Legislator wants an easier return to previous form of government
February 8, 2013
An East Side legislator who admits he has never supported Summit County’s new council/manager form of government, has submitted a bill that would make it easier for citizens to call for a referendum to revert back to the old commission form of government.
In 2006, Summit County voters narrowly approved the shift from a three-member commission to a five-member council/manager format. The new form of government went into effect Jan 1, 2009.
The chief sponsor of H.B. 280, County Government Reform, is Mel Brown, R-Coalville who represents the newly redrawn House District 54 that covers most of North and South Summit but does not include Park City.
As proposed, H.B. 280 would simplify the process to revert a county government back to its prior form.
"You would only need 10 percent of voters in the last gubernatorial election to sign a petition," explained Summit County Councilmember Kim Carson. "The county could then either accept or reject it. If they reject it, the petition sponsors would need to get 15 percent and then it will go straight to a vote."
In the current process, citizens could either petition the council for a new form of government, or the council could initiate the process itself. A ballot question would then go before voters to form a study committee.
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"So everyone would vote on forming a study committee to change the form of government," Chief Civil Deputy Attorney Dave Thomas said. "If that passed, the County Council would appoint a study committee which would prepare a report, and present it to the County Council with their recommendations on altering the form of government."
If the county council accepted the recommendations, they would put a question on the ballot to change the form of government.
Summit County switched from a 3-member commission to a 5-member council in 2009. The controversial measure, however, had failed twice before being adopted, following the recommendation of a study committee.
"That committee worked like farm animals," Councilmember Claudia McMullin said. "They were meeting in living rooms and having public input sessions for at least a year, because they were reviewing all different forms of government."
2006 the county had become "unwieldy and unmanageable," said Councilmember Roger Armstrong. "So they decided they needed a manager form so they’d have an executive who the department heads could report to."
However, bill sponsor Mel Brown, R-Coalville, said he did not vote in favor of the Summit County’s current form of government.
"I don’t like this form of government," he said. "I think any kind of a chief executive that isn’t subject to the people is not a good form of government. At least in Salt Lake County, the county mayor is elected. He’s the chief executive. In Summit County, our county manager is not elected. He’s not subject to the electorate at all. That’s one of my concerns. I have nothing against him at all. It’s the principle, in my view."
Brown filed a bill in 2007, shortly after the current form of government was adopted.
"But people told me not to do it, that I was just trying to stop this from happening," he said. "So I said I wouldn’t do it and I pulled the bill. Since then, I’ve had others that have said, why don’t you resurrect the bill, because apparently there is a move in Wasatch and Morgan County to revert to their former form of government."
Brown said that if a county wants to revert to the previous form of government, they shouldn’t have to go through the same process they went through to adopt the current form.
"If we can create a process to submit it to the vote of the people and let the people decide, that ought to be designed," he said.
Unlike the current process, H.B. 280 does not require a study before a county would revert to its previous form of government.
"Why do you need to study something you’ve had for 100 years?" he asked.
Brown has received negative feedback from various counties, including Summit County, which were concerned that if one particular area of their county is dissatisfied, they could force it to a vote.
"It’s a justifiable concern," he said. "So what we’ll probably do is create a process where the signatures have to be collected from a large percentage of each precinct so that it spreads the public interest out, and it won’t allow one specific interest group to drive anything."