Q and A on Changing the County Form of Government

I’ve received several questions on my support for changing the form of government, so am including those questions and my responses here.

Q: Why do we need to change the form of government?

A: Our current form of government consists of three commissioners that hold both executive and legislative powers. As a county of approximately 600,000 residents, we need a form of government that provides a separation of powers and checks and balances. Additionally, with our current size and projected growth, we need regional representation. There are different challenges that exist in the various parts of the county and having additional representation from throughout the county means we will have more ideas and perspectives at the table as decisions are being made to address the issues that come with growth.

Q: Why does regional representation matter?

A: Regional representation means that the issues that matter to our area will receive attention. A good example for Cedar Hills is Canyon Road. This road is owned by the county and we’ve long advocated for necessary upgrades and maintenance needed to make this road safe for drivers as well as bicyclists and pedestrians. It is a major collector road connecting two state roads and serves as an entrance to American Fork Canyon. Unfortunately, we’ve never had an advocate on the County Commission for addressing the issues. This is one of many that can be better addressed through regional representation. Having elected officials who are accountable to specific regions in addition to the county as a whole means that smaller cities such as ours won’t continue to be ignored.

Q: Why do you support seven council members? Why not five?

A: Having seven council members means the county will be divided into five districts with representation from each district, and two council members elected at-large. We currently have approximately 600,000 residents and are considered a county of the second class. We are expected to be over 700,000 within the next couple of years, at which time we will be reclassified as a county of the first class. A 2017 Research Brief issued by the Kem C. Gardner Institute (https://gardner.utah.edu/wp-content/uploads/Projections-Brief-Final.pdf) shows us being at 1.6 million by 2065, just slightly behind where Salt Lake County will be at that time. With our current size and with the rapid growth we are experiencing, I don’t believe dividing the county into three districts provides adequate regional representation. That is approximately 200,000 residents per district. For reference, our state senate districts are divided so that each represents approximately 100,000 people and our state house districts are divided so that each represents approximately 40,000 people. Most of the other counties in Utah that have gone to an expanded form of government have chosen to go with the seven-council member option. Here are those details:

  • Salt Lake County (1.1 million residents) – 9 council members
  • Cache County (124,000 residents) – 7 council members
  • Grand County (9,600 residents) – 7 council members
  • Morgan County (12,000 residents) – 7 council members
  • Wasatch County (32,000 residents) – 7 council members
  • Summit County (41,000 residents) – 5 council members
  • Tooele County (67,000 residents) – 5 council members

Q: Why do you support the mayor/council form over another form?

A: Having a mayor/council means the executive for the county is elected by the residents of Utah County and is accountable to them. Legislation passed by a county council can be vetoed by a mayor, making it so residents have another path to stop legislation with which they have concerns. A county manager does not have veto power, and an expanded commission doesn’t have a separation of legislative and executive powers. While a mayoral veto may be overridden by a 2/3 vote of the county council, it gives residents an opportunity to work with elected officials within the executive and legislative branches before legislation is passed. Ultimately, state law grants a lot of power to the executive, whether that be a mayor, manager, or commissioner. As citizens, we must decide if we want that executive to be voted on by the people and to be up for re-election every four years, or to be appointed by the County Council and serve at the will of the Council. We also need to decide if we want the checks and balances of power between the executive and legislative branches, such as exists at the state and federal level, or if we want a referendum process to be the only check against legislative decisions. I believe the mayor/council form to be a better option when it comes to checks and balances. If there is a desire for an experienced county administrator to oversee daily operations, like what many cities have, we have the option to advocate for that position to be hired as part of the mayor/council form of government.

Q: Didn’t the county commissioners create a committee to explore options?

A: Yes, the commissioners created the Good Governance Advisory Board (GGAB) to look at the various forms of government and to make a recommendation on what form Utah County should have and when it should be on the ballot for citizens to vote on. The GGAB held several public meetings throughout the county and discussed a variety of issues. They received public feedback from many throughout this process. Ultimately, the GGAB recommended that Utah County transition to a mayor/council form of government with seven councilmembers, five of which would be elected by district and two elected at-large. They recommended that the new form of government also have a full-time county administrator to handle day-to-day functions. They also recommended that this be on the ballot in 2019 for the citizens of Utah County to vote on. It is yet unknown if the commissioners will be able to put this on the ballot this year as a new petition has since been filed, recommending an expanded commission form of government.

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