Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge is resigning from the commission and will accept an appointment to work with Gov. Spencer Cox’s administration.
The governor’s office announced on Wednesday that Ainge had been nominated by Cox to serve on the Governor’s Economic Development Board, a 15-member board that advises staff on the “development, attraction, retention and expansion of businesses, industries and commerce within the state.”
Ainge, who was elected to the commission in 2018 and who previously worked in the private equity and venture capital industry, has been in Charlottesville, Virginia, since February attending military training as a Judge Advocate Officer for the Utah National Guard.
In a statement addressed to the Utah County Board of Commissioners, Ainge announced his resignation and said that his intention when he initially provided notice for his training “was to continue in my role as commissioner on a remote basis.”
“However, the level of responsibility on both fronts has remained quite high and I did not submit the post-arrival notice required by state law,” Ainge told his colleagues in the statement, which was shared with the Daily Herald.
Utah Code states that an elected official taking a temporary absence for military service must “confirm in writing to the political subdivision’s governing body that the official has the ability to carry out the official’s duties” within 10 days after arrival.
As a result, Ainge told his colleagues that he was advised “that a temporary vacancy already exists and must be filled through a special election.”
“Because my wife Heidi and I decided several months ago that I would not seek another term, having the county party hold an election in my absence — only for me to return and vacate the seat again — does not feel like the right path forward,” he wrote. “Instead, I am offering my notice of resignation and pledge to make myself fully available for a smooth and orderly transition.”
Ainge, who returns from military training in May, said in a phone interview with the Daily Herald that there were “a mix of things” that resulted in “letting that deadline slip,” including the level of responsibility of both roles, the opportunity to serve on the governor’s economic board and “other private sector projects that I look forward to getting back involved with.”
“It’s the right time to make this transition,” he said.
In his interview with the Herald, Ainge reflected fondly on his time in county government and listed Provo airport expansion, improvements around Utah Lake, additions to the county’s trail and park system and conservation of Bridal Veil Falls as some of his proudest accomplishments.
“Over the past few years, we’ve been able to completely turn around the county budget, and we’ve never been in a healthier fiscal position than we are today,” said Ainge. “There are a number of long-term projects I will enjoy knowing I had a hand in for years to come.”
But Ainge also said he is excited to move forward and work with the governor and Dan Hemmert, who is executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
“They’ve assembled a board of great business leaders from a variety of sectors. I look forward to contributing however I can to keep Utah at the top of the charts of economic performance, and to help create opportunity here that lifts everyone,” he said.
Ainge has clashed politically with fellow commissioners Bill Lee and Tom Sakievich, including over property taxes, budget cuts and a proposition to transform the three-member commission to a five-member commission and elect a county mayor.
Sakievich replaced Nathan Ivie at the beginning of the year, who Ainge frequently voted alongside and with, often with Lee as the lone dissenting vote.
Ainge declined to comment on whether differences with his colleagues played a role in the resignation.
Ainge’s replacement on the commission will be chosen by the Utah County Republican Party Central Committee, according to Rozan Mitchell, elections director for the county.
During a commission meeting on Wednesday, Lee announced that Ainge had submitted his resignation that morning and said the county will go through a “transition process” to replace him.
The commission will hold a special meeting on Thursday to accept Ainge’s letter of resignation and “approve and sign a letter giving notice to the Utah County Republican Party liaison of the vacancy of Utah County Commission Seat A and inviting the party liaison to submit the name of an individual to fill the vacancy,” according to the agenda for the special session.
Once the Utah County Republican Party Central Committee chooses a nominee, that name will go to the county commission for approval, Lee said, adding, “I would assume that we would just accept it and move forward, but if for some reason it fails and we don’t accept it, then it would go to the governor.
“That’s kind of the process just to kind of give you a heads up,” he said at the beginning of the meeting. “So there’s going to be some time in which we have two commissioners here, and I’ll probably in every meeting have to suspend the rules so that I can second all motions, but that’ll be a process that we go through as we’re working through some of the business that we have for the week.”
In a written statement provided to the Herald on Wednesday evening, Lee said he wished “Tanner, his wife Heidi, and their family the very best in their future endeavors,” adding that “public service can be grueling, and I applaud anyone who puts their name out there for public scrutiny.”
“We have a lot of important issues facing Utah County right now, so it’s important that we have a new commissioner in place quickly as we work on lowering the county property tax rate, making board appointments and administering new grant fundraising,” Lee said. “I look forward to working with the new commissioner, whoever that may be.”