The Best Education Would Be the County Attorney Filing Charges of Warranted
Earlier this week, Summit County Attorney Judge Robert Hilder, issued a press release regarding electioneering allegations against both the school board and bond opposition groups. His press release noted that the County Attorney’s office was investigating both groups for wrongdoing.
In today’s Park Record, Judge Hilder is quoted as saying, “I’m not looking to aggressively prosecute here if there was well-meaning but unintentional violation of the law… I hope this, for the most part, is just an education on what people should and should not do.”
There are two issues with this statement. First, this is a serious issue. Elections are one of the most important foundations of our democratic government. If even one person was influenced by illegal action, it taints the entire election and our democratic process. If the County Attorney actually wants to treat this as educational issue, the best education he could provide would be to charge anyone that broke the law, regardless of whether the action was well-meaning or not. It seems these types of violations are likely only misdemeanors, subject to fines of a few hundred dollars. So, it’s not likely life altering for the individual. Yet, just the action of bringing charges (however small) would help ensure that this type of action would not happen again.
The second issue is that other parts of our government aren’t quite as forgiving as the Attorney’s office may be and consistency in the rule of law is good. I’ve sat through years of Summit County Council meetings. At least once a year someone appears before the council and says, “My property taxes should have been lower because my home was still treated as a second home (even though I lived there most of the year) because the I didn’t complete the paperwork to make the property a primary residence.” This will often cost them thousands of dollars. The answer from the council is always the same… “Was it our fault or was it your fault?” If it was the homeowner’s fault, there is
no little leniency. If the County Council treated property tax with the same “educational bent” they would instead ask the owner, “Did you intend to file paperwork declaring your home as your primary residence… but you just made a mistake?” When the owner says “yes” they would say “OK, you don’t have to pay.”
To be fair, if I were on the other end of county prosecution, I would welcome the County Attorney’s leniency. I would get down on my knees and say “I will never do it again.” Yet, from the outside looking in and wondering what it means for elections in the future, I hope the County Attorney’s office, if they find any wrongdoing, file charges. This is too important of an issue for the only outcome to be a simple educational opportunity. Perhaps the best educational opportunity for the entire county and Park City area would be ensure any wrongdoing is charged appropriately.
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