In November 2016, 65 percent of the people who voted approved a ballot issue that asked if a study committee should be appointed to consider and possibly recommend a change in the form of government of Tooele County.
Two years later, the study is complete and a change has been recommended.
The November 2018 ballot will ask voters to answer the question, “Shall Tooele County adopt the alternate form of government known as the council-manager form of government that has been recommended by the study committee?”
The following news analysis recalls how the form of government study committee was initiated and how the committee concluded that the current three-member commission form of government should be changed to a five-member council with a hired manager.
During the county’s 2012-14 financial crisis, the subject of changing the county’s form of government was occasionally discussed informally and on social media.
In March 2014, Brent Marshall, Grantsville City mayor, discussed the subject of changing the county’s form of government at a Tooele County Council of Governments meeting. The Council of Governments includes all three commissioners and representatives of the cities and towns in Tooele County.
The city and town representatives to COG agreed that the county’s voters should be asked in an election if they want a committee formed to study Tooele County’s government and possibly recommend changes.
However, all three commissioners responded that they would not vote as a commission to put the study issue on a ballot.
Any effort to change county government should “come from the people” and be a “grassroots effort,” said Commissioners Bruce Clegg, Jerry Hurst and Shawn Milne.
State code requires that the question of forming a county government study committee may be placed on a ballot by either a majority vote of the county commission or by a petition of 10 percent of the county registered voters.
Almost two years later, in February 2016, a group of five citizens, the number required by law, sponsored a petition and started to collect signatures to put the government study question on the November 2016 ballot.
The petition sponsors were Erik Gumbrecht, Tooele City; Tracy Shaw, Tooele City; Jeff McNeil, Erda; Elliot Lawrence, Grantsville; and Matt McCarty, South Rim.
Gumbrecht, former Tooele County Republican Party chairman, said he was not necessarily unhappy with the present form of government or commissioners. He just wanted to take a look at the options.
“Every system has pros and cons,” Gumbrecht said. “If the state of Utah offers us choices, I think it’s our responsibility to see which one is the best fit.”
By September 2016, a total of 2,334 signatures had been collected. The Tooele County Clerk found 2,075 of those signatures to be valid, 136 more than the 1,939 signatures needed to put the government study question on the ballot.
In the 2016 November election, 65 percent of the people that voted approved the ballot issue that called for the formation of a committee to study and possibly recommend a change in Tooele County’s form of government.
Study committee appointed
The election triggered a process and timetable outlined in state code to select a study committee, perform the study, and report the recommendations of the committee.
State code called for three people — one selected by the county commission, one selected by the state legislators representing Tooele County, and one selected by the petition sponsors — to select two additional people to join them in a five-member appointment council.
The appointment council then selects between seven and 11 people from the county to serve on the study committee, according to state code.
The state legislators announced Kim Halladay as their designee. Tooele County commissioners designated Scott Rybarik as their designee. The petition sponsors selected Charlie Roberts as their designee.
The three designated appointment council members selected Kim Halliday and Tracy Shaw as the final members of the council.
The appointment council met and decided they wanted a diverse committee in terms of geographic and political party representation.
From a pool of 60 applicants, the appointment council selected 11 study committee members.
Those 11 people were: Rob Clausing, Lake Point; Whitney Cook, Grantsville; Brett Coombs, Tooele; Robin Douglas, Tooele; Brenda Faddis, Stansbury Park; Eric Gumbrecht, Tooele; Richard Mitchell, Rush Valley; Howard Murray, Grantsville; Daniel Pacheco, Tooele; Kent Sagers, Vernon; and Maria Sweeten, Erda.
Coombs resigned after being appointed Grantsville City attorney. State code prevents public employees from serving on the committee.
The study committee selected Silas Smith of Grantsville to take Coombs’ place on the committee. State code allows the study committee to set its own procedures for the committee, including the replacement of members.
Later on during the study process, Murray resigned from the committee, stating difficulty in attending meetings.
After the study committee narrowed down its options to either the council/manager or the five-member expanded county commission forms, Cook resigned from the committee, citing a desire for time for other pursuits, according to Richard Mitchell, study committee chairman.
The study committee did not replace Murray or Cook.
Forms of government studied
State code says the study committee’s report is to include three things:
• A recommendation as to whether or not the three-member commission form of government should be changed.
• If a change is recommended, the study committee’s report must also include a detailed draft of the proposed change with implementing provisions.
• The report is also to include any additional recommendations to improve efficiency and economy of the administration of county government.
The state Legislature has approved four forms of government for counties other than the current three-member commission, which has both legislative and executive authority. Those alternate forms 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 study committee spent most of 2017 meetly weekly.
Committee members heard from a representative of Envision Utah, the director of the Utah Association of Counties, and the author of UAC’s resource guide on county government.
Members of the committee interviewed Tooele County’s elected officers and department heads, including the county commissioners.
The study committee conducted an internet-based survey of county employees.
The committee held public input meetings in every community in the county.
County officials in counties using other forms of government, as well as officials from counties using the three-member commission, were contacted by the study committee.
After eight months of studying all five forms of county government, the study committee members completed individual worksheets in which they scored the legislative and executive function of each form of government on a scale of one to 10 on 10 previously determined criteria. Each criterion had a weighted value, based on the committee’s determination of the priority of the criteria.
The intent was to come up with the top two preferred forms of government for continued study and public feedback.
With a combined possible point total of 20, the different forms of government were ranked by the combined independent evaluations as follows: 14.06 points for appointed county manager/council; 12.58 points for elected county executive/council; 10.30 points for five-member county commission; 10.04 points for three-member commission; and 9.94 votes for the seven-member commission.
Committee members initially voted to keep the top scoring preference, the appointed manager/council, on the table. They then eliminated the lowest scoring form, the seven-member commission.
That left the three-member commission, the five-member commission, and the elected county executive/council form of governments.
Committee members discussed their thoughts about the remaining forms of government. Whitney Cook championed the cause of the three-member commission.
“The three-member commission is the leanest system allowed,” Cook said. “More heads does not necessarily mean things will be better.”
The splitting of legislative and executive power under a council system could lead to deadlock and finger pointing. Election of representatives by districts could lead to feudalism and division, according to Cook.
“Larger counties than Tooele County still use the three-member commission,” he said.
Maria Sweeten said comments from the public, including emails and phone calls, have been asking for a more diverse government, with more representation, more people involved, and access to someone that represents them.
On their first vote to select a second form of government to continue to study, the three-member commission form was dropped.
The opinion of the majority of the study committee was that while the current three-member commission form of government was not one of the final options to be studied by the committee, it remained a viable option because if voters reject a change, the three-member commission will be retained.
The next vote was a tie, 5-5 between five-member commission and elected county executive/council. After a revote the tally was five votes for five-member commission and three votes for elected executive/council, with two abstaining.
The next few months of study committee meetings focused on details of implementation for the appointed manager/county council and the five-member commission forms of government.
Among those details were the cost of each form, the size of the council, election of council or commission by districts, at-large, or a combination.
After reviewing information on the implementation of the two forms of government, the study committee voted 8-0 to recommend a five-member elected county council with an appointed manager as the form of government for Tooele County.
“If I were to vote tonight, I would vote for the council/manager form of government,” said Robin Douglas at the study committee meeting the week before the vote on the final recommendation.
Douglas explained that she had heard over and over from the public that they want better representation and transparency in their county government.
The council/manager form of government, with clearly defined roles — a separate manager and a five-member elected council — would provide what the people want, according to Douglas.
Douglas also liked the idea that the council could fire the appointed manager.
“If the manager doesn’t perform, if he doesn’t measure up, we can say ‘there is the door,’” Douglas said. “For me that’s a big plus.”
After selecting the five-member council/manager form of government as its recommendation, the committee turned to completing the details of implementing its recommendation, including developing a transition plan.
The final report was ready one year after starting the weekly meetings. The study committee presented its report to the Tooele County Clerk in February 2018.
If the study committee’s recommendation is adopted by voters, the legislative body of the county will be a county council that will be elected to four-year terms by districts.
The county council will retain the legislative duties of approving an annual budget and setting policy, or county code, according to Richard Mitchell, study committee chairman.
The study committee’s proposal includes paying five part-time elected council members a $25,000 annual stipend, with no benefits.
“The five council members will cost about as much as one commissioner,” Mitchell said.
The study committee’s report reads: “While it is the intent of the committee to target the county council membership into non-career, love of community, citizen service position, that is not the recommended committee intent for the county manager position. … The committee recommends shaping the employment position requirements, compensation package and position expectations to that of a professional manager.”
The county manager would be paid $90,000 to $120,000 per year with benefits, according to the study.
The committee also recommended that the terms of employment for the manager include the possibility of immediate termination by the council for cause. The list of causes for termination include failure to achieve performance metrics, various ethical violations and criminal acts.
The cost of the whole package, council and manager, would run around $300,000 per year. At approximately $120,000 each for salary and benefits for each of the three current county commissioners, taxpayers in Tooele County pay $360,000 a year for the top layer of county government, according to Mitchell.
On the ballot
In order for voters to decide if the study committee’s plan should be adopted and the county’s form of government changed, the question of adopting the committee’s recommendation needed to be placed on a ballot.
That could be accomplished either by a vote of the county commission or another petition of 10 percent of the county’s voters.
In a meeting between the study committee and the county commission, all three commissioners said they had no intention of voting to put the change of government on a ballot.
“When this thing was put out to ask for the study group, there was only one side that campaigned and went out and asked people to vote,” said Commissioner Myron Bateman. “I think the citizens should be engaged and educated on both sides.”
However, at the time the study committee finished its report, the state Legislature was considering legislation that would alter the process of changing a county’s form of government.
Among the changes, the proposed legislation would eliminate the need for a second petition or approval of the county commission to place a study committee’s report on a ballot.
Daniel Pacheco, a member of the Tooele County Form of Government Study Committee, and Jeff McNeill, one of the sponsors of the petition to create the study committee, testified at a Senate committee hearing in favor of the legislation.
Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne testified on behalf of the Utah State Association of County Commissioners against the legislation.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, who represents part of Tooele County, submitted amendments to the proposed legislation from the Senate floor. Thatcher’s amendments allowed for the recommendation of a county government study committee that was already under way at the time the new legislation becomes effective to be placed directly on a ballot without a second petition — if voters approved the initiation of the study with at least a 60 percent vote.
The legislation passed the Senate with a 26-0 vote. It cleared the House with a 71-2 vote.
The legislation allowed the recommendation of the Tooele County Form of Government Study Committee to be advanced to a ballot because the initial vote to create the study committee passed with a 65 percent vote.
The complete text of the study committee’s report, and supporting documents, including minutes of all meetings and information gathered and documents created by the study committee, can be found on the website at studytooelecounty.com and tooelecountyprop6.com.
The opponents of proposition 6 have created a website at noprop6tooele.com.
The question on the November ballot reads, “Shall Tooele County adopt the alternate form of government known as the council-manager form of government that has been recommended by the study committee?”