Cox: Utah County needs a mayor-council form of government to move forward

April 29, 2018 GMT

The last few years have been fairly embarrassing for the Utah County Commission.

Among other things, a former commissioner was convicted of fraud, and one of our current commissioners has been accused of sexual harassment, bullying, supporting inappropriate websites and switching back and forth between political parties just to get attention.

With the kind of growth Utah County is experiencing, the last thing we need in our county government is this kind of unethical behavior.

Some have said that we just need to elect better people, or that we need to add more commissioners to represent all 600,000 residents. But the real foundation of the problem is the commission form of government. Why? Because all three commissioners are invested with executive, legislative and even some judicial powers. There are no checks and balances like we find at the state, national and many local levels.

Two of the three commissioners can make all of the decisions for the county, and there is no process to remove any of them for major ethical violations. And when one of the commissioners doesn’t show up, as was happening recently, it makes it extremely difficult for the other commissioners to do the business of levying taxes, adopting ordinances, and making policy for the county.

Additionally, each commissioner is elected at-large, meaning all commissioners could be elected from the same area and be fairly unaware or unsympathetic to the needs of other parts of the county.

From Silicon Slopes in the north, to the large agricultural fields in the south, and all the people, businesses and educational institutions in between, our county government deals with a lot of diverse issues.

To meet the present and future needs of the county, there should be a more fair and diverse representation than what we currently have.

A simple solution exists for all of this: A mayor-council form of government, with regional representation on the council.

Salt Lake County switched to this model 20 years ago, and has seen evident increases in transparency and accountability. Five council members serving part-time would allow more people to run for office and have a say in how the county is governed. The mayor becomes a more visible executive, with power to veto a decision by the council, unless the council overrides the veto with a supermajority (two-thirds vote). Three or more of the council positions would be elected by regions of the county, thus getting the government closer to the people.

Just this year, the Legislature simplified the process of switching county governments. To make the change, we first need the County Commission to form a committee to begin a study. Once the study is concluded, the commission can then put it to a vote of the people. Sometimes public service requires our elected officials to be selfless. Voting to change the form of government could possibly put them out of work, so any commissioner that votes for this proposal should be commended.

The mayor-council system brings checks and balances to our county government, as well as the regional representation that currently doesn’t exist.

Additionally, as we continue to grow, it will provide better representation of the diverse needs of our county and increased transparency into county government decisions.

For more information, please join the Utah County Mayor/Council Government Change Facebook group and contact both the current commissioners and candidates running for commissioner to support this change.