Weber County Forward

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. The effort fizzled and Weber County commissioners on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, take up their own proposal calling for a ballot question on the issue.

OGDEN — Petitioners seeking enough signatures to put the notion of changing Weber County’s form of government to voters failed in their efforts.

But the issue lives on.

Weber County commissioners on Tuesday are to consider their own proposal to put the question to voters of creating a committee to study changing the three-commissioner form of county government here. Tuesday’s meeting starts at 10 a.m. and will be held at the Weber Center, 2380 Washington Blvd., Ogden.

If they decide to move forward — and two of the three commissioners said Monday that they favor the proposal — Tuesday’s action would hardly end things. Voters would then weigh in on the question of creating a study committee to look into changing the governmental form — probably on the November 2019 ballot, according to county election officials. If voters decided to form a study group, any proposed change the special committee subsequently settles on would later go to the public for a second public vote.

Both Commissioners Jim Harvey and Scott Jenkins said Monday that they favor looking into the matter. Some have pushed for change to increase the number of commissioners to allow for broader representation of Weber County’s diverse population and to remove executive functions from the portfolio of commissioner duties, leaving them with just legislative responsibilities.

Jenkins, however, isn’t sure if he would actually favor changing the county form of government.

“I’m on the fence. I’m 50-50… I don’t want to spend more money. I don’t want to create more overhead,” he said. If a study shows that changing the form of government would save money, that might sway his thinking.

Harvey said he would defer to the experts on the study commission and the public.

Utah Rep. Gage Froerer, who help launched the initial signature-gathering effort, favors the proposal to be considered Tuesday and also favors changing the form of county government. He won the GOP primary last June for a spot on the county commission starting in the next term, in January 2019, and faces no challenger in the Nov. 6 general election for the post.

More specifically, Froerer favors increasing the number of commissioners from three to five or seven and making them part-timers, not full-timers, which would reduce their salaries. He also thinks executive responsibilities should be removed from the list of commissioner duties.

Whether executive powers are put in the hands of a elected county mayor or appointed executive is “where the study really needs to take place,” Froerer said. Cost of any change should also be a focus.

The Weber County League of Women Voters has pushed for change to the form of county government and still favors studying the notion, said Terri McCulloch, president of the group. She singled out what she thinks is the small size of the body — just three members — and the fact that commissioners hold both legislative and executive powers.

“It’d be nice if there were (a commissioner) from Ogden,” McCulloch said.

Members of a group called Weber County Forward, including Froerer, started a petition drive last October to collect enough signatures to put the question to voters of whether to form a group to study changing the government here. They got more than 5,000 signatures, according to Oscar Mata, involved in the effort, but it wasn’t enough. Per state law, they needed 8,601.

Mata has no problem now with commissioners taking over the initiative. Via group members’ interaction with the public, Weber County Forward, he said, started the public education process and the organization is now teaming with the Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service at Weber State University to start studying the subject. The idea is to have a body of research prepared should voters opt to go ahead with a study.

Talk of changing the form of county government dates at least to the late 1990s, when a vote on a proposed change narrowly failed.

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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