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Herald editorial: Doing away with 3-commissioner Utah County government structure would greatly benefit our area

By Daily Herald Editorial Board - | Jan 12, 2020

The Utah County Commission recently approved a resolution to let voters decide in November whether the county should adopt a mayor-city council form of government, as reported by Daily Herald writer Connor Richards. If passed, the resolution would change the county’s form of government from a three-member commission elected at-large to a five-member, part-time county council elected in geographic districts and a full-time county mayor elected at-large.

We hope that the citizens of Utah County vote to pass this resolution, as we believe the change of government would greatly benefit our area.

Utah County is the second-largest county in the state, and it’s no secret that our growth is skyrocketing — so much, in fact, that we’re on the road to ousting Salt Lake for biggest population numbers. With more and more people filling up our county, three lone commissioners are not nearly enough to adequately serve and represent our demographic.

With our county’s growth comes an increase in diversity. Upgrading our county government to a five-member council and a county mayor would provide more functionality, perspective, representation and flexibility in their service to our community. Diversifying government leaders’ perspectives is of utmost importance to an expanding population such as ours. This aspiration will also be helped by the stipulation that the five councilmembers would each be elected from geographic districts rather than elected at-large. Additionally, changing the positions from full-time to part-time will open the door to a wider variety of potential candidates whose careers and other life factors prohibit them from taking on a full-time elected position.

Protesters of the government change profess two main arguments: They’re afraid increasing the number of people comprising the county government will increase government power and increase government spending. But in reality, though it may sound paradoxical, increasing the number of Utah County officials will actually decrease government power and decrease spending.

The amount of “government power” allocated to Utah County will stay the same whether there are two commissioners or 20. The difference is, the more people, the more the power is divvied up. Recent incidents involving the current three commissioners make it quite obvious that the three wield too much power as individuals, and sometimes put their priorities in front of their constituents’ priorities. As full-time elected officials, some feel the need to protect their careers. In the expanded government structure proposed in the resolution, that power would be more spread out amongst part-time individuals, doing a better job of inhibiting self-centered or corrupt actions.

Additionally, the goal of the resolution is to decrease spending by 34% of what the current commission spends. A large part of that is electing five part-time councilmembers rather than our current three full-time commissioners, who each make six-digit salaries.

In addition to reducing government power and money spent, the resolution would also provide better checks and balances between the county mayor and the councilmembers.

If having so few commissioners in a county our size is abnormal, how did the three-commissioner structure come to be in the first place? According to Utah state law, every new county starts with three commissioners, and then is expected to revisit the structure periodically as time goes on to make adjustments as needed.

Other Utah counties have revisited their county government structure and made changes. For example, Salt Lake County currently has nine councilmembers and a county mayor. While Utah County isn’t quite as large as Salt Lake, we’re not far behind, despite our current county government structure continuing to stay formatted as if we were a little county.

Any major change in local government can sound scary, but in this case, the need for an expansion of our county’s government has been a long time coming.


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