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Leaders kick off effort to reform Utah County government

By Ashley Stilson Daily Herald - | Feb 2, 2019
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Orem Mayor Richard Brunst signs a petition during a press conference to announce efforts to change Utah County's form of government Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, at the Historic Utah County Courthouse in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie stands with other local leaders as Orem Mayor Richard Brunst speaks during a press conference to announce efforts to change Utah County's form of government Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, at the Historic Utah County Courthouse in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Cedar Hills Mayor Jenney Rees signs a petition during a press conference to announce efforts to change Utah County's form of government Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, at the Historic Utah County Courthouse in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Utah Rep. Mike McKell speaks during a press conference to announce efforts to change Utah County's form of government Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, at the Historic Utah County Courthouse in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith signs a petition during a press conference to announce efforts to change Utah County's form of government Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, at the Historic Utah County Courthouse in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Carolina Herrin, of Spanish Fork, signs a petition after a press conference to announce efforts to change Utah County's form of government Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, at the Historic Utah County Courthouse in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Cedar Hills Mayor Jenney Rees listens with other local leaders to Orem Mayor Richard Brunst speak after a press conference to announce efforts to change Utah County's form of government Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, at the Historic Utah County Courthouse in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

When the time came to sign a petition to change the structure of Utah County government, Commissioner Nathan Ivie made sure his signature was first on the paper.

“I’m more than happy to give away my power, to give away my paychecks to ensure the people of this county have a truly representative form of government with checks and balances on that power,” he said.

He and other officials held a press conference Saturday to announce a citizen’s petition to modify the positions of power in Utah County government.

Currently, there are only three people who work on all the legislative and executive issues in the entire county, Ivie explained. As one of the three, he spoke about the limitations and dangers of consolidated power.

The new petition aims to eliminate the small commission and create a seven-person council and an elected mayor.

“It’s a form of government that protects the liberty of people because it ensures that everyone has a voice at the table,” Ivie said.

Five of the seven members would be elected from each district in Utah County: south, south central, north central, northeast and northwest.

Along with two additional at-large members, the legislative council would work with a full-time executive mayor and deputy mayor.

“Our system of government in Utah County is failing,” said state Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork. “What we’re asking as a group today is to let the people of Utah County have their voices be heard. Let them answer the question: Is now the time to expand this form of government?”

Utah County is reportedly one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, he said. By 2065, the population will increase to more than 1.6 million, according to research from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah.

Another option would be to create a council with an executive council manager, but officials believed a hired manager would not be representative of voter interests.

“The time is now. Honestly, the time was probably 10 years ago. We’re probably behind at this point so we need to move forward with this initiative,” McKell said.

The new council members would serve four-year terms and could override vetoes from the mayor with a 2/3 majority vote.

With the current administration, if two commissioners are vying for opposite sides of an issue, the third commissioner holds all the power to make the decision, Orem Mayor Richard Brunst explained.

The new petition allows communities from the agricultural or retail or residential or technology-driven areas of the county to weigh in on the decision.

“We believe that power and that authority needs to be spread out to more representatives,” Brunst said.

Mayor Jenney Rees of Cedar Hills agreed, adding the more representation means more perspectives on what will benefit the county as a whole.

“What’s happening in Lehi is different from what’s happening in Santaquin. The issues Provo faces are different from the issues that Eagle Mountain faces,” she said. “This petition allows us to have that conversation today.”

The change will not increase expenses for residents, said County Treasurer Kim Jackson. Right now, the three commission members work full-time and receive $168,000 in pay and benefits.

The seven council members would work part-time and receive $25,000 with benefits, according to the petition. The mayor is expected to receive $125,000 for the full-time position, while the deputy mayor would receive $75,000 with benefits.

The council could also have the option to hire three assistants for $50,000 each, meaning the total cost for the government would increase from $1.28 to $1.34 per resident.

“We’ve tried to keep it as close as it currently is,” Jackson said. “Cost shouldn’t be a factor when people go to vote on this issue.”

The petition needs 10,200 signatures from the 606,425 residents in Utah County, but managing director Brian Chapman of BCR Political isn’t worried about finding patronage.

“Everybody sees that Utah County has a fundamentally broken form of government,” he said. “I think we’re going to a get a huge amount of support.”

If the petition receives enough signatures, the issue will be added to the November 2019 ballot. To sign the petition, Chapman recommends contacting officials on the Strengthen Utah County website or Facebook page.

“Power comes from the people and it’s time for the people to weigh in,” McKell said.

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