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Shurtleff defends VECC merger

Communication plan worth the price, he says

Despite the unknown costs, former Salt Lake County Commission Chairman Mark Shurtleff stands by a pending contract that has the sheriff's office merging its communication system with the Valley Emergency Communications Center.

Shurtleff, now Utah's attorney general, briefed members of the Salt Lake County Council on Monday morning about the rationale for pursuing the venture.

"The greater public good of this county is best served by this," Shurtleff said. "I do believe with all my heart that this will work."

The proposal, penned last year by Shurtleff, has the county agreeing to pay a one-time fixed cost of $850,000 to $1 million for an interface that will allow VECC and the sheriff's office communications systems to talk to each other.

A new VECC building is under construction in West Valley City, with the anticipation that sheriff's dispatchers will move in and become VECC employees by midsummer.

What has been troubling to some Salt Lake County Council members, however, has been the inability of computer experts to give definitive numbers on the cost of future upgrades to both systems.

"We're on the hook for the cost of those upgrades," said Salt Lake County Council member Michael Jensen. "We see this as a nebulous black hole in terms of money."

County Council member Joe Hatch was also skeptical.

"There is a July 1 deadline and we haven't even started the software bridge. We don't even had a rudimentary idea of what that bridge will cost. How can we commit the the taxpayers' money to this open-ended agreement in light of this huge budget crunch? It's too ethereal."

Shurtleff blamed the lack of progress in bridging the technology on sheriff's office employees, saying they had fought him from "Day One" regarding the merger.

Because of the resistance, the Salt Lake County Council is poised to undo 18 months of exhaustive negotiations, he said.

"It's frustrating to have something you've worked on picked apart. I don't think it is good to do this Monday-morning quarterbacking without you looking into it," Shurtleff said.

Aside from the hazy dollar amounts, Jensen and some other members of the County Council have frowned on the lack of representation the county would have in terms of policymaking on the VECC board.

The county, along with the member cities of VECC, each would have one vote, creating the possibility the cities could band together at the expense of the county.

Under the proposal, the county is responsible for kicking in about 50 percent of the price tag on any acquisitions.

"Even if we vote no, everybody else could vote yes and we're stuck," Jensen said.

Shurtleff said he tried to negotiate more representation for the county on VECC, but the cities were "adamant" about the one member-one vote rule.

The discussion grew a bit tense at times after Shurtleff brought up the allegation that the contract he penned was done without input from the Salt Lake District Attorney's Office.

Bill Hyde, who has since retired as a chief of the DA's civil division, agreed he signed off on the final draft.

"I viewed it as a lawful agreement. That doesn't always mean we believe the agreements are in the best interest of the county. If you asked me now, I don't think some of the terms were best for the county."

Shurtleff was irritated.

"As an attorney, why didn't you give me that legal advice then?"

"I did."