First female Utah County commissioner pushes policy and strollers
Snuggling newborn lambs, milking goats and hiking with her family is what Amelia Powers Gardner does. In her spare time, she’s also been known to put heavy cracks in glass ceilings.
Gardner has been a frequent trailblazer in Utah County and she hopes that has a trickle-down affect for other women.
She grew up in Provo and chose to make Utah County her home long-term, to raise her family. Gardner loves her home and wants to make sure it remains an ideal place to live and raise a family.
A longtime representative for Caterpillar Inc. — the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives — Gardner moved home to Utah in 2011 as a representative of the corporation.
In 2017, after several large mistakes from the Utah County Clerk/Auditor’s office during the primary elections to replace U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, including 67,000 Republican ballots being mailed to non-Republicans and Gov. Gary Herbert calling it the “epicenter of dysfunction,” Gardner decided to run for the job herself.
Just like that, Gardner replaced her farm boots with campaign shoes and ran in 2018. She received 74% of the vote at the Utah County Republican Convention, thus saving her from a primary. That November, she was elected as the first woman Clerk/Auditor in Utah County.
“I was treated really well,” Gardner said. “At the time, I was the only woman elected official.”
Following the election, Gardner said she took the time to meet with every employee to figure out what they like and didn’t like about the office.
“The women didn’t feel respected,” Gardner said. “I was surprised when the men said they felt women weren’t respected.”
She helped turn around the elections office and streamlined the vote-by-mail process in the county.
When Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge resigned in March of this year, Gardner submitted her name as a candidate for the seat.
Gardner was one of nine Republicans running to fill the vacancy — and the only woman. After multiple rounds of ranked-choice voting, Gardner prevailed with about 55% of delegate votes, 204 of 373.
Again, Gardner put a hefty crack in the Utah County “glass ceiling.” In an area populated with male leadership and few female voices, she became the first woman to sit full time on the Utah County Commission.
Despite all her work as a public servant, there’s far more to Gardner than her civic duty.
Of all the roles and titles Gardner has earned, her favorite one is being a mother to six children — they are her hobby and life.
She believes that having those mothering skills, and a feminine viewpoint, has been a positive for her roles in Utah County politics.
“When COVID first hit, we (elected county officials) were looking at CARES Act money and how it should be utilized,” Gardner said. “I was the only woman in the room.”
When she was asked her opinion she told the officials they will need a social worker, something that never crossed the other’s minds. She noted there were 80,000 higher education students in the area. Those 18-year-olds shared rooms. How would they quarantine?
“There will be some in the dorms that will be scared,” she said. “We need those teenagers to be cared for.”
Looking back at the meeting, she said, “It’s important to have a mother in the room.” Wherever she has gone, Gardner has seen a need for people to help one another. She noted that in this area, 50% are woman and many are single parents who would need help and support too.
“As the first woman commissioner, I bring a different perspective,” Gardner said. “I see them (the other commissioners) being supportive.”
Most recently, Gardner had 100% support on a resolution to change the Utah County human resources codes on personnel who are breast feeding.
Her resolution provided a designated room and extra time for employees who either nursed or expressed milk, and the extra breaks to do so as people’s bodies dictated. The resolution passed unanimously with vocal positive support.
Gardner is not the only elected woman in the county, and that has brought her a crop of new friends and associates. Vineyard Mayor Julie Fullmer is extremely impressed with Gardner’s strength not only as an elected official but as a mother too.
“Amelia has been a remarkable addition to the county. Her approach is transparent and thoughtful. She carries a mother’s love and a strategic leader’s driven vision in the same step,” Fullmer said. “She paints a picture for moms and dads to see their capacity for service and family. This balance brings perspective that is going to strengthen Utah County as the family-friendly vibrant community that has made us so successful.”
Fullmer added she is looking forward to Gardner successfully completing her strategic vision for the county.
“A month into office, she produced a regional planning meeting which delved into the needs of local municipalities to help create a cohesive county plan. This is what Utah County and its association of governments has been asking for,” Fullmer said. “She listened and is propelling it forward. It’s essential as we face the incoming growth. We must plan for the way we want to see our future shaped and Amelia recognizes that need and is collaboratively and deftly shaping that vision.”
“She’s incredibly in tune and is there and wanting to listen. We need more people who lead out in that manner.”
Gardner also believes that a deep dive into how county leadership should look is important and the area continues to grow.
“The county grew 3% in 2020,” she said. “Last month we voted to add more positions to the commission’s staff.”
Gardner is also concerned about affordable housing options in the county, looking to her mother’s situation as an example. Her mother is a widow on a fixed income. She has children and grandchildren who would like to live here. Gardner believes in focusing on the major, human issues, not specific smaller questions like the price of a gallon of milk.
“I look at things differently. My fellow commissioners look at the balance sheet. I look and if we can keep her (her mother) children in the county, they’ll buy the gallon of milk for her.”
She noted that some of those open fields being turned into subdivisions aren’t just for people coming from California, but for the children and grandchildren who are born and raised here and want to stay.
So for Gardner, the reading and the planning never quite stops; the source material just switches. She spends her time reading board books or the Bible, watching “Monsters Inc.” and making the decision to be with her kids. Being in county government, Gardner said she is at home more nights than when she was in the jet-setting corporate world.
While she has always been the breadwinner of the home, she says she doesn’t spend her weekends running triathlons, but walking with a stroller.
“I’m a farmer. We drink goat’s milk. So once a week, I go to the farm and milk goats,” Gardner said. “I also like to go camping and off-roading with my six kids (ages 15-2).”
The perspective of a woman, of a mother gives more points of view at the table and that means we’re all better off, she added.