Guest opinion: Utah County needs to move away from current commissioner form of government
In Timothy Ballard’s book “The Covenant, Lincoln and the war”, Mr. Ballard writes about how slavery was a broken covenant with God in America and Lincoln decided to “fix” the broken covenant. While not on the same level as slavery, the current three-person Utah County Commission form of government is broken, and we need to start talking about how to fix it.
When you have a three-member commission form of government, this means that our commissioners are doing both legislative work and administrative/executive work. I know in some cities the legislative body (city council) does both, in fact in my city, Cedar Hills, that is how it works. The difference is that Cedar Hills with 10,000 people and a $4 million dollar budget has six elected officials to make policies, not three people. The administrative work could be done much more effectively if Utah County adopted a Mayor and Council form of government.
The executive branch of government usually does the administrative work and the council or commission does the legislative work, but Utah County’s commission does both for 600,000 people who live in Utah County today. Salt Lake County, Wasatch, Summit and Cache counties just to name a few have already made the move away from a commission form and Weber is looking at doing so right now.
Just to be fair there are other forms of government aside from our three-member commission, for instance a five-member commission, Mayor-council and manager-council to name a few. Each has its pros and cons but as Utah County grows and grow it will, we need to look for a more effective form of government. As has been talked about by many including Mountainland Association of Government’s Regional Transportation Planning Committee for Utah County, “Happy Valley” is expected to double in population by 2040 to more than 1 million people the same size that Salt Lake County is today. We may not be so happy in 20 years if our county government is not as responsive or representative as it could be to our growing needs and pressures.
One of the problems with a three-member commission is its compliance with the open meeting laws because two members are not supposed to get together to hash out an issue because it would violate the law by creating a quorum. Maybe more importantly it only takes two people to manage a $45 million budget that affects large and wide spread polices across the 600,000 Utah County residents. Going back to the “Covenant” Lincoln book, Ballard writes about how a small group of people has the potential to be more greatly influenced by one or two people and not always for the better, as opposed to a larger public policy group.
Ballard cites a fictional five-member group and another 500-member group who are both looking for good public policy, but one of the members of the small group is Hitler. Ballard believes it would be much easier for Hitler to greatly influence a five-member group rather than a 500-member group. While this is clearly over the top, Ballard is right. As we have seen many times, any government may be ineffective and not governable, but a county council and Mayor form of government increases the probability that they may get it right more often than wrong. The point is that there is strength in numbers.
I am a limited government conservative so ideas like increasing the size of government should not be taken lightly; we need to have a lengthy discussion of how our government should look and when it should be done. A good place to start now is to identify areas where the county government should be involved and where they shouldn’t. In my city, we engaged in a dialogue about needs and wants and focused on the needs first and wants second. Even a small city like Cedar Hills has more than just two people making the decisions.
Finally, if we did change our form of government to a Mayor-Council form of government, as I mentioned before it does not guarantee a better result, but it ups the odds appreciably. Maybe more importantly we should look at how we hire our elected officials, instead of looking for the most conservative candidates, how about looking for the most conservative and qualified candidates.
Locally and nationally we need to look more towards people who have successfully run organizations rather than someone who is popular or just gives a good convention speech. In case you’re wondering, no I am not interested in a county position, but I am very interested in good government for my family and yours.