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Herald editorial: Best to let voters decide format of Utah County’s government

By Daily Herald Editorial Board - | Feb 16, 2020

An effort by state lawmakers to require Utah County to adapt a county council format of government with either an elected mayor or appointed manager stalled in committee this week. Although we generally agree with the intent of the proposal, it’s probably best at this point to let the voters decide which government format they want — even if they opt to stick to an increasingly unrepresentative three-person commission that’s unsuitable for a booming population with diverse concerns.

The effort in the Legislature was spearheaded by state Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, who called for the bill in part because personnel issues can immobilize at least one commissioner. That’s 33% of the board and a third of our local representative government.

Brammer correctly notes that this also leads to complications between the county government and cities.

The proposed solution — which was crafted for Utah County even if the bill didn’t mention it by name — called for a county with a population of over 500,000 without a county council to put proposals on the November 2021 ballot for either a mayor-council or manager-council form of county government.

The House Political Subdivisions Committee voted 9-2 Wednesday to hold the bill in committee. The bill isn’t dead as the committee could revisit the issue, but it’s not moving forward for now.

The Legislature’s timing on this proposal is awful. If Utah County voters weren’t going to the polls on this matter, we would fully endorse Brammer’s bill. It appears that many lawmakers were hesitant to advance the bill given the pending election.

The current path to changing the form of county government has too many hurdles to clear, with calls to form appointment councils and study committees. Additionally, a thought-out process can have its momentum sapped by another party’s petition process that can take up months of time even if it fails.

Past state lawmakers created this mess (even if they maybe couldn’t foresee it). It makes perfect sense for today’s lawmakers to amend the process, especially for counties whose populations have far outgrown the initial three-member commission format.

The Legislature’s timing is poor because it really only has 45 days in the first few months of any given year to try to implement changes. This year isn’t great because there’s a pending election. Next year won’t be so good either because Utah County’s voters will have spoken one way or the other.

Although the Legislature is certainly willing to capriciously override the will of the voters, we would encourage lawmakers to stay their hand for at least a few years if Utah County opts to retain the three-member commission.

For now, the focus should rightly be on the November election. Parties for changing Utah County’s government to a more cost-effective, representative and efficient part-time county council with a full-time county mayor should hone their message. Those who should wish to maintain the status quo should do the same so that voters will be able to make an informed decision at the polls.

Ultimately, the Utah County government is supposed to represent the people. It makes perfect sense to let the voters have final say on the best format to represent them.

On to November.

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