Congressional races and ballot propositions are getting most of the attention in this year’s election cycle, but there are county-level races, too. A handful of top Salt Lake County officials are up for re-election this November, and three Democrats are being challenged by Republicans who work for them. That’s causing some friction in some county offices.
District Attorney Race
Nathan Evershed has worked as a prosecutor in the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office for a decade. But now the Republican is challenging his boss over what he calls internal politics that’s leading to employee turnover and low morale.
“Since 2016, we have literally lost 30 percent of our attorneys. That is a huge cost to the taxpayer. It’s a huge cost to the reputation of the office. It’s a huge cost to our experience level,” Evershed said.
District Attorney Sim Gill, a Democrat seeking a third term in office, says Evershed is pushing a false narrative.
“Here’s what the data shows: That the overall attrition rate is 7.7 percent for the last eight years,” Gill said.
Figures provided by the DA’s office show while turnover has gone up over the past few years, it’s not nearly as high as Evershed claims. The annual turnover rate went from 6.9 percent in 2015 to 10.6 percent in 2016.
For Evershed, there’s another issue: He says Gill isn’t getting the convictions he should. The Republican prosecutor alluded to the corruption case of former Attorney General John Swallow, who in 2017 was found not guilty on all counts.
“There’s a big perception out there that you’ve seen the charges, you’ve seen the headlines, you even saw my opponent’s re-election four years ago when a lot of this was happening, but one thing we haven’t seen are any convictions on any of those cases,” Evershed said.
Gill said his prosecutors on the case did the best they could with the evidence they had.
“Our job is to take these issues when we have that probable cause, and we meet our legal standard, and prosecute them. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose,” Gill said.
The incumbent district attorney pointed out that Evershed was not involved with the Swallow case.
“He gets to make an outside judgment without having knowledge of the internal issues,” he said.
County Clerk Race
Evershed’s complaints about low morale and office performance are mirrored in the race for Salt Lake County clerk, which oversees elections, marriage licenses and passports.
Republican Rozan Mitchell, the elections director, has taken a leave of absence during her campaign to avoid office friction with her boss, Democrat Sherrie Swensen.
Mitchell’s main worry is about election security. Most counties in Utah upgraded voting machines this year, but Salt Lake County — the state’s largest county — plans to use its machines through the 2020 election. The equipment was purchased in 2006 and has undergone scanner and software upgrades.
“While I do feel that our machines that we currently use are adequate, they really aren’t good enough for what we’re doing,” Mitchell said.
“It makes sense to me not to be the first to jump onto new equipment, but see how well it performs in other counties,” said Swensen.
Swensen said she was glad she opted not to purchase new voting machines in 2004. That year several counties that introduced new equipment realized the machines did not produce a paper trail.
If elected, Mitchell says she’d like to integrate more technology into the clerk’s office.
“When a voter sends their ballot back into our office, I think that they would love to receive a message on their phone or an email that says that their ballot has been received in the office, and it’s ready to be counted,” she said.
Salt Lake County voters faced long lines at the polls on election night two years ago, which Swensen blames primarily on Mitchell.
“She had poll workers doing data entry and updating provisional voters at the polling places. They weren’t trained. They weren’t tested. That was a process that was never approved by me, and it was tragic,” Swensen said.
While workplace politics are playing a big role in the district attorney and county clerk races, the sheriff’s race is more issues-focused. Republican Justin Hoyal, a lieutenant with the Unified Police Department, is challenging his boss, Democratic Sheriff Rosie Rivera — Utah’s first female sheriff. She was appointed last year after former Sheriff Jim Winder resigned to become police chief in Moab.
Hoyal says he doesn’t have many complaints about Rivera’s leadership. But he is frustrated that two cities, Herriman and, more recently, Riverton, have pulled out of UPD to start their own police forces.
“Both those cities have cited a lack of communication, transparency and responsiveness,” Hoyal said.
“I think that that is so important as the sheriff — that we’re communicating with our partner cities, [and] we’re communicating with the citizens of this county. That they know that we’re out here protecting them and keeping them safe every day,” he said.
Rivera said the complaints from Herriman and Riverton started long before she became sheriff. While she’s worked to address their concerns, Rivera said the cities had already decided to pull out by the time she took over.
Instead, Rivera is touting high recruitment numbers — especially for women. Since taking over, Rivera said she has more than doubled the number of applications for deputy sheriff positions at county jails.
“We had 30 just start at the academy,” she said, adding that a third of the recruits are women. “So, I know we’re doing something right and I really feel like women have a place in law enforcement, too.”
Both candidates for sheriff want to open up more jail beds to accommodate the county’s growing population and drug crackdowns near the state’s largest homeless shelter.
In a twist, former Sheriff Jim Winder, a Democrat, endorsed Republican Justin Hoyal over Rivera.
She said she wasn’t surprised by the endorsement as the two men are friends and had already discussed Hoyal running for office after Winder left office.