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West Jordan Journal

City removes government change question from November’s ballot

Mar 29, 2017 09:52AM ● By Tori La Rue

Residents pack into the West Jordan city council chambers on Feb. 22. Residents voiced their opinions about a ballot measure that could have changed the city’s form of government during a public hearing at the meeting. (Tori La Rue/City Journals)

By Tori La Rue | [email protected] 

West Jordan revoked a change of government question set for November’s ballot, but the discussion on the issue will continue—this time likely allowing residents more say in the debate.

In West Jordan’s current government form, the council–manager government form, the elected seven-member city council constitutes the legislative branch of the city. The mayor acts as chair of the council, with an appointed city manager acting as the CEO of the city.

On Jan. 25, the city council passed a resolution, Resolution 17-18, that would have posed a change from the current form of government to the council–mayor form, colloquially called the strong mayor form. The council–mayor government breaks the mayor away from the legislative branch and places him at the head of the executive branch.

No one spoke in favor of the resolution or the council–mayor form of government at the hourlong public hearing during the Feb. 22 city council meeting. Instead, residents asked for more time and education on the subject.

After another public hearing with similar responses on March 8, the city council rescinded the resolution, taking the question off the ballot. The council also approved the creation of a resident committee that will advise the council on what type of government residents support.

“If we are going to go through the exercise of putting it on the ballot, then my belief is we should do it better, so the residents of our community have the information to be able to make a vote,” Councilman Alan Anderson said at the March 8 meeting.

Anderson tried to amend the ballot question resolution during the Feb. 22 meeting to allow nearly five more months of resident discussion. His proposed amendment, Resolution 17-28, would have allowed the city council to make changes to the ballot question up to Aug. 13, but it failed to gain the majority vote.

Several council members expressed their desires to rescind the ballot question entirely and start over.

“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,” Councilman Zach Jacob said.

Councilman Chad Nichols and Jacob motioned to rescind 17-18 at the March 8 council meeting. The vote passed 4-1 in favor, with Councilman Dirk Burton casting the negative vote, Mayor Kim Rolfe abstaining and Councilman Jeff Haaga excusing himself because of a “conflict of interest.”

Even though the ballot question, which posed a change to the strong mayor form, is no longer set for the November, Nichols said it’s important for the city to continue the change of government discussion.

“We have welcomed this giant into the city,” he said. “People are anxious and want to talk about it. If we find out only 15 people want a change, and that’s it, then we won’t put anything on the ballot. If we have 20, 30, 40 and then hundreds of people interested in a change, maybe it’s time.”

Jacob made a motion to create a resident committee to study all the municipal forms of government available, seek input from fellow residents and present findings to the council. The motion passed 5-0, with Rolfe and Haaga abstaining.

The committee will have seven to nine members and will not include any voting members from the city council. The city council will appoint these members by April 26.

Councilman Chris McConnehey also encouraged the city to host town hall meetings and open houses where residents could voice their opinions on the city’s government form while learning about the other municipal government forms in Utah.

Besides the council–manager and council–mayor forms of government, Utah law outlines three other kids of municipal governments: the six-member council, five-member council and charter government forms.

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.

One reason the Resolution 17-18 ballot measure was criticized by residents and Nichols, McConnehey and Jacob was because it included only two government options. It allowed residents to choose between their current form and the council–mayor form but disregarded the other forms on Utah books.

“Let’s let (residents) have all of the choices, and not just make the first half of the choice for them,” Jacob said.
The newly approved resident committee will study the pros and cons of all available government forms and present findings to the council.

Residents who are not on the committee are encouraged to voice their opinions during the public comments segment at the city council meetings.