A bill that would require Utah County to change its form of government from a three-member commission to either an executive-council or manager-council did not make it out of committee on Wednesday.
House Bill 257 would require all counties in Utah with populations of 500,000 or more to switch to a form of government that separates executive and legislative powers. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, said the bill was targeted at Utah County specifically, which is the only county in the state with a population over 500,000 that currently has a commission form of government.
“We have had substantial problems with the Utah County Commission, where there have been commissioners that have been rendered essentially ineffective through various personal issues and otherwise,” Brammer said on Wednesday. “And that has created a lot of problems, particularly in the relationships between cities and counties.”
The House Political Subdivisions Committee voted 9-2 to hold the bill in committee, meaning it will not move on to the House floor but could be discussed again in committee at a later date.
Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said he agreed with Brammer that a three-person commission was not suitable for a county as large as Utah County but felt that the decision to switch forms of government should not be forced upon voters.
This November, Utah County residents will vote on an optional plan to switch from a three-member commission to a full-time mayor and a five-member, part-time council. Dunnigan said a bill like H.B. 257 shouldn’t be considered until that vote takes place.
“I agree with you,” said Dunnigan, referring the Brammer’s position that a three-member commission is problematic for Utah County. “But Utah County voters may disagree.”
Brammer defended his bill and said it is universally accepted that separating legislative and executive powers is a good thing. He pointed out that a Utah County Good Governance Advisory created to study the change in government question recommended that the county transition away from its current three-member commission.
Cedar Hills Mayor Jenny Rees and Mountainland Association of Governments Executive Director Andrew Jackson were both present in Wednesday’s committee meeting and said they supported the bill.
Brammer added that “there have been efforts within Utah County to defeat that (change in government) process by those who would wish to not have a decrease in their power ... This has become a real problem in Utah County.
A citizen petition filed last July that failed to get the required number of signatures would have put the question of whether Utah County’s three-member commission should expand to five members on a ballot this November. Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee was one of the sponsors of that petition, who said he opposes switching to a mayor-led government because “it’s a consolidation of power into one person.”
Last Thursday, Lee said he was confused why the Legislature was considering a bill to require the county to change forms of government when voters would make that choice later this year.
“I don’t understand why we’re trying to guide it or skew the perspective with it when we’re in that process right now trying to see which way it goes,” he said. “I think we should go through that process first.”
Commissioner Nathan Ivie, who has advocated for the county switching forms of government, said on Wednesday he supports Brammer’s bill.
If passed by the Legislature, the bill would require the county commission to propose two optional plans, either a mayor-council or manager-council form of government, and place them on a ballot in November 2021.
Brammer said this is different than the ballot question voters will consider this year because it gives multiple options and doesn’t allow for voters to choose to keep the current form of government.
“As opposed to ‘choose (yes) or no,’ this is ‘choose A or B,’” Brammer said.