LetOremVote to petition for change in Orem form of government

LetOremVote proposed the city be divided into seven voting districts with one council members representing each district.  Courtesy LetOremVote

Now that Orem’s City Council has moved the Palos Verdes zoning referendum to this November’s ballot, the political issues committee LetOremVote is ready to file its next round of petitions. This time, it’s to change Orem’s form of government.

LetOremVote will file for petition on the change of government Monday, according to Mark Tippets, chairman of the committee.

The group would like to have Orem move to a strong mayor/council format like Provo, rather than a city manager/council.

“The reasons for filing are equal representation,” Tippets said. “It costs less to run for public office. It encourages debate through the local levels, and it will help to eliminate special interest money although this will take some new rules in the Orem City Code.”

Tippets added, “A full-time mayor is accountable to the citizens in lieu of an unelected city manager. There are pros and cons to all forms but in this process the mayor can veto budget items he may feel would be expensive.”

The three-page petition indicates Orem would have a full-time mayor with seven council members, one representing each district. The committee has provided a draft of a map of Orem divided into seven districts.

Unlike Provo, the committee proposes to have just the voting districts and no at-large council members. The districting limits voters to choose representatives just from their district.

“Under Orem’s current model each resident gets to vote on each seat of the City Council,” said Steven Downs, city spokesman. “Under the proposed districting, Orem citizens would only be able to have a voice in electing one of their City Council members.”

Downs added, “I believe one of the biggest benefits of our current model is that every council member is accountable to every citizen and not just a small portion of the city.”

Councilman Sam Lentz is opposed to the change.

“Currently Orem residents can vote for each council seat,” Lentz said. “Only getting to vote for a single council seat would give each voter much less control over who represents them in city government.”

Because this is an initiative there only needs to be 3,600 registered voter signatures on the petition, and those petitioning have until April 15, 2019, to get them.

Tippets said that since January the political issues committee, known at LetOremVote as registered with the state of Utah, has held several focus groups with people around the city. Those discussions were a catalyst for the petition.

“The transition would take several years,” Tippets said. However according to the petition, wording change could come as early as January 2020 or as late as January 2024 depending on a number of factors.

Richard Manning, director of Orem’s administrative services, gave a rough estimate of the initial costs to change the form of government and what costs would be in perpetuity.

A full-time mayor’s wages and benefits would be between $150,000 and $200,000 a year. Council wages would go up, but how much would have to be determined.

Manning said there would need to be an addition of new employees including a deputy mayor/CAO position. In the new council offices, there would be an executive director, full-time administrative assistant, and at least two other full-time positions for community outreach and internal operations.

“In a city manager form of government, like any business or private organization, the CEO can be let go immediately if he or she isn’t managing well,” Downs said. “When an elected official is the CEO, you may have to wait four years before you can make that change.”

That’s not the biggest issue, according to Manning. Right now the city building has no place to put a whole new department. He indicated the city might have to purchase back from the state the Justice Court building on the city campus. The state purchased the building in 1994 for $945,000. In 2010, Orem opened the Justice Court and became tenants of the state.

“It’s by no means an efficient way to run,” Manning said. He added that because these wages and new office expenses would be permanent, the city would most likely have to come up with more than an estimated extra $1 million to add to the yearly budget. It would most likely be generated by a city property tax increase.

“This is (city manager/council) I think the most popular forum of government in the U.S.,” said Councilman Tom Macdonald. “It’s like having a board for directors and a hired CEO.”

“Orem’s form of government keeps politics out of the administration of city business,” Downs said. “Services like paving roads, engineering projects, and police and fire services are best performed when overseen by trained professionals, not elected officials.”

Downs noted that Orem’s elected officials set policy and direction, create law, pass the budget, and ensure that the professional staff is meeting the needs of the community.

“When both work together to serve residents, it is a great partnership,” he said.

Daily Herald reporter Genelle Pugmire can be contacted at gpugmire@heraldextra.com, (801) 344-2910, Twitter @gpugmire

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