Amended H.B. 280 moves forward
A bill that would make it easier for counties to change their form of government took another step forward in the state Legislature on Monday. It received favorable recommendation from the Capitol’s Government Operation Committee and as of Tuesday was scheduled for a third reading in the House of Representatives.
H.B. 280, County Government Reform, sponsored by Melvin R. Brown, R-Coalville, authorizes voters to petition for and vote to repeal a previously adopted county form of government.
Some Summit County Council members have spoken out in opposition to the bill, but said that amendments to require a higher percentage of signatures from a majority of county precincts are preferable to the original bill.
H.B. 280 originally required the petition to be signed by 10 percent of voters residing in Summit County who cast ballots in the most recent gubernatorial election.
Before being approved by the committee, the bill was amended to require a petition to be signed by voters equal to at least 15 percent of the total number of votes cast in each county precinct in the most recent election for the United States President, and the voters must represent at least 85 percent of the county’s voting precincts.
"I don’t think it’s a great bill to begin with, but its better with the new metrics than as originally proposed," Councilmember Roger Armstrong said.
Under the current process to change the county government, citizens can 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.
If the vote to form a study committee passed, the committee would prepare a report and present their recommendations on altering the form of government to the County Council.
If the County Council accepted the recommendations, they would put a question to change the form of government on a ballot in the next general election.
Summit County switched from a 3-member commission to a 5-member council in 2009 in a closely contested election.
In a previous interview, Brown admitted he does not like Summit County’s current form of government, saying the county manager does not answer to the voters.
"I didn’t vote for it when it went to a council form. I think it was a mistake," he said.
Brown filed a similar bill shortly after the current form of government was adopted, but was persuaded to the pull it.
"People told me not to do it, that I was just trying to stop this from happening," he said.
Brown resurrected the bill this year after hearing other counties were considering reverting to their previous forms of government.
"My opinion is that if they want to change back that they should not have to go through that same process they went through to create the alternative form," he said. "The people know what they had before, and they know what they have now, and if there is enough interest to do something about it, this process will facilitate it to get it to a vote of the people."
Brown said that if the bill passes, Summit County can go back to full-time commissioners, if that is the voters’ choice.
"Then you eliminate a lot of conflict, because that’s the way people are making their living and they have to put their own personal interests aside for a number of years while they are serving to operate the county," he said.
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The South Summit Board of Education voted 4-1 to put a bond measure on November’s ballot asking for $87 million to build a new high school.