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Brown’s bill passes the House

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

Citizens who oppose changing the form of government in Summit County could petition to repeal Proposition 1 should state senators favor a bill that sailed through the House of Representatives this week.

A substitute version of state Rep. Mel Brown’s House Bill 348 could allow voters after it’s been in effect two years to petition to overturn Prop. 1, which, with overwhelming support from people in Park City and the Snyderville Basin, passed last November. But most voters on the East Side opposed the ballot measure.

Brown’s critics say HB348, the so-called "do-over" bill, is the Coalville lawmaker’s attempt to help undo the voter-approved change.

That characterization Brown rejected in an interview Friday.

"This issue was never discussed with any citizen in Summit County prior to me beginning this process," Brown said. "The people of Summit County, I believe, recognize that the people have spoken. They want to give [the change] a try."

With citizens slated in 2008 to elect their first 7-member Summit County Council Brown wants those against the change to have the option to repeal it after the new form of government has been in place at least two years.

"There are people on the East Side who primarily work in the courthouse who don’t like the fact that we changed the form of government," contends Pinebrook resident Steve Dougherty who strongly supports the change. "Do you have the minority through a legislator like Mel Brown go up to the Legislature and make misrepresentations to the Legislature in order to accomplish an undoing of the majority’s decision?"

The legislation, Brown says, "caused more upheaval in my district than any other bill."

"What this bill does is keep the people from being informed," Dougherty charged.

At issue is whether a handful of those who voted in the previous governor’s election should be allowed to petition to overturn the change that took two years to approve, he explained.

Ten percent of the voters who petition to repeal the change could help place the matter on the ballot in the following election, according to House Bill 348.

Fifteen percent of voters could force a vote should the county council refuse to place the matter on the ballot, said Dougherty describing the legislation.

"There probably is no way you can get 15 percent on the East Side of the county," Brown said. "It would be very difficult to do."

The majority of voters in eastern Summit County oppose changing the form of government but most of the county’s residents live in Snyderville where Prop. 1 was heavily favored.

State law currently requires formation of a committee to study whether the form of government should change before voters are asked to decide.

"There already is a provision under state law that would allow the voters to change the form of government, even if the county council isn’t willing to put it onto the ballot," Dougherty said.

Democratic Rep. Christine Johnson, who represents parts of Snyderville, tried unsuccessfully during Thursday’s House floor debate to change parts of the bill that require county elections stay partisan. But state law currently prevents counties from changing to non-partisan elections, Brown insists.

"That’s not really the issue here," Dougherty said. "It’s an absolutely unnecessary bill unless your goal is to sneakily get a repeal measure put on the ballot without any study at all."

Brown counters that his constituents in Morgan County, where the form of government has changed, feel powerless to repeal the plan they say has failed.

"This is a good effort to give the citizens the right to self determination and to change things if they don’t like what’s happening," Brown said.

He expects the Senate to pass the bill after the House favored HB348 54-15. Johnson voted against the legislation Thursday.

"This is a bill that empowers the people," Brown told House members. "I’ve never had any intention of changing the action of a vote of the people."

Meanwhile, Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, a Republican who represents Park City, couldn’t say Friday how he’d vote on the bill.

"I was surprised that it passed [the House.] I didn’t think it was going to happen," Van Tassell said. "I just thought it was too late in the process."

The Legislature’s general session ends Feb. 28.


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