It looks like Utah County will definitely be voting on changing its form of government — it’s now just a question of when.
The Utah County Good Governance Advisory Board presented a recommendation to the county commission at a special, three-hour meeting Thursday afternoon.
The board made six recommendations, the main one being that the form of government be changed from its current, three-person commission to a seven-person council with a mayor and a chief administrative officer.
The board was formed earlier this year by the Utah County Commission to study the issue of changing government form, after the process to gather signatures to put the issue on the ballot had already begun.
The issue to change the form of government can be put on the ballot either by a vote of the commission, or by a petition that gathers a required number of signatures.
Over the course of the past few months, the board looked at issues like accountability, checks and balances, transparency and separation of powers in deciding which form of government to recommend the commission put on the ballot.
The board’s recommendation was to change to a seven-member, part-time county council. Five of those council members would be elected in geographic districts, while the other two would be elected at large in the county. A full-time mayor would also be elected, according to the recommendation. A full-time chief administrative officer would be hired.
The board had also considered one of the other options for changing forms of government, that of a council-manager form. While several people on the board saw strong merits in that form of government, they also saw challenges in public perception in having an non-elected manager at the county’s helm.
“I think everyone following this issue sees that the time is now to change to a mayor-council form, and that it’s really inevitable,” said Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge, who was instrumental in forming the advisory board. “The dialogue is now how do we do this, and what is the right timing and implementation?”
The board also heard from several local government professionals who explained that the presence of a professional manager makes a difference. The position allows a mayor to focus on the larger picture of governing instead of many smaller minutia, said Rex Facer, vice chair of the GGAB.
“Our recommendation is to hire a professionally trained and skilled chief administrative officer,” Facer said.
The most hotly debated of the board’s recommendations had to do with timeline, according to the GGAB chair Cameron Martin. While there were questions about the timing of getting the question on the 2019 ballot to be implemented in 2020, the board ultimately ended up recommending that the commission put the issue on the 2019 ballot.
“It came down to the fact that the advisory board feels there is an urgent need to act,” Martin said. “And therefore doubled down on this recommendation (to put it on the ballot in 2019).”
The board also recommended that the commission form nonpartisan committees to determine districting for the five council seats as well as compensation for the new positions. The board did not have time to nail down specifics of compensation, Martin said.
The final recommendation to the commission was that they engage the public to help educate them, no matter what the commission ultimately decides to do.
However, the commission can only act if those who filed the petition and are gathering signatures to put the issue to the ballot drop their petition. Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie, one of the original signers on the petition, said he personally would be willing to drop the petition in order for the commission to put the issue to the ballot because it’s a cleaner and easier process with a better method for making needed alterations.
Utah County Attorney David Leavitt said he personally believes the question ought to be submitted to voters, adding that no one had presented him a compelling enough reason for why it needed to be done in 2019, which Leavitt said could result in an ill-thought out, rushed, ballot proposal.
“The Utah County government will not fall off the rails if we wait to put it on the ballot in 2020,” Leavitt said.
Utah County Clerk Amelia Powers also expressed that it would require additional resources for her office to put the issue on the ballot in 2019 and implement it in 2020. Additional costs to put the issue to the ballot would be in the neighborhood of $150,000 to $200,000, and exact district boundaries would have to be nailed down by Dec. 1 in order to comply with deadlines.
“Whatever is decided, we’ll make it work,” Powers said. “But we wanted to outline for you the logistics that we are up against.”