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West Jordan Journal

Residents to decide West Jordan form of government

Aug 31, 2017 06:21PM ● By Jana Klopsch

By Becca Ketelsleger | [email protected]

“Perception is a lot of things, and right now here is what I perceive: You have already made up your mind,” said West Jordan resident Steve Jones, as he addressed the West Jordan City Council on Aug. 9. “This is not about what the citizens want; this is about what you want.”  

During this meeting, a fierce debate was held, which ultimately ended in a decision that some viewed as giving the voters of West Jordan a voice, and others viewed as a flagrant disregard for that same voice.

Passing with a 5-2 vote, it was decided that a ballot measure will appear during the Nov. 2 election, which gives the voters a choice between the city’s current form of government (the council-manager system) and the council-mayor form of government. 

While there are three other recognized forms of municipal government, these will not be included on the ballot. 

Since May 23, 10 West Jordan residents have met weekly as an ad hoc committee to research and make recommendations on a potential change of government. On Aug. 1, its recommendations were published.

The primary recommendation by the committee was to remain with the city’s current form of government, the council-manager system. its recommendation included an appeal to repeal West Jordan Ordinance 13-24 which Committee Chair Joel Coleman said, “creates an unreasonable and unenforceable requirement for the mayor to serve full time.” 

The ordinance largely outlines the duties placed upon the mayor. The request for an appeal of this ordinance was included because the committee felt that, although it appreciated the clarification of responsibilities, it doesn’t feel that the position needs to be micromanaged. 

“Let’s not tell our mayor where he has to be or what hours he has to work,” said Coleman while presenting their findings.

However, even making changes such as these do not bring the mayor as much autonomy as would a change to the council-mayor form of government.  

Currently, West Jordan has a six-member city council, with the mayor acting as the chairman of the city council, and the city manager managing day to day operations. According to the National League of Cities website, the council-manager form of government is presently the most common form of city government in the U.S. 

“The risks and potential downsides (of changing) don’t even come close to the upsides (of keeping the current form),” said Coleman regarding the option of changing the form of government. 

To some, the reason to reject a change comes not from a lack of interest in exploring upsides but rather in the lack of options. 

In 2008, the council-manager form of government was removed from Utah state code as a legitimate form of municipal government. 

“I feel the legislature has tied our hands on this one,” said Councilman Chad Nichols. “They grandfathered our form of government; they have put us in this predicament where if we want to, let’s say, experiment with another form of government to see if it works for us, we have no way of coming back.”

However, to some, the downsides to the current form of government are sizeable. 

“I want my mayor to be bound to what him or her campaigned on,” said West Jordan resident Bill Barton. “A professional manager does not substitute for the obligation of an elected mayor who is beholden to the voters.” 

Councilman David Newton offered a different perspective. 

“As your mayor from 2006 to 2010, I lived that,” he said. “I saw what happened as we dealt with other entities in this valley and this state. We were at a disadvantage when I would say that I could not make a decision.” 

Also cited on the National League of Cities website is the proposed council-mayor form of government, which 34 percent of U.S. cities use. 

This form of government, also known as the “Strong Mayor” form of government, removes the position of city manager, instead giving this power to the mayor. This new authority, according to Utah state code, may include appointing or dismissing staff, creating administrative offices and vetoing ordinances passed by the council. 

In the end, most of the council felt that the issue should be put on the ballot for the residents to decide, despite the recommendation of the committee. 

“I’ve said this before, the council can’t change the form of government,” said Councilman Alan Anderson. “The voters are the only ones with the power to change the form of government.” “Allowing voters to participate in the dialogue is helpful.” 

Regardless of what November holds, one theme ran throughout the evening: The type of government chosen is less important than the individuals chosen to fill those positions. 

“The most critical underlying concept that we kept coming back to was that ‘The quality and temperament of the elected officials is the most critical element in the successful operation of the city, regardless of the form of government,’” read Coleman from the committee’s report. “I don’t know if any form of government would be detrimental or devastating.”     

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