Most members of the Tooele Valley Medical Center special service district board of trustees have resigned, protesting the county's sale of its health-care system and a recent decision that stripped the board of its decisionmaking authority.

County commissioners received a resignation letter Tuesday signed by all seven county appointees to the 13-member board.Accompanying the resignation were letters of support from the four board members representing Tooele, Grantsville, Stockton and Vernon. Two of the board seats are currently vacant.

Board member John Cluff said Tuesday he was unable to resign with the other board members because he is Tooele's representative and must leave that decision up to the council.

But he said he supports the position of county employees, who expressed "deep reservations" about the pending sale of the county's health care system to Community Health Systems of Brentwood, Tenn., and Salt Lake-based Heritage Management Inc., which operates 143 nursing homes throughout Utah.

The resignation letter also criticized the commission for failing to attend board meetings and for "diverting funds" that had been earmarked for improvement of health care services.

Commissioner Lois McArthur said commissioners would discuss the board's resignation Tuesday at their regular 3 p.m. commission meeting.

Since the hospital board is appointed and the hospital special service district was a creation of the county, commissioners have the option of becoming the acting board until the sale takes place.

"I don't have a response at this time," McArthur said. "We'll need to discuss this together as a commission."

The resignation comes two to three weeks before the commission is expected to sell the county's 46-year-old medical center, ambulance service, nursing home and home-care service.

Commissioners signed a letter of intent last month to sell the health system, but the selection of Community Health did not sit well with service district trustees.

The board had submitted a joint bid with Rural Health Management Corp. of Nephi, which has successfully operated the health system for the past two years.

Trustees contend health services would be better managed by a not-for-profit organization that is locally owned and managed.

Trustees also felt Rural Health had proven itself, taking a financially troubled health-care system and turning it into a cost-effective operation with expanded health care in a short period of time.

They view Community Health as an unknown entity that might not be as aware of the Utah health-care market, and there were concerns a larger national corporation might not be as responsive to local needs as Rural Health had been.

To complicate relations, earlier in the year the commission had alienated trustees by passing a resolution forbidding the board to make purchases or entering into any long-range contracts.

The board, which was constituted when the service district was formed by a 70 percent voter approval, would have been disbanded automatically when the system was sold to a for-profit corporation.

"It's out of the board's hands now," said Jim Gowans, a state legislator and chairman of the trustee board. "Commissioners have declared they will make the decision . . . and they've taken all our authority away anyway.