The Utah County Commission unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday establishing a board to research changing Utah County’s form of government, though such a board will not have the power to change a current plan petitioners are working to get on November’s ballot.
The newly-approved advisory board’s purpose is to “facilitate research, analysis, public outreach and provide recommendations to the Board of Commissioners related to a potential modification of Utah County’s form of government.” The board has until May 31 to make a final recommendation to the commission including a report of findings and an analysis of public support.
While Utah County’s three commissioners voted to form the advisory board unanimously, petition sponsors plan to move ahead with a plan to ask voters to change Utah County’s form of government to a mayor-council form.
According to Utah law, a county government can be changed by a vote of the people, and the question can be sent to the ballot either by the county commission or by a petition process. Options for changing the form of county government include a mayor-council form, mayor-manager form, or an expanded commission with more than three members.
Utah County’s three-person commission, which combines legislative and administrative duties into the same position, has been under fire from petitioners as not having appropriate checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches.
“We are actively moving forward with the process,” said petition sponsor Brian Chapman. “We believe the time is now to change the government.”
State law prohibits the county commission from starting its own process until the petition process concludes, but it doesn’t prohibit them from studying the issues.
The limitation of both methods for changing the form of government, said Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge, is that at no point are the voters presented with all the options available to them, but rather with an already-selected plan outlining a specific form of government change. Though an advisory board can’t change the plan the petitioners aim to put before the voters, Commissioner Tanner Ainge said it can create a public education process surrounding the issue.
“I see this advisory board as an asset to the public at large and to the commission,” Ainge said. “It provides an independent body that’s going to conduct a thorough process, allow for a lot of public engagement so when it comes time for the commission or public to make a decision on this issue, there will be not only the body of knowledge compiled in the final report, but also the chance for input ... and the credibility that process brings.”
Ainge, who placed the ordinance on Tuesday’s agenda, said while he was campaigning, he learned many pros and cons about each potential form of government in the county, and thinks it’s important that there is a public process so that Utah County voters can make a decision about the form of government change with their “eyes wide open to challenges.”
The advisory board would be expected to analyze optimal composition of the legislative and executive functions, compensation structure, geographic districting, budgetary impact and the optimal implementation timeline. The ordinance outlines that the advisory board should hold public meetings and debates, interview current and former county commissioners, use polling or survey data, and do a historical review of counties in Utah which have been through a change of government process.
The county commission selected Cameron Martin, the vice president of university relations at Utah Valley University, to serve as chair of the advisory board, and will select a vice chair at a later date.
Martin will now be tasked with nominating additional names to be appointed by a majority of the commission. It could consist of either five, seven or nine members and has to include a current Utah County mayor, a state senator or representative whose district is in Utah County, and residents of northern, central and southern Utah County.
“I am honored that the County Commission has placed their trust in me by delegating such an important question to this Advisory Board and appointing me to serve as Chair,” Martin said in a press release. “I view it as my responsibility to live up to that trust and maintain the independence and credibility of this board by conducting a thorough and transparent process.”
Utah County commissioner Nathan Ivie is one of the original signers on that petition, which started gathering signatures to put a plan to switch over to a mayor-council form on the ballot more than a week ago, with support from multiple county and city leaders.
Ivie said he supports the mayor-council form of government because he believes it’s the only option that provides checks and balances as well as direct accountability to the people, but expressed support for the formation of the advisory board Tuesday. While still supportive of what the petition is trying to accomplish, Ivie said he’s hoping for dialogue to facilitate the best possible outcome.
“What I hope to see from this board are suggestions moving forward that help enhance (the petition plan),” Ivie said.
Ivie said he hopes the advisory board will come back with information on districting in the future and staffing recommendations.
“You make better decisions with good information,” Ivie said.
While the petitioners cannot make major changes to their petition once they started gathering signatures, Chapman said they will be receptive to adjustments for more minor details that the advisory board may come back with.
“If we are talking about modifying salaries or other things like that, we would definitely be interested, we’ll be more than willing to have that conversation,” Chapman said.
Commissioner Bill Lee also voiced his support of the advisory board, even though the petitioners “hold the front seat” and aren’t required to make any changes to their plan.
“If there’s another form of government with better representation ... why would we not go that direction?” Lee said.