Commission hopefuls address tensions between commission, sheriff; pay raises

Iron County Commission candidates debate at the Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service located on Southern Utah University’s campus in Cedar City, Utah, Oct. 11, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY – Iron County Commission candidates had an opportunity Tuesday night during a debate to recruit voters one last time before early voting starts next week.

For a little more than an hour, students from the Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service located on Southern Utah University’s campus in Cedar City grilled four of the five candidates on various issues and heard a statement from a fifth candidate who was absent.

The candidates

Commission Seat A has two years remaining on a four-year term vacated by former Commissioner Dave Miller’s resignation, which interim Commissioner Casey Anderson has filled by appointment through the end of this year. Candidates vying for the seat are Republican Party candidate Mike Bleak and Democratic Party candidate Scott Truman.

Commission Seat C carries a four-year term. Candidates for the seat are Constitution Party candidate Kenneth Bauer, Libertarian Party candidate Wayne Hall and Republican Party candidate and incumbent Alma Adams. Bauer was not present due to being called out to his job, but he sent a representative to give his opening statement.

Relationship between the County Commission and the Sheriff’s Office

Constitutionist candidate Bauer addressed the sheriff’s position in relation to the commission in his prepared opening statement.

“One of the issues I think is very important is that of the sheriff, he being the only elected law enforcement officer in the land. If you don’t like (how) he’s running it, we can vote him out,” Bauer’ said through his representative. “He and his officers should not need to be micromanaged. The sheriff needs to be independent, let him run his office as he sees fit.”

Bauer’s statement played into the first question in the debate involving the growing mistrust between the county commissioners and the Sheriff’s Office over the last few years. The candidates were asked what they would do to change it if elected.

Republican candidate Bleak, running for Seat A, is a Cedar City Police detective. He emphasized his personal and professional relationship with Sheriff Mark Gower, a relationship he said gives him intimate knowledge of the situation.

“This is an issue that affects the day-to-day operations of Iron County. This is an issue that spills over not only from the Sheriff’s Office to the commission but also to the other agencies and offices of the county, including the other elected officials,” Bleak said. “This is an issue I am very well aware of and have really intimate knowledge of. I’ve worked closely with Sheriff (Mark) Gower since before my time as a police officer. I have a very professional relationship with Sheriff Gower as well as a personal relationship with Sheriff Gower.

“This is an issue that needs to be met head-on and I feel that I am the type of person who is a moderator as well as someone who can lift that bridge between the Sheriff’s Office and the County Commission. This is something I’ve already spent some time working on, talking to the involved parties, and will continue to do so.”

Libertarian candidate Hall, running for Seat C, said he felt a more “aggressive approach” needs to be had to fix the ongoing problems.

“This is a very serious issue we’re facing here and it seems to be growing and growing and growing,” Hall said. “We’ve had these problems long before the sheriff became entangled with the commission. We’ve had problems that have affected the citizens. Once it reached the point that it affected Sheriff Gower, he stood his ground; and I admire him for that. These issues have to be handled firmly, aggressively and we can’t sweep anything under the rug. I don’t believe communication is going to handle it at this point. I think it needs to be much more of a robust approach and call it for what it is.”

Democratic candidate Truman, running for Seat A, said he believes communication is key in moving forward.

“Again, I think one of the key points we need to make here is that communication is just invaluable,” Truman said. “I think a lot of things that have happened and continue to happen come because people have failed to talk, they failed to communicate.”

Republican candidate and incumbent Commissioner Adams, running for Seat C, said he believes the relationship is already beginning to heal.

“This is an unfortunate situation that’s not easily solved. We can’t just snap all our fingers and resolve all the issues,” Adams said. “But we are trying very hard to keep the lines of communication open. I’ve tried all the way through to be very professional, to have respect and have mutual respect and there are still things that aren’t solved and I’m not going to go into them here – I can’t. But I still think slowly but surely changes will come and we’ll have a better relationship.”

Adams also noted that interim Commissioner Casey Anderson has recently made a lot of headway in the direction of bringing the Sheriff’s Office and the County Commission back together.

Commissioner salaries

A recent increase in Iron County commissioners’ salaries drew attention on social media following the debate. Voters wanted to know which of the candidates vocally supported the $10,000 pay raise.

The raises came as part of a countywide wage increase this year that included other elected leaders and employees. The commissioners approved a raise for themselves that drove their current wages up from $41,965 to $51,854, according to the county budget.

Adams justified his vote for the increase by pointing to a wage study conducted in 2015 that showed Iron County lower in salaries than other counties of similar size.

“Compared to other counties of the third class, we (elected officials) were way low,” Adams said during the debate. “We chose to just raise it half of what the survey said. It seems like a lot but we were way lower and we’re still the lowest paid county in the state.”

Adams reminded voters the commissioners’ raise was one of many others throughout the county.

Bleak also supported the increase while his opponent running for Seat A, Truman, opposed the raise for the current commission.

“Looking at the numbers and looking at the wage study that was done – I think the increase was appropriate,” Bleak said. “Now I say that, citing the information Commissioner Adams has cited. Iron County is still the lowest paid commission seat in the state.”

“I disagree with the wage increase,” Truman said. “I really feel that there were other needs that were much more in need of being funded. I particularly disagree for voting in a raise sitting in the chair that incorporates or receives that raise. Not that they perhaps didn’t deserve it, but I think it should’ve been voted in and then made active the next election cycle for people coming into office.”

Hall adamantly opposed the wage increase and said, if elected, he would like to see the salary returned to the 2015 number.

“I absolutely disagree. There’s people in the county that haven’t had raises in years and years,” Hall said. “I think this (pay raise) is unconscionable. It’s reckless in my opinion and embarrassing.”

The pay raise was another issue Bauer’s representative brought up when reading the candidate’s opening statement.

“Another thing that upset me was the big pay raise that the commissioners took when they were already making three to four times more than the average citizen,” Bauer’s statement said.

Other issues

Other issues addressed during the debate included: transparency, responsible spending of taxpayer money, water, RS2477 roads (roads open for public use regardless of ownership) and how candidates would increase tourism.

Residents are scheduled to receive their mail-in ballots the week of Oct. 18. Registered Iron County voters can also vote at the polls in-person Nov. 8 by surrendering their mail-in ballot at a polling location.

For more information on voting this election, go to vote.utah.gov. The Iron County Clerk also has additional information and can be reached by calling telephone 435-477-8340.

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @tracie_sullivan

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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