In January 2017, I was selected to serve as a volunteer on the Tooele County Government Study Committee. The committee was designated to research the county’s current three-member commission-form of government, and make recommendations as to what we believe to be best for Tooele County now and into the future.
After a year of work, the study committee filed its report in early February. Together, with 10 other residents from throughout the county, the committee contributed well over 2,500 hours in labor with an equivalent market value of greater than $312,500. The Optional Plan report and Artifacts totals 384 pages — over an inch thick! To view the report, visit http://studytooelecounty.blogspot.com/. The page provides a link to our report, much of the research, and ways to view/hear committee meetings.
In our labor of love, we held meetings with the Tooele County Commissioners, all elected officials in the county, appointed and hired directors, and countless employees. We also conducted numerous community meetings and surveyed local and non-local officials from other counties, sought input from professional agencies and associations from throughout the state of Utah, and researched data from throughout the nation. Without a doubt, we exceeded expectations (and law) and submitted our recommendation early, which is to replace the current three-member commission form of government with a council-manager form of government.
So what’s the problem?
Until last Thursday, existing Utah law provided the manner in which study committees could be formed and outlined the procedure for executing the recommendation of the volunteer study committee. Within the law there was a part that said the existing legislative body could accept the recommendation and place it directly on the ballot for election by the county residents, or it could hold off and have volunteers go through yet another extensive petition drive to have the recommendation placed on the ballot.
In the case of Tooele County, your current commissioners of Myron Bateman, Wade Bitner and Shawn Milne, publicly stated they had no intention to honor the work of the committee to place the recommendation on the ballot, thus calling for a second petition drive that would require an estimated 2,600 signatures at an estimated cost of $54,170 market value of effort by volunteers from the community — same as was done in 2016.
Fortunately, during the recent Utah Legislature, House Bill 224 passed the House of Representatives by 71-2 and then passed unanimously in the Utah State Senate. What is being done? HB224 clearly retains the study committee and even reduces the required number of signatures for the petition drive — from 10 percent to 5 percent — to call for establishment of a study committee.
I testified at the House Political Subdivisions Committee and the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Stand Committee in regard to HB224. My message was simple: maintain the law to encourage a study committee, reduce the required number of signatures for establishment of the committee, improve the process to implement the committee recommendation, reduce ways existing local legislative bodies can interfere in the study, and require more openness and willingness to provide all data requested by the study committee.
My tenacity on this issue was simple: I take offense to the current county commissioners totally disregarding the professionalism and dedication of the volunteer study committee. The commissioners’ statements right from the get go that they had no intention to honor the report, or recommendation, and would require a second petition drive, are absurd. The fact that the Utah House of Representatives passed the revisions to the bill at an overwhelming 71-2 — and Gov. Herbert signing HB224 into law last week — says tons. It’s true to Utah’s political environment of conservativeness and sees no reason to incur yet another $54,000-plus just to get the measure on the ballot.
Here’s our opportunity Tooele County. Let’s be the good example. Let’s demonstrate to the state of Utah that the process works. Why should our local leadership choose to buck the system that the rest of the Utah Legislature has done? Legislative leaders have spoken, specifically Rep. Gage Froerer, Sen. Curtis Bramble took the lead, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, Representatives Merrill Nielson and Doug Sagers, fought in support of the bill and the rest of the Utah State Legislature agreed. The intent of HB224 is to do what is right. Tooele County Commissioners – Where are you?
HB224 may be just a bill that went through the process to become a Law — a law for the people and by the people. All we were waiting for was Herbert to sign it into law, which he did last Thursday afternoon.
People of Tooele County: Please, for your children, grandchildren, your local businesses and everyone with a vested interest in the county — get involved. Watch for further educational opportunities to become educated and engaged in the process to change our form of government.
Daniel Pacheco is a Tooele resident and a member of the Tooele County Government Study Committee. His viewpoints above are his own and do not necessarily represent those of other study committee members.