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PROVO — The Utah County Commission held the first of four public hearings on Wednesday to discuss the proposed transition to a mayor-council form of government that county residents will vote on this November.
The commissioners heard from a handful of residents during the hourlong hearing, answering questions and discussing their perspectives on the change. Commissioners Tanner Ainge and Nathan Ivie voted earlier this month to put the proposal on the Nov. 3 ballot; Commissioner Bill Lee opposes the change and voted against a public referendum on it.
The proposal would move Utah County from its current government of three full-time commissioners to a five-person, part-time council and a full-time mayor.
“It looks to me like a consolidation of power,” Lee said during the meeting in explaining his opposition to the change. “You have a full-time individual who has a full-time staff, and that power flows through that full-time representative.”
Lee said he worries about the potential for “burnout” with part-time council members serving the county while working day jobs at the same time. He is also concerned that expanding elected government could expand unelected county staff as well, citing Salt Lake County as an example. “This appears like a start in that direction,” Lee said. “We’ve seen that movie. We’ve seen what it looks like.”
“The interesting thing to me about movies,” responded Ivie, “is if you replaced Russell Crowe with, say, Tom Hanks in ‘Gladiator,’ I think you’d get a really different movie.” Ivie argued that Salt Lake County’s progressive electorate has more to do with its large government than the mayor-council form it uses.
“The reason I’m confident Utah County isn’t Salt Lake County is because of our demographics and the political mindset of the people,” he said.
“Electing the right people is more important than the form of government,” Ainge weighed in, “but the form of government still matters.”
The proposed mayor-council form of government is designed to be less expensive than the current commissioner system; it also would tie council members to a specific district, rather than the at-large commissioner seats currently used.
But Ainge acknowledged potential drawbacks, as well. “One really bad mayor is probably worse than one really bad county commissioner,” he said. A mayor’s veto would require four council members to override it.
Some citizens came largely with questions, wondering if the transition would dilute public influence and consolidate power too much. Deborah Herbert, of Mapleton, said it’s “glaringly apparent” that the proposal removes “the power of the citizens to make choices.”
“You’re taking the power further and further away from the citizenry,” she said, taking issue with the modest $20,000 proposed salary for part-time council members.
Brian Chapman, however, spoke in support of the measure at the end of the hearing. “I strongly believe that there is a need,” he said. “Creating a council that is part-time allows more people to be involved.”
Chapman believes allowing community members to serve part-time in county government would create “more diversity of thought and opinion and more discussion.”
Further public meetings about the proposed Utah County government change will be held on Feb. 5, 12 and 19 at 4 p.m. in the Utah County Administration Building.