Q: Should we change our form of government? A: It’s all about the people

Tuesday , November 14, 2017 - 4:00 AM

ROBERT HUNTER, special to the Standard-Examiner

From time to time over the years, various citizens of Weber County have raised the issue of government reorganization. Current community discussion involves the question once again.

Two groups of respected citizens have taken the initiative to push for creation of a “Weber County Form of Government Study Committee.” One group has requested the Weber County Commission put it on a future ballot, and another is seeking signatures on a petition to put it before the voters. Either is a legal avenue to establish the committee.

Historically, the Utah Constitution provided for a three-person commission to govern each of the state's 29 counties. As time passed, the Utah Legislature allowed restructuring of those political bodies within certain parameters as determined by the voters and their leaders.

Those who are encouraging the establishment of a committee have concerns about the effectiveness and efficiency of a three-person body to govern administration and policy making within the county.

These concerns include feelings that many in the county are underrepresented, and that the three-member commission form is problematic because it combines both legislative and executive power in the same body. The American national government model separates the executive and legislative branches. The state government model does the same.

Other nearby counties in Utah have taken advantage of the opportunity to change. Salt Lake, Cache, and Morgan counties have each created a county council.

Salt Lake elects a nine-member council, whose members set policy. A full-time mayor serves as executive. Cache and Morgan each have a seven-member part-time council. Cache has an elected county executive who also serves as surveyor. Morgan employs someone to administer day-to-day affairs.

Davis, Box Elder and Utah counties have retained the commission form, as has Weber County.

In addition to elected county council members and an elected administrator, each county also has other elected officials to administer specific duties on behalf of the people. The exact configuration varies from entity to entity, but these positions may include assessor, attorney, auditor, clerk, recorder, sheriff, surveyor and treasurer.

In Weber County, those eight positions have been consolidated wisely into six. Some years ago, the offices of auditor and clerk were combined into one, and the offices of recorder and surveyor were also consolidated.

In terms of overall executive and policy structure, it simply makes sense to review how we’re doing as a county and ask ourselves if there is a better way to develop policy and administer county affairs. Thus, it makes sense to support a “Weber County Form of Government Study Committee.”

We won’t know if there’s a better way unless we formally, objectively and thoroughly ask ourselves these questions:

  • What experiences have other counties had who’ve changed their form of government?
  • Would another form be more cost effective?
  • Could the citizens be better represented?
  • Would county operations run more smoothly in another form?
  • Which form, if any, would best suit our county’s needs and personality?
  • Are we seeking input, free of committee prejudice, from all reasonable sources?
  • Are we being transparent and communicative with our citizens as we move through the investigative process?

These questions, and perhaps others, can lead us to a good conclusion.

If we develop a better county government structure, good for us. But above all else, we must remember that it’s all about the people. Regardless of the form of government we choose for ourselves, we must remember that it takes a vigilant, actively involved, well-informed public to elect good leaders. And good leaders will make our form of government run well.

Robert Hunter is the director of the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service and a Weber State University political science instructor.

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