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GOP hopefuls seeking commission reforms

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Two conservative Utah natives are vying to win the Republican nomination for outgoing Salt Lake County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi's seat.

Steve Harmsen and Mark Shurtleff both say the County Commission right now is operating badly and that they are the ones to set things right."The system's broken," Shurtleff said. "We need to go fix it."

"I will work to provide a professional working environment," Harmsen said.

While the candidates are similar in many respects, they do have significant differences.

Harmsen, a former Republican nominee for Congress and Salt Lake mayoral candidate, has focused his campaign energies on his experience in public works. Horiuchi directs that department, and his successor would likely inherit it. Harmsen was over public works as a Salt Lake City commissioner in the 1970s.

"He will hit the ground running - in the right direction," reads Harmsen's campaign slogan. In fact, Harmsen is already proposing specifics, such as synchronizing traffic lights and getting rid of the windmills in front of the Salt Palace Convention Center.

Harmsen is owner and president of a farm and nursery supply wholesale company.

Shurtleff, on the other hand, has concentrated on law enforcement and taxes. Fiscally conservative, he vows to stabilize and even lower residents' tax burden. He also spends a lot of time talking about beefing up drug and youth intervention programs and community involvement programs in law enforcement, such as community watch.

"We don't need just more cops," he said. "It needs to be a balanced approach."

Both candidates paint themselves as political outsiders who will help reform the squabbles that currently characterize county government, each saying his opponent's outsider credentials are suspect.

In particular, Harmsen has pointed to Shurtleff's job as evidence that Shurtleff is just more of the same. Shurtleff is a deputy county attorney, whose boss is well-known commission-baiter Doug Short.

Shurtleff downplays the relationship and says Short would have no part or influence in his administration. Nevertheless, Shurtleff has been peripherally involved in some of the commission's battles with Short, such as the county attorney's challenge of the commission's charitable contributions using county funds.

One of the biggest differences between the candidates is their approach to growth. Harmsen says open space in rapidly developing Salt Lake County is critical to residents' well-being and that the only sure way to preserve it is for the county to buy up land using its own money.

Shurtleff dismisses that approach, saying there's no way the county could come up with that kind of money. He advocates a zoning approach instead, using the concepts of "cluster" development, by which houses are built on smaller lots with larger open spaces between clusters of houses, and mixed-use development.

Shurtleff was unable to eliminate Harmsen in April's Salt Lake County Republican convention, though he did emerge the front-runner.

The winner of the June 23 Republican primary will face Democrat Mike Reberg in the November general election. Reberg is unopposed within his party, having easily eliminated challenger Paulina Flint in the county Democratic convention.

Reberg is Democrat Horiuchi's preferred successor. He is on leave from his job as deputy of the county Department of Public Works.


Additional Information

S.L. County Commission seat B

What is the main issue facing Salt Lake County?

Mark L. Shurtleff: Management of growth. We need to have a plan, which there hasn't been. I really look forward to seeing what Envision Utah has done and implementing it. I want to zone for smaller lots and preserving the rest of (subdivision land) for open space. I like clustering and mixed-use concepts.

Stephen M. Harmsen: Harmony and a sense of purpose on the County Commission. I think with my independent background and my get-along nature I can build consensus and do long-term planning for what we stand for. It helps that I'm not interested in building a political resume from this job.

Why should primary voters pick you instead of your party opponent?

MLS: I'm more open and responsive - the people I have met say I'm more on their level. They really believe I want to cooperate and be open, which they aren't getting from the current (county commissioners). Some of Harmsen's ideas - like buying land for open space - are 20 years old and just won't work.

SMH: I have independence and business experience. I'm not tied to the county - I haven't had a green check or a brown check in the last 20 years, and that means a lot. You can't just hang out in government service and not be affected by the inbreeding that takes place.

Would you vote to increase taxes during your term?

MLS: No.

SMH: I've made a pledge that I wouldn't, and I think, based on my analytical feeling, I could truly make that promise, as opposed to what happened in the past when everybody promises but it happens anyway.

Would you cut taxes, and if so, how?

MLS: I will push the Legislature for property tax reform. It's the most expensive way to tax, and we should move away from it. I will reduce waste and make the county more efficient by getting more open and fair bidding processes to get the best services for the least money to avoid the Tetris situation.

SMH: I don't believe taxes need to be cut, but I think residential property assessment needs reform, and that could result in lower taxes. I would champion statewide reform in that area. The tax the county gets is reasonable compared to other states and counties - how it's spent is what's important.

How would you deal with crime?

MLS: We can't just throw more money at it and put more cops on the street. I'd rather see more emphasis on neighborhood watch groups and intervention programs and mentoring and community councils. The answer isn't just more cops - it's more community involvement.

SMH: We need to work to develop a professional police force. We need to get involved in making major steps toward implementing suggested juvenile crime prevention programs such as night courts, youth courts and mobile probation officers who travel in police cars. Those programs need to be expanded.

Do you support the proposed change of county government from a commission form to a nine-member council and single executive?

MLS: I've supported it from day one. I knew (the committee in charge of formulating a plan) would come out with that kind of proposal because checks and balances and separation of powers just aren't there now. I believe in the Constitution, and the first three articles just talk about checks and balances.

SMH: I have no objection to it, but I won't vote for it because the county executive would be the second most powerful position in the state. It's too much power in one person. The County Commission spends 98 percent of its time on executive duties, so why do we need nine people to do the other 2 percent?

Harmsen's question for Shurtleff: Will Doug Short have a position in your administration should you be elected?

MLS: No, no and no.

Shurtleff's question for Harmsen: What do you intend to do as far as your profession if you are elected - will you resign as president of your company and devote all of your time to the county?

SMH: I'm an inactive member of the company as it is. I'm more of an investor than an employee. I don't know how the logistics of it would take place, but I certainly would do that.

Harmsen's question for Shurtleff: Everything you say sounds good, but there are no specifics to it. What specific programs would you implement in your first six months of office?

MLS: Form a council of mayors to implement the Envision Utah plan. Upgrade and modernize the public works fleet, and do a six-month study to change the current crisis-management approach to a mitigation approach. Pursue transfer of state roads to the county. Study privatization of public works programs. Double the number of county volunteers within one year.

Shurtleff's question for Harmsen: You have said you want to give community councils ultimate authority for planning and zoning decisions, which could cause huge problems. How, exactly, will that work?

SMH: I've said elected community councils. In all areas of Salt Lake County there should be some sort of local service provider - a municipality or service district township. In those cases the locally elected officials would be better able to make decisions than three guys at 2100 South and State who are getting big money from special interests.