On Thursday, Nov. 8, Tooele County Commissioners sent an email to county employees warning them of a third round of layoffs due to the county’s continuing budget crisis. The following week, several commissioners and elected officials headed to St. George to attend the Utah Association of Counties annual convention.
While the county doesn’t yet have a definitive count of how many people it sent to the conference, the decision to attend at all so soon after 22 people were laid off appears to have raised some eyebrows within the Tooele County Building.
Tooele County Commission chairwoman Colleen Johnson, whose term of office expires at the end of the year, did not attend the St. George convention but defends her fellow commissioners and other elected officials that did go.
“I chose not attend. I didn’t think it would be right because my time on the commission is coming to an end,” said Johnson. “I do know that the training and information that commissioners and department heads receive at the convention is very important and valuable.”
Johnson said each department head was free to decide if they would attend the UAC convention given the recent cutbacks to department budgets, including travel expenses.
Commissioners Jerry Hurst and Bruce Clegg attended, along with County Clerk Marilyn Gillette, County Assessor Wendy Shubert, County Auditor Mike Jensen and County Surveyor Doug Kinsman.
The county paid for Gillette’s $300 convention fee and $284 for three nights in a hotel room while she covered the cost of gas for the trip out of her own pocket, she said.
“The convention is one of the few times the county clerks have to sit down and meet with the Lt. Governor and the state elections office and receive training and discuss recent election procedures,” said Gillette. “The information at the meeting, especially the changes to the state’s computerized election system, is essential to our job in the clerk’s office.”
Gillette also pointed out that it is at the convention that county clerks agree on their legislative agenda for the upcoming legislative session.
Kinsman, who served as the head of the Utah State County Surveyors Association for 2012, felt is was important for him to attend the convention because he was running the show for surveyors. County funds paid for his $300 convention fee, a $270 for mileage reimbursement for the 570-mile round trip, and $55 a night for three nights in a condo that Kinsman has an interest in — a total of $735.
“The training and the opportunity to meet with other county surveyors and share problems and solutions help a great deal with my duties as the county surveyor,” said Kinsman.
The county paid $897 each for Shubert and her appraisal supervisor to attend the convention.
“Appraisal laws and state commission procedures are always changing and we have to stay on top of those changes,” said Shubert. “I though about not going because of the layoffs, but the training and information is very important.”
County recorder Jerry Houghton decided not to attend the convention this year. He said although the information and training at the convention is helpful, he did not believe it was good timing to announce a reduction in force of county employees and then leave town for a convention.
County attorney Doug Hogan and treasurer Jeremy Walker also did not attend the convention.
County commissioner-elect Shawn Milne said he was not invited and did not attend the convention.
“Having never attended, I can’t attest to the value of the agenda at the convention,” said Milne. “I hope the commissioners and department heads weighed very heavily the value of the information and decided who really needed to attend the convention. It may have been important for some officials and less important for others.”
Neither Hurst nor Clegg could be reached for comment on this article.