The very first column I wrote for the Daily Herald when I left office was a call to change the type of government in Utah county to a mayor-council form.
I still think this is a good idea but am slightly disappointed that the Good Governance Advisory Board which was put in place to make a recommendation to the Utah County Commissioners, has recommended such a large expansion of our government. If our government is changed from the current three-member commission to a mayor and seven-member council, it will likely result in a much larger budget for the mayor and council.
In the 2019 Utah County budget, the allocation for the commission is $1,041,885, but don’t be surprised to see that amount go dramatically higher over the next few years to accommodate the seven part-time council members and mayor, along with the staff to support them.
Each part-time new member of the council is scheduled to earn a salary of $26,000 annually, the full-time mayor is scheduled to earn a salary of $130,000. While not mentioned, these positions would likely come with some benefits as well. I like the idea of a mayor-council form of government because up to this point the three-member commission has had legislative and executive duties. This is not good governance.
Our founders envisioned three branches of government, each with distinct and different duties. It is not healthy for one branch to do both legislative and administrative duties.
The expansion in size of government is the rub for me. I believe a five-member council with a mayor strikes the right balance for our county at this time. If our county keeps growing, then we have the option to change it down the road.
I applaud the GGAB for trying to create a good government solution by recommending a mayor-council form of government that begins with a budget for the governing body. It’s less than the budget for the current three-member full-time commissioners by $48,000, not including benefits or support staff.
The area that is not spelled out and worries me is the staff and support component. A good question to be asked is if each council member has a full-time staff person to support them. I believe that the mayor will and should have adequate support, as this is the full-time job to manage a fast-growing county. However we need to monitor the mayor’s office for unnecessary expansion. Unless this is regularly checked, it will probably grow out of control.
Salt Lake County’s form of government used to have three commissioners and when they changed to a mayor-council government in 2000, they created nine council seats along with the mayor. The mayor and council can both grow more or less depending who the elected officials are and their political bent.
I believe in a strong executive branch, that is one of the reasons I supported the mayor-council form of government rather than the five-member council that Commissioner Bill Lee is advocating for. He and I agree in the size of government but he seems to not be in favor of an executive branch in Utah County.
This diminishing approach to the executive branch is far too common in Utah County. I have seen in my city and many other cities, a situation where city councils strip the Mayor’s office of important duties referenced in the state code. I believe that the Mayor’s office should have broad administrative powers that are separate from the council.
The city council is a law-making body, the mayor enforces the laws created by the council. The mayor, with the help of a finance committee, should create the budget and the council should then make amendments or approve the budget. I believe that every city employee should ultimately report to the mayor through proper chains of command and policies and procedures. Nothing is more sacrosanct than taxpayer dollars and the mayor should ultimately oversee the spending of the budget. Employee and budget policies can be delegated by the mayor, but not stripped away because the council doesn’t like what the mayor is doing. Elections resolve disputes between mayors and councils not hamstringing the job of a mayor over a disagreement.