City Hall marching West Jordan into the future
Jan 09, 2019 02:33PM
● By Erin Dixon
City council currently has a mayor with six council members (Alan Anderson not pictured). In 2020, the council will expand to seven members with a strong mayor. (Courtesy West Jordan)
By Erin Dixon | [email protected]
2019 will be a year of change for West Jordan: substantial residential and economic growth, and extensive legislative adjustments.
Local government changes
This fall, West Jordan will vote for it’s first “strong mayor.” This mayor will be unlike any other mayor past.
Currently, the mayor has no administrative or executive duties. There is a six-member council that helps the mayor with the legislative decisions. The city manager, who is appointed, not elected, is the official administrator.
When the term begins for the new “strong mayor,” the mayor will no longer simply be chairperson of the city council, but his/her responsibilities will absorb many of the tasks that are currently handled by the city manager. The city manager has been the chief executive officer (CEO) of the city. This person has taken care of the administrative business of the city and ensures that direction by council is implemented.
The strong mayor will become the CEO with administrative and executive power, as well as the face of the city.
On the 2018 ballot, Proposition 10 asked: ‘Shall the City of West Jordan, Utah, change its form of government to the Council-Mayor Form, with a seven-member Council?’
The voting results were 6,841 for, 6,778 against. West Jordan’s eligible voting population at the time was over 70,000.
Position of the city manager will be eliminated
David Brickey, current city manager said, “My first responsibility is to implement whatever the city council has given to me by directives, usually every two weeks that will have set policy, to make sure staff is following up on their obligations to fulfill the city councils requests.”
Every morning, his first task is generally “figuring out what’s burning [and] put that fire out,” he said.
With the new “strong” mayor, the city will no longer have a city manager. There will be a position for an aid, or assistant mayor, that will be an at-will post. But, the current council will decide exactly what that position will require and how it will differ from the current city manager responsibilities.
“It will be dependent on the council to rename my role,” he said. “Some cities that [have] a strong mayor form of government will have a person that is directly assisting the mayor, but it can be called anything from a deputy mayor to city administrator.”
David Brickey is planning on submitting his name to serve the new mayor for that position in 2020.
Mayor position will become “strong”
As it stand now, the mayor is the face of the city council, the legislative body. He is the voice for the collective decisions made by the council and city manager.
“Right now, as mayor, I’m chairman of the city council,” Riding said. “I sign all the contracts for the city, but everything that takes place in the city basically is handled by the city manager.”
A typical day for the mayor includes signing resolutions and contracts at city hall, visiting businesses, interacting with and answering questions from residents.
“On council days, I block out a time that’s open, 3 to 5 p.m., open meet the mayor,” Riding said. “David will come and talk about things, keeping me in the loop because most of it is his decisions. Some things that may involve city council [and] he’ll keep me involved, so we can let city council know as well.”
The mayor and council are currently the decision makers when it comes to policy and law, but they do not implement those decisions.
“Council is just the legislative body, which sets the rules, procedures, ordinances,” Riding said. “But they need to try to stay in their lane and not try to be the administrative body, which is what council has done in the past. The mayor is supposed to be the face of the city.”
When the mayor becomes the primary decision maker, he or she will decide what help they want with the combined roles.
“Depends on who gets elected We watched with Salt Lake City, when she was elected she asked for the resignation of all the department heads. In Sandy, he asked for four or five. That’s conceivable,” Riding said.
“Who’s got a bigger ego, if they decide they want to be president of West Jordan instead of mayor,” Riding continued.
“Hopefully that wouldn't happen here.”
2019 will define the future of city government
Beginning in January 2019, the current city council will meet weekly to review each line of code in the city to make way for the new responsibilities of the mayor, and the deletion of the city manager.
“Many of the codes for the city have some kind of change happening to them because of the change of government, so council will start reviewing these, and we’ll have to review and approve each one,” Riding said.
“[We will] try to get everything set up so there’s a very smooth transition, so the people in the public probably wouldn’t even know.”
The review process must be complete by June 1 when residents are able to put forth their name for the fall election. The candidates will need to know what the new code will be and how it will define their legislative positions.
Most of the city council positions will be open for election this year. An additional at-large position that will be added to council, as well as districts one, two, three and four, and mayor. Chad Lamb and Kayleen Whitelock are the only members that will remain for another two years.
Because Riding was elected at the same time as the government change, he will only serve two years of the four-year term. He will need to run for re-election—which he plans on doing—because the mayoral role will be changing. Regardless of the results of the election, the city is required to pay him for the full four-year term. After Riding’s election, he stated that he would not keep the extra pay.
Kent Anderson, economic development director, outlined some business projects the city has been working on and will be completed in 2019. Near 7000 South and Redwood Road will be a new Lucky’s Grocery. A large home decorating store called At Home will replace Sears in Jordan Landing. More unnamed tenants and development will go in across the movie theater in Jordan Landing.
“We’re working with some additional tenants that we can’t share the names of; we hope to announce early in 2019 one in the southwest part of the community,” Anderson said.
Riding said there are other major projects still in development that may take more time to complete.
“[Some] things are coming to fruition [sometime this] year; some are probably five years out,” Riding said. “There’s just a lot of things in transition right now.”
A strong business base is what keeps a city from relying too much on residents to financially support the operation of the city. Property taxes were raised 18 percent in August 2018 to fund police and fire, both of which needed increases to support the increasing population. More business in a city, especially large business, can help temper the need for further tax increase in the future.
“There [are] different types of revenue streams that the city uses to provide our core functions to the residents,” Anderson said. “[P]roperty tax and sales tax are significant—the two most significant revenue. Trying to increase both of those revenue streams makes it easier to provide services to the residents without having to ask for additional increases.”
There are several large developments in process, but the city is under Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA), which prevents anyone from discussing specifics. Even if a potential tenant is working through the process, there is no guarantee of its completion. Anderson alludes that there may be some significant companies that are considering West Jordan land.
“It’s always challenging when you’re working with developments because you can go quite far down the process and something comes up,” Anderson said. “Typically, these larger Fortune 500 companies are evaluating several sites and go down the process for development approval on multiple locations simultaneously and make the final decision as they get near the end.”
Auto dealerships and liquor stores are two large business that can be desirable in a community because they provide consistent large sums of sales and property tax.
“We’re still in conversations with potential auto dealerships,” Anderson said. “The liquor store is a little more challenging because that’s held by the Utah State Legislature to help them identify West Jordan as a new location for a liquor store.”
Another large project may be announced early spring 2019. Across the street from the West Jordan City Hall is the Jordan School District Auxiliary Hall, which is also adjacent to a TRAX station. This property has the potential to be a large development if the district office is moved.
“Our city center project [for which] we received a grant from the Wasatch Front Regional Council and Salt Lake County is called the transportation land use connection grant,” Anderson said. “We’ve hired a consultant to evaluate this site from and economic perspective of what’s appropriate land use, and the highest and best return on this site.”
“Once this planning process is completed, the next step would be to work with the Utah Transit Authority to have this TRAX station be designated as a Transit Oriented Development , which allows UTA to enter into a joint venture with a developer for the land they have available there,” Anderson said.
Community Development Director Scott Langford said city leaders have a number of goals but also have legal restrictions that dictates how land is developed.
City code states that 77 percent of housing must be single-family residences, while the remaining 23 percent is multi-family residential. The city does not currently fill this ratio.
“Every year per this ordinance, we have to do an analysis on where we are city wide as far as housing stock to make sure we’re marching toward that goal,” Langford said. “[However], it’s looking 20 to 25 years before we achieve that balance.”
However, the path toward this goal is not straight.
“There are a lot of exemptions that have popped up,” Langford said. “We can’t restrict a multi-family development if it’s for senior housing, or if there is a nonprofit HUD-financed project, that’s exempt. We legally can’t exclude that type of housing from the city.”
Ultimately, Langford said the goal is to retain residents within the city by building a variety of housing to suit any need. This will encourage people to upgrade and downsize within the city.
“The whole thought behind this is that we want a mixed, diverse housing stock for the residents in West Jordan where right out of high school you can find something, all the way up through your whole life find something that will fit your needs,” Langford said.
Public influence on the future
The growth of business and residential essentials are a result of the combined efforts of elected officials, employees of the city and residents. However, the ultimate success of business in the city is dependent on the residents.
“What helps is having residents out patronizing our businesses in the community that help generate sales tax,” Anderson said. “The more shopping that they do locally, the easier it is for my department to attract additional retail tenants because they can see that people are interested in shopping in West Jordan.”
Residents can give opinion and influence decisions through public hearings.
A public hearing is required when there is a land rezone on a council agenda. Residents who live on land adjacent to the rezone property are notified and allowed to give comment. Previously, residents would give their comments, but no dialogue could take place between council and residents. The council could discuss issues brought up by residents during that same meeting, but decision on the rezone was made that evening. Some residents felt that council members were listening to comment as a formality and that voicing concerns was purposeless.
In late 2018, the council began a new practice that would delay the decision pertaining to the public hearing at least two weeks. This would give them time to investigate concerns and directly answer questions.
“The developers are probably the ones that are most disgruntled about it because it delays whatever that is for two week,” Riding said. “But it gives council members an opportunity to make a more educated decision.”
This new pattern of public hearings and delayed decision making will continue through 2019.
However, there is a limit to the extent residents can influence land use.
“The public should be heard; the public is entitled to be heard,” Brickey said. “But the public still has to remember that founding fathers the idea that land had value. It’s the one commodity that you can’t create.”
In some cases, public opinion can be overpowering. A balance must be found between resident’s concerns and ideals, and between the landowner’s wishes.
“The courts have described public hearing that have what they call ‘clamor,’ when the public's clamor influences the decisions of the elected officials in a way that results in a taking or an unauthorized restriction of the land, the courts won’t allow it,” Brickey said. “They’ll say that the influence of the community took away a constitutional right that the developer is entitled to. We’re trying to avoid that.”