City council discusses change of government despite concerns
Mar 02, 2017 12:01PM ● Published by Tori LaRue
West Jordan’s former Interim City Manager Bryce Haderlie voices his opposition to a resolution that will put a change of government question on the November ballot. (Tori La Rue/City Journals)
Gallery: City council discusses change of government resolution despite concerns [2 Images] Click any image to expand.
The West Jordan City Council is moving forward with a ballot item that could change the city’s form of government despite residents’ requests to slow down and educate the public.
On Jan. 25, the council approved Resolution 17-18, which will add the following question on November’s ballot: “Shall the City of West Jordan, Utah, change its form of government to the Council-Mayor Form, with a seven-member Council?”
In West Jordan’s current council-manager form of government, a professional city manager, hired by the city council, carries out the day to day tasks of a city. The city manager acts as the CEO of the city while the mayor chairs the city council.
In the proposed council-mayor form, colloquially called the “strong mayor” form, West Jordan’s mayor would leave the legislative branch to become head of the executive branch of municipal government. The mayor in this form implements ordinances passed by the city council, appoints department heads and officers for city departments and has veto power subject to the council’s ability to override the veto.
No one spoke in favor of the resolution or the council-mayor government form of government at the hourlong public hearing during the Feb. 22 city council meeting. Instead, residents voiced concerns.
“I am just begging you not to put it on this year’s ballot, to wait for a year,” said Alexandra Eframo, a regular at the city council meetings. “Give us a chance to think about it.”
Residents filled all the regular chairs in the council room and two rows of folding chairs on at what Councilman Chad Nichols deemed the most packed meeting during his seven years on the council. A few residents stood against the outer walls of the room and just outside the chamber to hear the discussion about the city’s proposed change of government.
And while the turnout was huge for a West Jordan city council meeting, Eframo and others argued that many of West Jordan’s 110,000 residents were still unaware they may be voting on the city’s form of government later this year.
“I am surprised that it has been four weeks since this resolution has been adopted, and the residents of West Jordan did not receive at least a postcard in the mail advertising this public hearing,” said Bart Barker, a resident and former county commissioner. “I would encourage the city council to do whatever they can, if it goes forward with any ballot measure, to provide significant notice to the public of public discussions and of the information they need to make a decision.”
Joel Coleman, a former West Valley City councilman and the husband of Rep. Kim Coleman R-West Jordan, requested the council implement a citizen advisory committee if it planned to continue discussing a ballot item about changing the city’s government form.
“Maybe some of us citizens could take some time and thoughtfully go through the different options that we have and talk about the potential ramifications—the positives of changing and some of the negative ones—and come back to the council with an official recommendation,” said Coleman. “That would be really a great process to go through, even if we end up right where we are here in plenty of time to meet the deadlines for the elections and so forth.”
But the city council hasn’t granted much time for a citizen committee to discuss the city’s potential government options. As the resolution currently stands, the question will be placed on the November ballot if it is not rescinded by March 26, 60 days from the time the resolution originally passed.
Councilman Alan Anderson proposed a resolution amendment, Resolution 17-28, that would have changed the cutoff date from March 26 to Aug. 13, but the majority of the council did not approve this change.
Jacob tried to scrap the Resolution 17-18 entirely and start over, but the motion wasn’t valid because rescinding the resolution wasn’t placed on the Feb. 22 agenda prior to the meeting. Jacob placed an agenda item on the March 8 council meeting agenda to discuss rescinding the resolution.
“I think Resolution 17-28 is probably better than Resolution 17-18, but I think they are both so messed up that I need an opportunity to rescind, not to approve, so we’ll take that up another time,” he said.
Councilmen Chad Nichols and Chris McConnehey voiced similar opinions.
Jacob also placed an item on the March 8 agenda to discuss forming a citizen committee to study forms of municipal government. The committee could then report the council on what form of government residents would like to see in West Jordan.
Resolution 17-18 involves only two forms of government—the proposed council-mayor form and the city’s current council-manager form. Utah laws contain several other viable government forms for municipalities, but, by law, ballot measures are almost always restricted to posing one government form in exchange for the current form, according to City Attorney David Brickey.
When the resolution was drafted, Councilman Dirk Burton selected the council-mayor form of government as the current form’s contender.
When Resolution 17-18 originally passed, McConnehey and Jacobs voiced their opposition, saying residents, not the city council, should narrow the choice down to two options.
Besides the council-manager and council-mayor forms of government, Utah law outlines the six-member council, five-member council and charter forms of government.
A charter government would allow the city to build its own form of government. In the five- and six-member council forms, the mayor is the CEO of the city and chairperson of the council, and responsibilities may be added or subtracted from the mayor’s job description by a vote of the council.
Kayleen Whitelock, a resident and former Jordan School District board member, said she was not in favor of Resolution 17-18 because she thinks residents would likely vote in favor of the government change without realizing there are other government form options.
“Not everybody takes the time, unfortunately, to learn about these things,” Whitelock said in the Feb. 22 hearing. “My concern is that at times, our city in the past little while has had some pretty negative press, so if we put a ballot measure on the ballot, this is what will happen: People are going to say, ‘Oh yeah, we have to get rid of this (government form); this is not working.’”
Out of all of the government forms, Whitelock said the council-mayor form makes her the most uneasy.
“I worry that if the wrong person is sitting in the mayor’s seat, that that very strong power could go negative,” she said.
Resident Steve Jones agreed.
“I like our current government form, but if we changed at all, I still think there would be a better fit than the strong mayor,” he said. “There’s got to be a better one than that on the list.”