2019 Elections a turning point for West JordanJul 18, 2019 05:00PM ● By Erin Dixon
The operations inside City Hall will change drastically in Jan 2020.
By Erin Dixon | [email protected]
By a margin of 63 votes in 2018, West Jordan voters chose to change their form of government.
Proposition 10 read: ‘Shall the City of West Jordan, Utah, change its form of government to the Council-Mayor Form, with a seven-member Council?’
Voting results: 6,841 for, 6,778 against. The eligible voting population at the time was over 70,000.
Local elections this year will look very different as this election will decide the first “strong mayor” for the city.
A new at-large seat will replace the seat of the current mayor, and the new mayor will have greater administrative power than in the past. (The new at-large position will be a two-year term so in future it will fall in line with the other two at-large seats.)
All four district seats are also open for election. The only two council members remaining at the beginning of the year are Whitelock and Lamb.
The change comes with enthusiasm in the community.
Jennifer Scott, West Jordan resident, “We finally have an opportunity to elect a mayor who can be a voice for our city. The balance of power is shifting...It's absolutely essential that we elect a mayor who can capitalize on this opportunity. We need someone who can lead. Someone who doesn't just reflexively defer to staff.
“I've been wanting to see this change for 20 years.”
Melanie Briggs, recently retired city clerk, worked for West Jordan City for 33 years. “I am excited for the change in form of government. In my opinion, the Manager/Council form has not worked well.”
New mayor responsibilities
David Church, a municipal attorney, educated the candidates on the government changes at City Hall in late-May.
“After January your mayor will no longer sit on your council. Your mayor may attend council meetings, but council will choose its own chair,” Church said. “The mayor will be an observer of the legislative branch.”
The mayor will be the head of the executive and administrative branches of the city. This role was previously performed by a city manager.
The current form of government has Jim Riding as mayor and chair of the City Council, while David Brickey is the chief executive officer and is in charge of carrying out the decisions of the council. The new mayor will take the place of CEO.
Church, addressing the mayoral candidates said, “You’re going to have the duty to carry out the policies enacted by the council. You’re going to have the duty to carry out those policies only within the budget they adopt. Then you are going to be in charge to run the city...to do the day to day decision making, to assign the employees, to control those department heads, to run the show.”
A significant problem with this form of government is when the mayor and council disagree on any particular issue, and in conflict, stagnate operations and progress. Sandy and South Salt Lake both have councils and mayors that are occasionally at odds, and in the case of South Salt Lake, it almost prevented a budget from being approved.
“I have to keep reminding the mayors that their first duty in the code is carry out the policy adopted by the council, not torpedo it. Mayors should understand that you win your fight at the council level and if you lose it...you still have to carry them out.”
“There is no way that a council removes an elected mayor. The voters do that. So for four years, they may or may not get along,” Church said.
City Council changes
This change will also affect the council, as they have less power within administration.
“...[N]o more council members talking to public works directors saying, ‘I think you ought to do my street.’ No more council members going a recorder clerk and saying ‘I don’t like the way you handle the election.’ Any of that by council member would have to be in writing, directed to the executive, significant change,” Church said.
Council members only have power if the entire council votes with them.
“When you vote in the majority and pass your policy then you get your way. If you’re in the minority, all you had was the right to vote. I like to say that in local government the worst job...is council member in strong mayor form (of government).”