In some ways, Utah County is the future of Utah. It is booming in growth, jobs and high-tech entrepreneurism. In a few decades it could be Utah’s most populous county. Its thriving technology sector contrasts with its agricultural roots. And agriculture is still important in the county.
It’s a much different county than when I grew up in the farming area of west Orem. At that time most everyone was either a farmer or worked for Geneva Steel. Today, subdivisions, shopping centers – and Utah Valley University — have replaced the farms.
Utah County is diverse, crowded, and vibrant. Between BYU and UVU, it has a very large student population.
But the county’s current form of government is antiquated for a large, diverse, growing county.
The old three-member county commission form of government works fine for smaller, more homogenous counties. But it’s time for Utah County to change to a mayor/council system that separates executive and legislative roles.
The Utah County Commission has had its share of challenges lately, including a very public feud with Gov. Gary Herbert (a Utah County guy himself) over transit board appointments, a commissioner accused of bullying and sexual harassment, and recent concerns about the county’s election performance.
Many Utah County voters are still angry about having to stand in line for three or four hours on election day.
I’m not suggesting that the form of government is responsible for these problems, although it could have contributed.
The bigger issue is that the various areas of Utah County deserve their own representation on a county council so their concerns and issues are better addressed. It’s impossible for a three-member commission to represent all the varied needs and issues in Utah County.
An even bigger issue is the need to separate the legislative branch of government that makes the policy from the executive branch that carries out the policy.
When three commissioners make the policy and then carry out the policy, there exists a greater risk for problems and even corruption to occur.
I’m not at all suggesting that serious problems now exist. But let’s change the governance now to provide greater accountability and transparency in the executive/legislative functions.
A mayor/council governance system provides more accountability. Voters in council districts know exactly who makes the policy, and their own council member is more accessible and responsible to them.
They also know the mayor is responsible to carry out the policies. They know where the buck stops.
Even with the growth and rapid changes occurring in Utah County, I hope it will remain a conservative county and appreciate its rural roots. But it’s no longer your grandpa’s (that would be me) Utah County. It’s time to modernize so each county area has its own council member.