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GOP factions spar at unruly meeting

The Salt Lake County Republican Party's central committee scheduled a five-hour meeting Saturday, primarily to discuss and vote on a proposed change in how it selects its leaders.

But it took the 300 or so committee members almost that long, during a free-for-all debate in the Salt Lake County Commission chambers, to determine they didn't have enough time to make a decision.

Those opposed to the suggested changes declared the delay a victory.

"It's a huge win," said Mike Ridgway, founder of Republicans for Electoral Fairness and a leading opponent of the proposed revisions. "We don't want standing rules for the convention; we want the delegates at the convention to have a say in how their convention is run."

There is a chance the discussion and vote may never occur. New county leaders will be elected, under the current system, next month. And one party insider predicted that due to the contentious nature of Saturday's debate, the proposal would be dropped before the next quarterly meeting.

The meeting was initially held up by the lengthy election for county GOP secretary — normally a routine matter — won by Carrie Dickson.

But the vote over the proposal put forth by a nine-member panel — headed by former 2nd Congressional District Rep. Enid Greene and former Salt Lake County Attorney Doug Short — never took place because central committee members couldn't agree on the procedure to follow in discussing the proposed changes.

The revision would, among other things, allow the 700-member central committee to pick county party leaders rather than leave that decision with the 1,500 or so county delegates.

Those opposed to the change, many of whom viewed the constitutional amendments as a power grab by party insiders, did most of the haranguing. The unruly crowd, with seemingly dozens of people shouting "point of order" simultaneously and often, presented committee Chairman Bruce Jones with the formidable challenge of keeping the meeting under control.

"I have never seen such animosity in any meeting that I have attended in 24 years of working in the Republican party," Greene scolded.

"I think everybody needs to go home, take a chill pill, read these carefully and if you have suggestions send them to the party or send them to me, and let's come back together and talk about this when we can follow Robert's Rules of Order when it applies, even if you don't like it, and when you do like it."

Greene added that she does not agree with all of the proposed changes despite chairing the panel that developed them. She said it was not just the short time remaining but the "atmosphere in this room" that prompted her support for postponement.

Ultimately, Short and Greene concluded it was best to postpone the discussion and vote until the central committee's next quarterly meeting, likely in June. Committee members overwhelmingly agreed.

While opponents of the constitutional changes declared victory, Short downplayed the significance of the postponement, saying it will be important for committee members to become educated about the proposal.

"It's just a part of the process. We want everyone to feel comfortable," he said.

Short said an unsigned leaflet opposing the changes, handed out during the meeting, was full of inaccuracies and false statements. The "biggest fallacy," Short cited, is that the proposed changes are designed to give party insiders more power. He said it simply makes sense to have central committee members select county GOP leaders because it is much less expensive.