Oscar Mata

Oscar Mata of Weber County Forward signs a petition on Oct. 26, 2017, that calls for a ballot question on whether to study changing the form of Weber County's government. Five months later, those spearheading the effort still need more signatures.

OGDEN — The contingent pushing for a study into changing Weber County’s three-commissioner form of government had hoped to get enough signatures on petitions by April to get the question onto the election ballot.

Turns out, they’re not even halfway there, and April is less than a week away. State law requires 8,601 legitimate signatures to put the issue to voters, but those pushing the initiative have thus far garnered only a little over 4,000, Oscar Mata, co-chair of Weber County Forward — the group spearheading the effort — said Monday.

Thanks to a new law passed by Utah lawmakers, however, Weber County Forward has six more months to complete the process. And Mata said he expects the group will meet the signature threshold, outlined in state law and representing 10 percent of the ballots cast here in the 2016 general election.

“We feel we have enough time to reorganize this and get things moving,” he said.

He attributed the inability to get the required number of signatures, at least up till now, to petition fatigue. There are numerous petition drives across Utah to get varied questions on the ballot — to allow use of medical cannabis and more — and it can be too much for would-be petition signatories.

“We’re seeing a wave of petition and ballot initiatives... and the voters are getting a little tired,” he said

It’s not that the public doesn’t support the notion of studying a move away from Weber County’s three-commissioner form of government. When Weber County Forward signature gatherers are able to explain what they’re doing, Mata said, they generally get support.

Some say three commissioners aren’t enough to represent the diverse population in Weber County and think commissioners shouldn’t have both executive and legislative duties, as is the case. It’s been a simmering issue over the years, and Weber County Forward formed last fall to seek a study into changing the government here, per the process outlined in state law to shift county government styles.

A bill signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert on March 15, House Bill 224, tweaks the process, reducing the number of signatures needed to get questions about studying change on the election ballot. The 10 percent threshold falls to just 5 percent.

Though Rep. Gage Froerer, a Huntsville Republican and the measure’s sponsor, had initially said that reduction would apply to the Weber County Forward effort, it doesn’t. The process here launched before passage of the new law, and Deputy Weber County Attorney Christopher Crockett, who studied the question, said the 10 percent signature threshold spelled out in the old law applies.

However, the law gives petitioners 180 days from the day Herbert signed HB 224 to gather enough valid signatures, Crockett said, so the group here has more time, beyond the original April target date. Mata said Weber County Forward hopes to get enough signatures by early August, in time to get the question of whether to study changing the government here on the Nov. 6 ballot.

If such a measure is put to voters and they approve it, a special body would be tabbed with studying the question and potentially crafting a specific proposal to change Weber County’s form of government. Possible changes would be the addition of more commissioners, converting commissioners into part-time officials and creating a county executive or mayor to take over executive functions.

Any proposed change would be subject to another vote of the public.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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