The citizen committee appointed to study the three-member Tooele County Commission and possibly recommend the top county office be changed to a different form of government held its first public meeting last week.
During the two-hour meeting on Wednesday night, the 11-member committee appointed a tentative chairman, established an initial meeting schedule, and set an agenda for the group’s next meeting.
That meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Tooele County Health Department, 151 N. Main St., Tooele. All committee meetings are open to the public.
Before the committee began to review its scope of work, legal counsel urged members to maintain transparency throughout the study process. That process is dictated by state statute and must be completed on or before Feb. 8, 2018.
“It’s important to be transparent,” said Scott Shields, the deputy Tooele County attorney assigned by Tooele County Attorney Scott Broadbent to provide legal counsel to the committee.
“I get the feeling that probably the reason some of you volunteered for this is the perception of a lack of transparency [by the current form of government],” he added. “So my goal is to encourage you to be transparent.”
The study committee was recently chosen by an appointment council from more than 50 citizen applicants. Study committee members include: Brett Coombs, Robin Douglas, Eric Gumbrecht and Daniel Pacheco of Tooele City; Whitney Cook and Howard Murray of Grantsville City; Brenda Faddis, Stansbury Park; Rob Clausing, Lake Point; Maria Sweeten, Erda; Richard Mitchell, Rush Valley; and Kent Sagers, Vernon.
The study committee is the result of Proposition 14 on last November’s General Election ballot that county voters passed by 65 percent. The proposition asked voters “Shall a Study Committee be appointed to consider and possibly recommend a change in the form of government of Tooele County?”
The proposition earned its place on the ballot after a petition drive that collected more than 2,300 signatures.
Committee member Gumbrecht was part of the local citizens group who organized the petition drive. He was unanimously chosen by the committee Wednesday night to serve as tentative chairman until additional members are considered for the position.
Members openly discussed not allowing just one committee member to serve as chairman throughout the study process. Members said having others serve as chairman would prevent one person from having too much authority over the committee’s course of action.
The approved agenda for Thursday’s meeting includes developing a purpose statement, methods of electing leadership, duties of committee leadership and reviewing the state statute that outlines the study committee’s powers and duties.
The agenda also includes a scope-of-work presentation, establishing milestones, what to include in the final report, the method by which to conclude results, and a budgetary discussion.
The Tooele County Commission has established a $7,000 budget for the government study process and the committee.
After the meeting, Gumbrecht said he told the committee prior to the first meeting that he would not seek the chair position. He said he was confident “we have a great group” and would like to see others step up in that capacity.
“I want this to be an ‘us’ thing,” he said. However, he accepted the tentative chairman position to help facilitate the night’s meeting.
Although the state statute explains the committee’s powers and duties, it doesn’t provide a “road map” of how to study and conclude whether or not a three-member commission form of government should be retained or changed.
“I’m really excited about the skill and expertise of the committee,” Gumbrecht said. “… Not having a road map on how to proceed I don’t necessarily see as a bad thing. … The committee will get to determine that process and we have the expertise within the committee to execute it.”
He added his goal is to have the study be so thorough and objective it may become a blueprint for other counties to use.
As per state code, the county’s current three-member commission, which holds both legislative and executive powers, is the default form of county government unless the statutory process is followed to adopt a state legislative-approved optional form of government.
The approved optional forms of government for counties in Utah are: an expanded county commission with five to seven commissioners with the commissioners retaining both 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.
The first step in the process to adopt an optional form of county government is to conduct a formal study, of which Tooele County has now begun.
Of Utah’s 29 counties, 23 have three-member county commissions, which serve as executive and legislative arms of county government. The six Utah counties that have different forms of government are: Cache (7 council members and elected executive), Grand (7 council members and hired manager), Morgan (7 council members), Salt Lake (9 council members and elected mayor), Summit (5 council members and hired manager) and Wasatch (7 council members and hired manager).
After Thursday’s meeting, the committee is scheduled to meet again at 7 p.m. on Feb. 28 at the Tooele County Health Department.