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Candidates for mayor, city council can be scarce in small Utah towns

Published July 10, 2013 5:21 pm

Elections • Candidates for mayor, city council can be scarce in small Utah towns.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Maybe it's the long hours and low pay. Or the constant sniping about how you do the job and the gossip about how you live your life.

Whatever the reason, no one had filed to run for mayor in at least three Utah cities — Bear River, Corinne and Fairfield — by the June 7 deadline. And some municipalities have fewer council candidates than open seats, including Corinne, where one person filed for the two spots on the ballot.

The drawbacks of local politics could be discouraging would-be candidates, according to Tim Chambless, a professor at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

"I'm not sure it's hell, but it's not heaven," Chambless said of a public servant's life.

Elected officials can end up working 80 hours between their public job and private job, he said. And in a small town, where everyone knows everyone, a mayor or council member no longer has a private life.

On top of that, elected officials will be subjected to criticism, Chambless said, no matter what they do or how minor their inevitable mistakes are.

David Spatafore, a lobbyist and consultant who formerly worked for the Utah League of Cities and Towns, said the difficulty of balancing family, faith and work with civic duties can make an elected position unappealing.

"The hours are horrible," he said. "Government has become a lot more complicated and a lot more time-consuming."

No-candidate races historically happen in the smaller communities among Utah's 245 cities and towns, according to Spatafore. Goshen had two council seats up for election in 2007 and no candidates.

David Church, an attorney for the Utah League of Cities and Towns, said that if no one files to run, community activists usually try to recruit someone by at least 60 days before the general election, which is the deadline for would-be officeholders to submit their names as write-in candidates.

The deadline for write-in candidates falls on Sept. 6 this year. Write-in votes count only for candidates registered as such.

If no write-in candidate registers, a vacancy is declared by council members once the current officeholder's term ends at noon on the first Monday in January. The council then puts out a notice, solicits applications and picks by majority vote someone to fill the spot.

Attracting candidates for public office in big and medium-sized cities seems to be no problem. This year, nine hopefuls are vying for the mayor's job in West Jordan, where the annual salary is increasing to $89,500 and incumbent Melissa Johnson isn't running.

And, in West Valley City, seven residents are running for the top elected spot. Incumbent Mike Winder, citing the difficulty of supporting a family on a $35,000 annual salary, also decided against another term overseeing Utah's second most-populous city.

Corinne Mayor Richard Nimori, whose four-year term ends in January, said a dearth of would-be politicians in any community could mean that residents are satisfied with city operations and not interested in changing how things are done. On the other extreme, he said, a government controversy or conflict between elected officials also could make potential candidates decide not to run.

Nimori has been contacting residents who expressed interest in public office in the past; so far he hasn't found anyone who wants to be a write-in candidate.

However, he said, "I haven't given up yet."

Goshen ended up with three write-in candidates for its two council spots in 2007. And Church is sure that every city in Utah, no matter its size, will have a mayor and full council soon after this year's general election.

"There's never been an office that wasn't filled," he said.

pmanson@sltrib.com

@PamelaMansonSLC

Dan Harrie contributed to this article.