This November’s local election is going to be a big one for candidates — and for voters, too.
When candidate filing closed on March 15 at the Tooele County Clerk’s office, 39 citizens and incumbents had signed up. There are so many candidates this year because of apparent high interest, and more than a dozen state and local races on the ballot.
The number of local candidates who filed is impressive and each one is acknowledged for taking a risk, participating in the electoral process, and offering to become elected civil servants. Thanks to their interest, local voters will benefit from a diverse and substantial pool of candidates.
And thanks to the Utah Legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert, local voters may also get to vote on a proposition this November that, if passed, may see Tooele County’s form of government undergo a sweeping change.
On March 15, Herbert signed into law House Bill 224, which entails County Government Change Election Amendments. To briefly summarize, HB 224 now makes it possible for a recommendation by the Tooele County Government Study Committee to go straight to voter approval or denial this fall without another petition drive.
That recommendation, formally made by the study committee on Feb. 2 after a year of meetings, hearings and analysis, advocates the county’s current three-member commission form of government be replaced with a part-time, five-member county council elected by district and an appointed county manager who works at the behest of the council.
Until HB 224, the committee’s recommendation was headed for a petition drive this summer to qualify it for a spot on the November ballot. Requiring the petition drive was the current county commission — which until HB 224 had the legal right to do so — even though 65 percent of local voters voted in 2016 for the study committee to be created, and to determine whether the three-member commission form of government should stay or go.
Last August, when the county commission told the study committee that it would require a petition drive to get any form of government change on the ballot, we published an editorial that questioned the commissioners’ action as petty obstructionism. But it also noted the petition drive may have an upside: The process could create more opportunities for citizens to learn about the proposed government change before going to the polls.
Because of the high number of voters who supported the creation of the study committee in 2016, HB 224 is a good and timely modification to state code on the government change process. But because the petition drive is no longer required, that presses upon government change proponents and opponents to work diligently this summer and fall to further educate voters about the proposed change to a five-member county council and county manager form of government.
The stakes are just too high to get this one wrong. Ultimately, citizen education in this matter is of the highest importance, not another petition drive, or even the creation of HB 224.