A process has 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’s.
During a work session discussion Tuesday, the Utah County Commission discussed changing the county’s form of government, though no decisions can be made during work sessions.
Changing the form of a county’s government can be initiated in two ways. First, by the current county commission, which can pass a resolution to send the question of changing the form of government to the voters, or secondly, the process can be initiated by voters of Utah County by submitting an intent to gather signatures to the county clerk. Those who filed must then have the required amount of signatures to the county clerk within 180 days, or approximately six months.
A notice of intent to gather signatures was filed with the county clerk earlier this month with the five required co-signers outlined in state law. Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie is one of those five original signers on that notice of intent. If enough signatures are gathered in the required timeline, the issue of changing to a mayor-council form of government would come before Utah County voters.
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.
Ivie said said he strongly supports the form of government outlined on the drafted petition because it separates powers that are currently consolidated with the county commissioners.
“I can attest to the fact that it’s not a personal problem with elected officials,” Ivie said. “It’s a structural problem with the form of government we have because we do not have checks and balances in place. We do not have separation of powers.”
Ivie’s fellow commissioners are not convinced that the petition is the best route.
Commissioner Tanner Ainge initiated the commissioners discussion Tuesday with a draft outlining the formation of a “Good Government Advisory Board,” which was proposed to facilitate research, analysis and recommendations related to a potential modification of Utah County’s form of government.
Ainge said Utah County government’s “fair share of dysfunction” indicated the need to have a discussion about changing the form of government, but that he preferred to study out which option is best for Utah County before acting. Ainge pointed out that the commissioners potentially have a conflict in making decisions about changing the form of government, as some changes such as switching to part-time commissioners, could lower their pay.
“Having an independent board alleviates some of those conflicts,” Ainge said.
“As a citizen, I would feel perhaps frustrated if such a fundamental question is placed on the ballot, and I only have one choice and there was never an opportunity for a public debate or discussion or analysis,” Ainge said.
Ivie said public discussion is important, and he expected that to happen as the signatures begin being collected.
Commission Chair Bill Lee also said he supported forming such a board, because it helped take some of the emotion out of the decision making.
“Looking at the pluses and minuses of all forms of government would be important for us to look at instead of just saying, this is the one, this is the only way,” Lee said.
However, because a petition has already been submitted to the county clerk to change the form of government to a council-mayor form, the commission is limited by state statute from initiating its own process to change the form of government.
Utah County Deputy Attorney Paul Jones told the commission that they could still form a committee as outlined by Ainge to study the issue, although they can’t initiate a new process for changing the form of government. If the petition failed for lack of signatures, the county could be more prepared to recommend a change of government.
Ivie said he feels the petition signers have done their homework on changing the form of government, and he intends to push it forward.
The Weber County Commission approved a resolution in September to put the question to voters as to whether a committee should be formed to study a change of government in the county. That measure will be voted on in November, 2019, according to the Ogden Standard-Examiner.