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State Legislature considers requiring Utah County to change form of government

While Utah County residents will decide in November whether the county should transition away from a three-person commission, the State Legislature may make that decision for them.

A bill introduced by Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, on Wednesday would require any county in the state with a population of more than 500,000 “to operate under the county executive and council form or the council-manager form of government.”

Utah and Salt Lake counties are the only two in the state with populations over half a million, and Salt Lake County currently operates under a mayor-council system.

House Bill 257 would require the county legislative body (in the case of Utah County, the Utah County Commission) to initiate the process to change the form of government no later than July 1, 2021.

Two optional plans would be placed on the ballot in the November 2021 election and residents would choose between an executive-council or a council-manager form of government. The difference between an executive, or mayor, form of leadership and a manager form is that a mayor would be elected while a manager would be appointed by the council.

On Jan. 7, the commission voted 2-1 in favor of a resolution that would put an optional plan on the ballot in November to switch to a full-time mayor elected at-large and five-member, part-time county council elected in geographic districts. 

In an interview, Commissioner Bill Lee said that he didn't understand why a bill like this would be introduced when the county is already considering changing its form of government, adding that legislators shouldn't try to "force it one way or another."

"I don't understand why we're trying to guide it or skew the perspective with it when we're in that process right now trying to see which way it goes," said Lee. "I think we should go through that process first." 

While the bill doesn't mention any county in particular, Lee said he felt the bill was aimed at Utah County. 

"This bill is targeted," he said. "It's targeted to Utah County and Utah County only."  

In a Daily Herald op-ed published last July, Brammer called the county’s current form of government “problematic” and said that, in light of the rapidly growing population, the county needs to switch to a form of government that separates legislative and executive powers.

“We need a government structure that can keep up, implement good policy and be accountable to the people far better than our county government can under the current system,” Brammer wrote.

Five Utah County state senators and 12 representatives signed on to Brammer’s op-ed, including Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork and Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo.

The bill would also place limits on the ability of citizens to file petitions related to changing the form of government. According to the bill’s text, registered voters who circulate a petition “may not submit the complete petition less than 30 days before the day of the election.”

Last July, five Utah County residents, including Lee, filed a last-minute petition to let voters decide whether to change to a five-member commission that prevented the commission from voting whether to put the question of changing to a mayor-council form of government on the November 2019 ballot. In his op-ed, Brammer called the petition a “disappointing move.”

Commissioner Tanner Ainge said in an interview that the bill would help clarify the rules for submitting petitions, something that has been unclear in recent years. 

"I think the state is trying to clean that up and clarify it," Ainge said. 

The bill could help "raise awareness of the change in government issue and it could perhaps convey a sense of inevitability that, if we don't pass it this year, the state is going to impose a change in 2021," said Ainge. 

But, he added, the Legislature could have waited until after residents vote on the optional plan in November "before doing something like this to get a sense for where our county's public opinion really is on the issue." 

Not everyone is in favor of switching away from the commission style of government. During a public hearing on Jan. 22 to discuss the potential change, Lee said having a full-time mayor and a part-time council would create an imbalance of authority.

“It seems like a consolidation of power to me into one individual and one office,” he said.

Deborah Herbert, of Mapleton, said creating a mayor position would take "power further and further away from the citizenry" and make the county "executive top-heavy."

Commissioner Nathan Ivie disagreed and said separating duties by creating distinctive executive and legislative bodies would benefit Utah County residents. He added that he thought a mayor would be better for the county than a manager “because I believe that the people making the decisions should be elected officials and directly accountable.”

If the optional plan that Utah County residents vote on this November passes, a mayor and county council would be elected during the 2022 general election and take office at the beginning of 2023.

H.B. 257 was introduced into the House on Wednesday but has yet to be debated or have any action taken on it.

Storm advisory in effect through Friday afternoon

A rough start to Thursday morning’s commute with slushy, slick roads left some Utah residents hoping they can wash the salt and mud off their cars. The National Weather Service indicates, however, that clean car enthusiasts need to hold off for a few days.

On Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service cancelled a winter storm advisory for the Utah County area, but that doesn’t mean the snow and rain are over.

An avalanche warning by the Forest Service is still in effect for local canyons and mountain back country through 6 a.m. Saturday.

Thursday snow accumulations in Utah County varied from 4 to 8 inches depending on the location, according to the Brigham Young University weather station at the Eyring Science Center.

According to the weather service, residents should expect an additional snow accumulation of up to 3 inches on the valley floors and 3 to 6 inches on the benches with winds gusting as high as 35 mph.

“Travel could be very difficult,” according to the weather service report. “Gusty winds may cause areas of blowing snow.”

The storm will begin to dissipate with sun peaking out of the clouds and winds calming from 6 to 8 mph by midday today. Temperatures will be reaching into the low 40s by this afternoon.

Saturday will be mostly sunny with a high near 46 degrees and south winds at about 7 mph. By Saturday night, there will be a 30% chance of snow with a low temperature of 24 degrees.

To wrap up the wintry weekend, there will be a 30% chance of snow Sunday after 11 a.m. with accumulations of less than an inch. The high temps for the day are predicted to reach 37 degrees.

Blue Line Ladies make lifesaving donation to local law enforcement

Utah County Sheriff’s deputies and officers at the Pleasant Grove Police Department have been gifted ballistic trauma plates.

The donation comes from the Blue Line Ladies, a nonprofit established by wives of law enforcement officers and by John Pilmer, CEO of PilmerPR. The organization, led by President Lydia Hebdon, is based in Weber County, but makes donations to police agencies throughout the state. Pilmer is based in Utah County.

The bulletproof armor plates were gifted Jan. 31 to the Utah County sheriff to better protect officers from armor-piercing bullets and short-range shotgun blasts. The groups previously made a similar delivery to the Pleasant Grove Police Department. Pleasant Grove hosted the last Blue Family Funraiser event. This annual fundraising event enables volunteers to demonstrate appreciation for the exceptional law enforcement community of Utah, according to a press release.

“These trauma plates are designed to supplement the soft body armor worn by most law enforcement officers,” said Sgt. Spencer Cannon, spokesman for the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.

There were 14 trauma plates donated to each agency with each agency also receiving one designed for female officers. Each plate is about $120.

“Typical Kevlar body armor is flexible and is designed to protect the deputy or officer by stopping most handgun ammunition,” Cannon added. “They (the trauma plates) are designed to stop rifle rounds of a .308 rifle used in sniper work with heavy duty rounds.”

This armor is soft, allowing the wearer to still have a good range of motion and some level of comfort, according to Cannon. The donated trauma plates provide an extra measure of protection and are designed to stop many different types of rifle ammunition in addition to the protection provided by the Kevlar body armor.

“We truly appreciate when the community recognizes the valiant deputies that serve the residents of Utah County,” said Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith in a press release. “More than 500 dedicated law enforcement professionals and support staff serve this office covering the entire valley.”

According to Cannon, each officer is fitted for the plate which is then designed for their specific body form.

“Most of us expect law and order in our communities, but many of us take public safety for granted,” said Pilmer, Blue Family Funraiser founder. “I notice that ‘law and order’ goes well with ‘law enforcement’ in the same paragraph. So many of these public servants give so much and we want them to be safe, too.”

Blue Family is planning fundraising events in 2020 and volunteers and sponsors for this effort may contact John Pilmer at pilmerjohn@gmail.com with Blue in the subject line.

Romney returns to Utah to explain his impeachment decision

SALT LAKE CITY — U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney was back in Utah on Thursday explaining his vote to convict President Donald Trump amid pushes by some angry GOP state legislators to censure Romney or create a way to recall the senator.

Romney did not speak publicly in the state and his meetings with legislative leaders were held behind closed doors.

Many legislators disagreed with his decision on Trump and were concerned about repercussions for the state. Still, some said his quick trip back to Utah from Washington to elaborate on voting his conscience helped ease their frustration with the politician who holds celebrity status in Utah.

“It was a very frank conversation, and people shared their opinions back and forth,” Republican House Speaker Brad Wilson said.

Utah is deeply conservative, but many voters remain wary of Trump’s behavior and his comments about women, immigrants and on other issues. However, Trump’s 2017 move to downsize two sprawling national monuments in the southern part of the state earned him lasting appreciation from many state leaders.

It’s unclear whether the GOP-dominated Legislature will advance censure or recall proposals. But Wilson did say there would be a separate resolution to send a message of appreciation to Trump for “the great work his administration has done.”

Republican Rep. Phil Lyman wants to censure Romney but nevertheless said he appreciates that the senator voted his conscience.

Lyman’s censure resolution says, “We’re unhappy that you took this position with the president, we think it’s disruptive nationally, we think it harms Utah, and we’ve got some damage control to do as a result of it.”

Asked about possible repercussions for Utah over Romney’s vote, Lyman said “relationships are important.”

A separate proposal would create a path to recall a U.S. senator. Other states have passed similar laws that haven’t fared well in the courts, and there’s a good chance any Utah measure would be declared unconstitutional, Republican state Sen. Evan Vickers said.

Some Republican legislators in Utah appeared ready to move on from the dust-up and get back to making state laws.

“I, for one, wouldn’t want to be judged, censured, for one vote I had when he makes 80% of his votes to support the president,” said Republican Sen. Don Ipson. “Not everyone would say his vote is wrong.”