Tooele County voters will get to decide in the November 2018 election if they want a new form of government for the county.
Despite reservations about the accuracy of some information presented in the Tooele County Government Study Committee’s report, the study committee’s optional plan meets legal requirements, according to Tooele County Attorney Scott Broadhead.
The committee’s plan for a five-member, part-time council elected by districts with a hired county manager “would not result in a violation of any applicable statutory or constitutional provision,” according to a six-page opinion Broadhead sent to Tooele County Clerk Marilyn Gillette on March 21.
Broadhead’s conclusion clears the way for Tooele County voters to decide if they want to adopt the study committee’s plan in this fall’s general election, according to Gillette.
“With the changes adopted by the Legislature this year, the study committee’s optional plan will be on the ballot,” she said.
One year ago a successful petition of Tooele County voters placed the question of starting the formal statutory process of studying Tooele County’s government with the possibility of recommending a change on the November 2016 ballot.
The formation of the study committee was approved by 65 percent of the people who voted in the 2016 election.
Under state law that was in effect at the time when the study committee was formed in early 2017, the committee’s recommendation for a change in the form of county government would have required either a resolution passed by the county commission, or another petition of voters, for the change to be presented to voters in an election.
But during the 2018 general session, the state Legislature passed legislation that eliminated the need for a second petition or resolution for a county government study — if the vote to undertake the study was passed with at least a 60-percent vote.
The legislation included wording that applied the new process to studies already initiated at the time the bill became effective, according to Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City.
While Broadhead found no legal defects with the optional plan of government proposed by the study committee, he did raise three concerns about “errors or misstatements” of facts in the committee’s report.
“I can’t let the public be misled by obvious false statements in the report,” he wrote in his opinion.
One of Broadhead’s concerns was a chart in the report that showed the budget for different county organizations.
Broadhead said he found the chart “misleading because it combines numerous budgets on single departments or elected offices.”
“Although I oversee the day-to-day operation of the indigent defense budget for the Commission, this budget is separate from the County Attorney budget and under the supervision of the committee,” he wrote.
In a letter to Broadhead responding to his concerns, the study committee said that the chart in question was designed to give a “bird’s eye view” of the amount of money that each organization oversees.
“We utilized several reliable sources to pull our numbers from,” said the study committee in its response. “If there are clear cut budget items that would have any sort of barring effect on our recommendations, we welcome further feedback. Please be detailed and provide sources.”
Broadhead also stated that another chart incorrectly portrayed the supervisory duties of County Commissioners Myron Bateman and Shawn Milne.
Titled “Tooele County Executive Branch Responsibilities,” the chart showed Milne with no direct reports, Bateman with two direct reports, and County Commissioner Wade Bitner with five direct reports.
The chart of executive responsibilities was contradictory to a chart included in Volume II of the study committee’s report, according to Broadhead. That chart correctly portrayed the departments and elected officials supervised by the commissioners along with respective board and committee assignments.
The chart in Volume I of the committee’s report was designed to show “duties in executive management,” according to the study committee.
Elected officials are not directly supervised by the county commission according to state statute, according to the study committee.
The chart in Volume I shows the number of department heads who report directly to each county commissioner.
“The oversight assignments with our current commission are incredibly lopsided when considering who has authority over executive departments, and who acts as liaison with elected offices,” said the study committee in its response. “The chart we provided is accurate.”
Broadhead’s third concern was about information in the committee’s report that implied the county commissioners may receive compensation from their service on boards and committees.
“Although requested information was not provided by the commissioners, the committee should not have assumed that the commissioners are compensated,” said Broadhead in his opinion. “The commissioners have stated to me that they do not receive any additional compensation for their service, and I know of no evidence to support this inference.”
The study committee said it did not make an assumption about additional compensation by the current county commissioners.
“Our purpose is making recommendations for the future in the interest of the county,” said the study committee in its response. “If stipend opportunities exist now or in the future, it’s important for us to address it to create a best practice in the interest of the county and its finances/interests. The recommendation we gave on how to handle stipend money under the new form of government is relevant and appropriate regardless of whether or not current seated commissioners are making additional income.”
The study committee is considering holding public meetings to educate voters on its optional plan for county government prior to the November election. No public meetings have been scheduled at this time.