Utah County Convention Center - Provo - Stock Photo: 01

The Utah Valley Convention Center is pictured Wednesday, April 18, 2018, in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

The Provo Municipal Council passed a resolution accompanied by Mayor Michelle Kaufusi’s signature Tuesday supporting a council-mayor form of government for Utah County.

By passing the resolution the council is hoping to put pressure on an initiative that, as of Tuesday morning, was in question.

Tuesday, prior to the Provo council work session, Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee and four other Utah County residents, including former commissioner Steve White, Eagle Mountain Mayor Tom Westmoreland, former secretary of the Utah County Republican Party Heidi Balderree and Heather Williamson submitted an initiative seeking to petition for an alternate form of government to the Utah County Clerk/Auditor’s office.

The alternate plan would increase the commission from three to five part-time commissioners. By filing the initiative, moving the form of government change forward on the November ballot appears to be stymied.

Cliff Strachan, executive director of the Provo City Council, said, ”If mayors and city councils were to stand up, it might put some pressure on Commissioner Lee to submit the recommended mayor-council form to the voters.”

Councilman Dave Knecht said, “By passing this (alternate plan) it says we haven’t changed.”

Kaufusi has served on the Good Governance Advisory Board that is studying various forms of government and what would work best for Utah County.

“We put in hours and hours,” Kaufusi said. “We went throughout the valley listening to residents. I feel like we’ve have the rug pulled out from underneath us.”

Kaufusi said the board was given a three-month window to do what needed to be done.

Commission conundrum

Lee and the other petitioners will have until Jan. 9, 2020, to garner approximately 11,000 certified registered voter’s signatures from throughout Utah County, according to Utah County Attorney David Leavitt.

The news that a new initiative had been filed was given to the other commissioners about a half hour before their weekly meeting started Tuesday, according to Commissioner Tanner Ainge. Ainge is accusing Lee of filibustering.

Lee said a number of people had contacted him about going through a process to file an alternative initiative. These people had to wait until the July 8 deadline for the original mayor-council petitioners to gather signatures. No signatures were turned in, according to Lee.

“I read through what (the board) had to say,” Lee said Tuesday. “Their work wasn’t complete. More discussion needs to be had.”

County governments can be changed in one of two ways. Either the current governmental body can place it on the ballot, or citizens can place it on the ballot by gathering a required amount of signatures.

All future actions are frozen and it is now on the shoulders of the petitioners for the alternative plan to get the needed signatures for it to go on the 2020 ballot, according to Leavitt.

There are three scenarios of what can happen:

  1. Signatures are gathered and the petition fails. The three-commissioner form of government would stay intact for a minimum of five more years.
  2. The alternative option passes. The county would have five commissioners. The form of government cannot be changed for another five years.
  3. The new initiative doesn’t get the signatures. Then, the commissioners could try again for a mayor-council initiative.

Leavitt said he favors taking a longer view. The county would have to be put in districts, financials would have to be in place and much more for a mayor-council form of government to function properly

Advisory board chairman Cameron Martin was caught off guard by the alternate plan, and said “its political theater — pass the popcorn.”

“We have the ability to get it done,” Martin said.

Martin said after many late hours studying the issue, he is adamant that things need to change based on the information gathered.

According to attorney Paul Jones of the county’s civil division, the initiative could be stopped if it is found to be submitted as an obstruction to the recommended mayor-council form.

The commissioners were supposed to vote Tuesday to move forward on the board’s proposal and towards putting the mayor-council form on November’s ballot.

Commissioners Nathan Ivie and Tanner Ainge approved of the advisory board’s suggested mayor-council format.

History

Utah County government leaders have made changing the form of government an on-again-off-again point of discussion for a number of years.

On Jan. 29, the Utah County Commissioners announced that a process had been initiated to change Utah County’s form of government from its current three-person commission to a council-mayor form of government similar to Salt Lake County.

State code allows for four types of county government: a three-person commission, an expanded commission of five to seven members, a county mayor-council form, and a council-manager form. Under the current commission form, members have both administrative and legislative powers.

The job to vet the forms of government landed on shoulders of members of the newly formulated Utah County Good Governance Advisory Board. It included 15 individuals from the political, business, academic and general public arenas.

According to Martin, many hours were spent listening to presentations, studying costs, talking to residents and vetting the whole issue on what would be best for the burgeoning county.

On May 14, the advisory board held an open meeting to hear public comments related to possibly changing the form of Utah County government.

Overwhelmingly, those in attendance, including almost every mayor in Utah County, said they believe the current form of Utah County government needs to change.

On June 21, the board presented a recommendation to the county commission at a special three-hour meeting.

The board made six recommendations, the main one being that the form of government be changed from its current, three-person commission to a seven-person council with a mayor and a chief administrative officer.

Five of those council members would be elected in geographic districts, while the other two would be elected at-large in the county. A full-time mayor would also be elected, according to the recommendation. A full-time chief administrative officer would be hired.

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

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