Proposition 3

A campaign sign pushing for passage of Proposition 3, the ballot question calling for a study into whether the three-commission form of government is the best fit for Weber County. The sign, located at the corner of 12th Street and Washington Boulevard in Ogden, was photographed Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

OGDEN — Weber County residents are apparently happy with the three-commission government format here.

On Tuesday, voters rejected Proposition 3, the ballot question calling for a study into the county government format in Weber County, possibly with an eye to changing it. It wasn’t even close, with the measure losing 24,067 votes to 12,977 votes, a 65%-35% split, according to unofficial preliminary totals late Tuesday night. Its defeat means the three-commission format, the most common in Utah, will stay in place.

“I think the message from the voters is they’re pretty happy with our form of government,” said Gary Boyer, the South Ogden man who authored the argument against Proposition 3 that accompanied mail-in ballots sent to Weber County voters ahead of Election Day.

As is, the three-member Weber County Commission, holding both executive and legislative powers, oversees county government. Scott Jenkins, Jim Harvey and Gage Froerer, all Republicans, are the current slate of commissioners, all elected at-large, all full-time employees.

But some, noting Weber County’s rapid growth and increasing diversity, had questioned whether the three-commission format allowed for accurate representation of the county’s population, spurring the push for Proposition 3. Others questioned the wisdom of putting both executive and legislative powers in the hands of commissioners, also factoring in the Proposition 3 push.

Proposition 3 critics, however, had variously worried about the cost of carrying out a study and defended the three-commission system, and they easily carried the day, preliminary totals show.

Jenkins, a Proposition 3 foe, had defended the three-commission format, touting what he said was its efficiency. To get change approved, he only has to work with two other commissioners, he noted. He and Harvey also noted the solid working relationship between the three commissioners.

Boyer cited what he said is the hands-on nature of the three commissioners and their direct involvement in county affairs. “Very hands on. You don’t have that with county councils or county managers,” he said, alluding to other county government formats allowed under Utah law.

Whether to change the county government format here has been the focus of on-and-off debate, dating at least to the 1980s. Last year, the Weber County Commission agreed to put the question of studying change onto the ballot. That came after a petition campaign to put the issue on the ballot, backed by a wide array of local leaders, failed to garner the required number of signatures.

State law allows for a range of county government styles. The other options include:

Expanded commissions, with either five or seven members.

An executive-council format, with an elected county mayor or executive holding executive powers and a five-, seven-, or nine-member council holding legislative powers. The executive would have veto power.

A manager-council format, with an appointed county manager overseeing day-to-day functions and a five-, seven- or nine-member council holding legislative powers. The manager would not have veto power.

Proposition 3, had it passed, would only have authorized a study into the county government format here and whether it’s the best fit for Weber County. Any future change would have been subject to another vote.

Oscar Mata, who had pushed for Proposition 3 as part of a group called Weber County Forward, suspects contentions that the Proposition 3 study would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars had the measure passed scared some voters. Moreover, he doesn’t think some voters fully understood exactly what the measure entailed.

Boyer, though, doesn’t think Proposition 3 proponents offered a compelling reason why change was potentially in order.

Following Proposition 3’s defeat, Mata said proponents of change have to wait before they can push for such a proposal again. He said he thought the waiting period was 10 years, while Boyer said he thought it was four years.

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

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!