A local government committee’s news that it may evaluate and encourage changing Tooele County’s three-member commission form of government, raised some eyebrows last week, but was not entirely a surprise. Rumblings of possible change have been heard in the community ever since the county’s financial struggles became headline news more than a year ago.
But until the Tooele County Council of Government’s (COG) March 27 meeting, no organization had publicly and formally requested that a study be completed to see if the county’s three-member commission should be changed and what does the process entail.
As reported in last Thursday’s lead story, “Voters may decide new form of county government?”, COG may pursue having the following question appear on a future election ballot: “Shall a study committee be appointed to consider and possibly recommend a change in the form of government of Tooele County?”
COG is comprised of the Tooele County Commission and leaders from incorporated cities and towns across the county. Grantsville Mayor Brent Marshall, who is COG’s chairman, made the request. When asked why, he diplomatically explained that his curiosity about different forms of county government are the result of constituents asking him why Salt Lake County has a mayor and council, and Tooele County does not.
However, the unspoken subtext of Marshall’s explanation may suggest more than that. This was affirmed when he further explained that instead of a three-member county commission, he prefers a “larger council elected by districts to make sure that all areas of the county are equally represented.” He also said that he likes, “the idea of an elected executive.”
On those points, Marshall isn’t alone. Brad Pratt, a councilman and chairman of the Tooele City Council, represents the city on COG. He too is interested in broader representation at the county commission level.
“I like the way Tooele City’s government works with a separate mayor and council, both elected by the people,” he said. “Separation works for our country and for the city. I think we should look at if it might work for the county.”
According to state code, counties in Utah are to have a three-member commission, with both legislative and executive powers, unless a statutory process is followed to implement one of three optional forms of government.
Those optional forms are: An expanded county commission with five to seven commissioners that have legislative and executive powers; a county council with legislative authority and an appointed county manager with executive authority; or a county council with legislative authority and an elected mayor with executive authority.
In last Thursday’s story, both Commissioners Bruce Clegg and Shawn Milne did not offer an endorsement of Marshall’s request. They also indicated that their research hasn’t been favorable into optional forms of county government.
If such a study is undertaken, its data must be comprehensive and rock solid. It must also be subjected to exhaustive public review and hearings. To be comprehensive, that data should also include information obtained from counties outside of Utah.
The three-member commission form of government has existed in Tooele County since 1896. Perhaps a study will suggest that a change to an optional form of government would better serve the county’s residents today.
Either way, the overall process will take considerable time and require extensive public involvement. And thankfully, the final decision will ultimately rest with local voters.