through the issues with him in a spirit of mutual cooperation. In a meeting Wednesday, they instructed their staff to prepare some options of what can be done to force the issue.

"This is not a very good thing," Commissioner Randy Horiuchi said wryly.

One county staffer gave the opinion that Short was "shooting himself in the foot" by his recalcitrance since he gets authorization to hire more staff through the increased funding.

(Increasing the size of one's staff is, in the words of Colin Powell, "every bureaucrat's ultimate goal.")