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Herald editorial: Commissioner's undermining of Utah County's exploration into form of government proves need for change

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First commission meeting of year 02

From right, Utah County Commissioners Bill Lee, Nathan Ivie, and Tanner Ainge are pictured during the commission meeting at the Utah County Administration Building on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, in Provo.

We’ve followed the Utah County Commission more closely than arguably a majority of residents in the county. It’s one of the beautiful parts of our business, that we seek to stay informed on the happenings of our governmental bodies and the elected public servants.

What took place this past week with the commission is just one exposed example in the line of many, many incidents of self interest that have occurred in the last decade. These incidents are enabled by the current form of county government that allows three elected officials to be both the executive and legislative body — sometimes to one’s own advantage. The full-time three-person commission is fraught with issues that cannot adequately and transparently respond to the county’s maturing state.

Let us recap the swelling of this change. Issues with the form of county government has been more closely questioned in the last 1.5 years, particularly after dozens of officials called for former Commissioner Greg Graves to resign after questionable behavior, to which he refused. A petition was filed in January noticing the intent to gather signatures to put on the ballot a change of government to a mayor-council form to go before voters. One of the leaders of that petition was Commissioner Nathan Ivie. In January, the county had yet to pursue passing any resolution to put the question to voters.

“I can attest to the fact that it’s not a personal problem with elected officials,” Ivie said then. “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.”

Following the January petition, the Utah County Commission moved to form a volunteer “Good Government Advisory Board” to facilitate research, analysis and recommendations to the modification of the form of government, which could be ready to present at the end of the January petition’s filing period should it fail. Ivie worked with the other two commissioners to pursue this.

Tanner Ainge and Bill Lee supported the formation of this board, with Lee believing it would take emotion out of 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 in January.

Since that time the commission formed a board, which it selected Cameron Martin (VP of university relations at UVU) to head and charged it (made up of 13+ community leaders) with making a recommendation by May 31. The recommendation of the Utah County Good Governance Board, or UCGGB, was a change to a full-time mayor with seven part-time council members, five elected in geographic districts and two at-large.

This recommendation was supported by the majority of mayors in Utah County, including individual support from Orem and Provo mayors. In the June 6 Utah County Council of Governments meeting, of which is comprised of the three commissioners and every mayor of each Utah County city, a resolution was passed by the majority in support of the UCGGB recommendation of pursuing a change to a mayor-council form of county government.

You are now caught up to this past week, when Lee revealed he and a select few others banded together to start yet another petition (following the end of the January petition and the commission’s preparations to approve the Good Governance Board’s recommendation this week) that would undo and lay waste to the months of collaborative efforts made thus far from the commission, county attorneys, county clerks and the volunteers on the Good Governance Board, which Lee approved and urged to take place.

Lee’s new petition seeks to obtain signatures in support of a five-member part-time commission instead, despite the research of the UCGGB and majority support of all mayors. This new petition prevents the commission from voting on the UCGGB’s recommendations for six months, missing the November 2019 general election ballot, regardless of whether the petition receives sufficient signatures or not.

In Tuesday’s commission meeting, Lee demanded he should receive the same courtesy as Commissioner Ivie’s previous January petition. And yet when Ivie filed a petition nothing was actively being done by the county to investigate a new form of government, and government time and resources weren’t actively deployed in a goal charged by the same commission.

Commissioner Tanner Ainge leveled, “This ... the timing of this does not feel like a genuine petition. I have real questions about whether this is a good faith petition. Because it was immediately filed today, because we were about to act, to place the ordinance from the Good Governance advisory board on it. They know this blocks the commission’s path.”

Lee claims his petition is a better option than the recommendation of the Good Governance Board, as well as the Provo Municipal Council who voted to support it on Tuesday as well.

Utah County government needs checks and balances for this very reason.

Lee’s petition does not include that, and the current lack of checks and balances has allowed current and former commissioners to pursue what’s best in one’s self interest rather than what’s best for the county and taxpayers.

Lee defended his throwing a hand grenade in the Good Governance Board process as a way to circumvent others’ “agendas” who might have planned to run for certain positions so they could prepare this coming year. “If you change it (the form of government) so you can do it, it becomes an agenda,” Lee said Tuesday in the commission meeting.

By this line of thinking, Lee has made his own agenda clear — he prevented the vote on the recommendation from the commission’s Good Governance Board, and by doing so he enables himself to fill his position through his originally elected date, so it cannot be disrupted by the change in form of government and he can continue to collect his $120,000+ annual salary.

Preservation at its finest.

What took place this week is yet again one of many, many examples of how the current form of county government enables personal gain and opens opportunities for corruption; something changing to a new form of government that includes a separation of the executive and legislative body would help prevent.

Regardless of whether the signatures are obtained or not for the ballot, Lee achieves undermining the work of the commission, county clerks, county attorneys and a dozen community members who sacrificed their time and resources to volunteer in the Good Governance Board in the good faith that the commission would value their time and use it constructively.

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