It is short, at about 50 words, and relatively straightforward for a legal document.
But that’s all it took to begin a long overdue discussion of Weber County government.
Here is the petition filed Friday with the Weber County Clerk/Auditor’s Office:
Pursuant to the provisions of Utah Code 17-52-203 the undersigned Petitioners do hereby, “initiate the process of adopting an optional plan,” for changing the form of Weber County government via petition of, “Registered voters of a county,” and do signal our intent to begin collecting additional signatures via petition for that purpose.
It is signed by a mayor (North Ogden’s Brent Taylor), two state lawmakers (Rep. Gage Froerer and Sen. Ann Millner), a county commissioner (Kerry Gibson), and a former Weber County Democratic Party leader (Oscar Mata). Taylor said work on the petition began a year ago and included community leaders from all parts of the political spectrum.
Which is the only way the initiative can succeed.
The petition is part of a long, deliberative process. First, the county must confirm the petition is legal. Then petitioners need to collect signatures from 8,601 voters — equal to 10 percent of Weber County votes cast in the November 2016 general election — to put it on the ballot.
Taylor believes that’s possible by early 2018, he told Tim Vandenack, a reporter for the Standard-Examiner. If voters approve the initiative in either the June primaries or November general election, the county would appoint a committee to study its options.
If they recommend a change, it would go to another vote.
“What we’re doing is giving the people a chance to weigh in,” Taylor said.
It’s time to honestly discuss if Weber County needs to adopt a new form of government.
In a Sunday op-ed for the Standard-Examiner, Taylor and Froerer point out that a three-member county commission concentrates legislative and executive power in a single board. Effective government requires a system of checks and balances, they argue.
And just as important, a growing county of nearly 250,000 people needs more than three commissioners.
In Huntsville, a town of about 650, passing a law or approving a budget requires three votes, note Taylor and Froerer. But in Weber County, it only takes two.
“And then, the same two commissioners can turn around and execute the budget, ordinances, etc., as they are also the majority of the county executive body,” Taylor and Froerer wrote.
A county with nine representatives in the Legislature needs more than three commissioners, they contend — and they’re right. The 15 towns and cities making up Weber County all face different challenges; all 15 communities deserve local voices at the county level, speaking specifically to their needs.
The county can stand pat with a three-member commission, but as the county continues to grow, that only diminishes the voices of more people.
It can expand the commission to five or seven, but that does nothing to provide checks and balances. It can add commissioner and appoint a manager. Or, like Salt Lake County, it can switch to an expanded commission with an elected mayor.
County voters narrowly rejected an expanded commission in 1998. Since then, Weber County’s population has increased nearly 30 percent — from about 191,000 to roughly 248,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Even though they consider a three-member board inherently flawed, Taylor and Froerer don’t want to campaign for a particular option. Not yet, anyway.
“We’re not advocating for specific change at this point. That’s to be determined,” Taylor said.
Gibson, up for re-election in 2018, isn’t sure county government needs to change. He signed the petition because he believes it’s time for another conversation about our future.
“I think it’s always better for us to have a good thorough, honest discussion on these issues,” Gibson said. “I don’t know that I have an opinion as to where we should end up.”
Let’s see where the conversation leads us. Sign the petition.