The Utah County Good Governance Advisory Board held an open meeting Thursday to hear public comments related to possibly changing the form of Utah County government, which currently exists in the form of three county commissioners.
The meeting was attended by state Rep. Kay J. Christofferson, R-Lehi, state Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Pleasant Grove, with U.S. Rep. John Curtis, R-Provo, weighing in on the issue via video conference at the start of the meeting.
“I think this (decision) is so incredibly important for the county,” Curtis said. “I think we’re going to look back on this and say, how on earth did we ever get by with that other form of government?”
Several mayors representing different cities were in attendance as well, although only a handful of Utah County residents not affiliated with a governing body attended the meeting.
Overwhelmingly, those in attendance said they believe the current form of Utah County government needs to change.
“There are no checks and balances,” said Brian Chapman, director of the Strengthen Utah County Political Issues Committee. “There is no balance of power.”
The changes that could be made are limited by state code. The options boil down to: keep commissioners, but increase their number; elect a seven-member council with an appointed (not elected) manager; or elect a mayor with a seven-member council.
Brammer said he favors the idea of an unelected manager, in the hopes that a manager who isn’t elected wouldn’t be swayed by political bias. However, he claimed to see value in the idea of electing a county mayor as well.
“I lean toward the manager side, but I would say this — if we end up with the mayor side, I can think of several great mayors in our community that likely would be candidates ... and would do a great job,” he said.
Ultimately, Brammer expressed that both options could work, or not work.
“Either mayor or manager can end in disaster or be a beautiful and well-functioning thing,” he said. “No matter what happens, I’m in favor of a change.”
Christofferson and others who commented seemed to prefer the idea of an elected mayor, believing that somebody who is elected has made certain promises to people and will therefore be held accountable to those promises.
If Utah County residents decided they would prefer a mayor, he or she would be elected along with seven council members. The mayor and two of the council members would be “at-large” officials, meaning they wouldn’t represent specific parts of Utah County, rather the county as a whole. The remaining five council members would represent Utah County districts.
Half of the two-hour meeting consisted of going over a study conducted by the Office of New Urban Mechanics Utah Valley, directed by UVU professor Luke Peterson. The study analyzed different county governments across the U.S. and found 10 counties that were similar to Utah County based on population, size, percentage of rural vs. urban, growth rate, and geographic and political context.
In interviews conducted with county representatives from Idaho, Arizona, Oregon, Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Florida and Kansas, across the board people said they viewed having a larger, elected council as more positive and beneficial to their counties, citing things like better representation and increased political participation.
The Utah County Good Governance Advisory Board will make its recommendation in a meeting next week on whether or not to put changing the Utah County government on the ballot for residents to vote on this year in November, when they elect city representatives. More information about that meeting, and the reports and studies conducted by the board, can be found on its website, https://www.utahcountyfuture.com.