Q: Why is this on the ballot?
A: In 2019, the Utah County Commissioners voted to create an independent committee to make a recommendation on the best form of government for our county. Known as the Good Governance Advisory Board (GGAB), this committee consisted of business and education leaders, elected officials, and involved citizens from throughout Utah County. After a series of public meetings, the committee unanimously recommended that the county move to an executive-council form of government with a full-time mayor and a part-time county council with regional representation. From their final report:
“[I]t was evident to the Advisory Board that regardless of the current form’s effectiveness and efficiencies, a three-member commission that melds the executive branch with the legislative branch of government for a county with the size, scope, and nature as Utah County is no longer sufficient or acceptable. The organizational demands on the county have grown in complexity with its increased diverse populations and demands on county services — a trajectory that will not slow for decades. The cry for functional accountability of our county officials and how services are managed, improved transparency of officials’ dealings and decision-making processes, and a need for balanced representation among the rural and urban populations were received loud and clear by the Advisory Board.”
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 and who are elected at-large, meaning they don’t represent specific areas of the county. While this may work in more rural areas, Utah County is growing rapidly and would be better served by a government that includes a separation of powers for better checks and balances and through regional representation. Utah County is over 2,000 square miles and consists of both rural and urban areas. The challenges faced in different parts of the county are not the same. For example, the issues faced by Lehi with the growth of the technology sector are different than those of Genola, which has a population of just over 1,300. Having a form of government with regional representation from throughout the county means we have more perspectives at the table as decisions are being made to address the challenges and opportunities we face.
With our current form of government, we have three CEOs running our county. This makes it challenging when working with cities within the county and with state leaders as there isn’t one voice advocating for the county or one place where the buck stops. Having regional representation in our legislative body that creates policy, and a mayor that carries out that policy, will lead to better outcomes for Utah County. We need a system that provides checks and balances, separation of powers, and better representation. This proposed form of government is similar to the way our cities, state, and nation are already structured.
Q: How will the county be divided into regions?
A: When the Utah County Commissioners passed a resolution to place this question on the ballot, they included a proposed district map. As required by law, the districts must be similar in size based on population and boundary lines may be redrawn every 10 years after each census to account for changes in population. The proposed map divides the county into five regions: West, North, North Central, South Central, and South.
Q: Won’t this form of government make us like Salt Lake County?
A: While Salt Lake County does have an executive-council form of government, it is not the only county in Utah that has changed from the three-commissioner model. Those with an executive-council or council-manager form of government include:
Salt Lake County (1.1 million residents) – Executive-council form with 9 council members
Cache County (124,000 residents) – Executive-council form with 7 council members
Grand County (9,600 residents) – Council-manager form with 7 council members
Morgan County (12,000 residents) – Council-manager form with 7 council members
Wasatch County (32,000 residents) – Council-manager form with 7 council members
Summit County (41,000 residents) – Council-manager form with 5 council members
Tooele County (67,000 residents) – Council-manager form with 5 council members (effective 2021)
These counties consist of both rural and urban areas and no two are identical. Changing our form of government does not mean our county will begin to operate like any other county. The services and departments we currently have at the county level will remain the same. Salt Lake County provides many more services than Utah County (such as a county library system, parks and recreation system, and cultural arts) and there have not been any discussions about Utah County providing similar services. The change doesn’t grow government, it separates the legislative and executive branches, providing necessary checks and balances, and provides regional representation with the legislative branch.
Q: Won’t the mayor have too much power?
A: The duties of the county mayor and council are outlined in Utah State code, section 17-52a-203. Legislative power is given to the council and executive power is given to the mayor. As part of state code, veto power is given to the mayor, but it also allows the council to override a veto. It creates a system of checks and balances between the two branches.
Having an elected executive and legislative branch also gives additional recourse to citizens. Because legislation passed by a county council can be vetoed by a mayor, residents have another path through the executive branch to potentially stop legislation with which they have concerns. While a veto may be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the county council, it gives residents an opportunity to work with elected officials within both branches of government before legislation is passed.
Having an executive and legislative branch provides checks and balances of power between the two branches, like what exists at the state and federal level.
Q: Should the council members also be full-time?
A: Having a full-time executive and a part-time legislative body is consistent with other governments in Utah. This is the same arrangement for cities with a full-time mayor and with our state government. The benefit to having part-time legislators is that it broadens the pool of candidates who can serve in county government. With our current form of three full-time commissioners, only those who can step away from their full-time employment for four years or who do not have full-time employment are in a position to serve in county government. With a part-time legislature, those who are willing to serve but also have other employment will be able to do so, just like those who serve on our city councils and in the state legislature. Providing an opportunity for more to serve improves the quality of our government as more perspectives leads to better outcomes.
Q: Isn’t this change going to be expensive?
A: No, the optional plan on the ballot is not more expensive than our current form of government. When deciding to put this on the ballot in 2020, the county commissioners approved a plan for the change, which includes a cost analysis showing the recommended staffing plan and salaries for the new form of government. Based on their recommendations, the new form of government will not require any sort of tax increase. This is because the salary and benefits for the full-time mayor would be about the same as what a commissioner currently makes, but the salary of part-time council members would be considerably less.
Together We Will Build a Better Future
Q: Will this grow county government?
A: No, this is not an expansion of government, simply a change in the form of government. Moving to an executive-council form of government separates the legislative and executive branches, creating needed checks and balances between the two. It does not add new departments or new levels of bureaucracy. This change provides necessary checks and balances and provides regional representation with the legislative branch.
Q: How will this prevent some of the issues we’ve had in the past with county commissioners?
A: Our current form of government, which combines executive and legislative powers, can lend itself to some abuses of power as there is a lack of checks and balances. Separating executive and legislative functions means that the executive can check abuses of the legislative branch, and vice versa. Ultimately, our government is only as good as the people we elect so there is no guarantee that any form of government will prevent abuses of power. However, a system with checks and balances such as those built into the U.S. Constitution provides less opportunity for these abuses.