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Time expires for Brown’s bill

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

A handful of bills were in line ahead of state Rep. Mel Brown’s controversial House Bill 348 when clocks on Capitol Hill struck midnight.

Because time ran out on the legislation, it’s dead.

The Coalville Republican must now wait until next year before trying to change state law to make it easier for citizens to overturn the change in the form of government approved by voters in Summit County in November.

A group comprised of 10 percent of the number of people who cast ballots in the last governor’s race could have petitioned to change the new form of government should HB348 have passed.

Fifteen percent of voters could have forced a vote should the new Summit County Council refuse to place the matter on the ballot, said Pinebrook resident Steve Dougherty, a staunch supporter of the change.

By supporting Proposition 1 last November voters elected to change the current 3-person Summit County Commission to a 5-person county council with a hired executive officer.

To change the traditional commission form of government, which has occurred in just a handful of Utah’s 29 counties, requires extensive study and approvals from voters.

Brown’s opponents say HB348 would have gutted that process by allowing a fraction of the new form of government’s critics to repeal the measure by placing the issue before voters in an off-election year.

Brown was not available for comment for this story.

At issue is whether three county commissioners who function as both the legislative and executive branches of government operate the county more efficiently than five legislative councilors with a hired chief executive officer could. Summit County voters were divided along geographical lines by Prop. 1 when it passed last year by roughly 51 percent.

People in every precinct in eastern Summit County opposed the measure.

Before introducing HB348 Brown insisted the legislation was not discussed with any of his constituents on the East Side.

People he represents in neighboring Morgan County, which is governed by a county council, say that form of government has failed and they’re "powerless" to repeal the change, Brown claims.

"This is a bill to empower the people," he told fellow State House members.

In sponsoring the legislation Brown wanted those against the change to have an option to repeal it after the new form of government was in place at least two years.

"It doesn’t destroy anything that’s been done, nor anything that is in place," Brown said about the bill.

The House of Representatives approved the bill 54-15 but the legislation failed after a vote was not taken in the Senate this week before time expired in the Legislature’s 2007 general session.

Brown claims his intentions were not to undo the will of voters who have slated the new form of government in Summit County to take effect in 2009.

Still, the lawmaker’s critics called HB348 the "do-over" bill.

"It’s stops the study process," Dougherty complained.

State law currently requires the formation of a committee to study whether the form of government should change before voters are asked to decide. Dougherty claims opponents already have a legal mechanism to change their county’s form of government should councilors refuse to let voters decide.

"The East Side has had a disproportionate influence in Summit County," Dougherty charged. "When they’re told to get out and vote, they will."

Five representatives instead of three could allow Snyderville residents a stronger voice in county politics, where the largest part of the county’s population resides.

Though most voters in eastern Summit County oppose changing the form of government, most of the county’s residents live on the West Side where Prop. 1 was heavily favored.

"It’s absolutely significant," Dougherty said.


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