“Shall a study committee be appointed to consider and possibly recommend a change in Weber County’s form of government?”

That’s the question Weber County voters will be asked to approve or disapprove on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

To be very clear, the question is not asking if we should change the form of government. It is asking if we should appoint a committee to study various forms, recommend that we keep the current three-person commission form or suggest an alternative form. Any recommendation for change will have to go before the citizens again for approval or disapproval.

In the end, the voters decide. That is how it should be.

The commission form of county governance in America was established by William Penn after King Charles II granted the Pennsylvania Colony to him as payment for a debt the king owed Penn’s father. So, the origin of the commission form dates back as early as 1681. This local form of government soon spread throughout the colonies and then the states, as each was organized. Today, each of the 50 states is structured with counties, cities and towns as political subdivisions. About 3,100 counties or county equivalents exist in the United States. Texas has the most counties at 254. Delaware has the fewest at three. Utah has 29.

Across the nation, the most common form of county government remains the commission form. Of Utah’s 29 counties, 22 still adhere to the elected commission form, two have kept the elected commission form with an added elected executive, two have an elected council with an elected executive, two have an elected council with an appointed administrator and one simply has an elected council with no administrator.

The current commission form in Weber County gives the three elected commissioners both executive and legislative powers. Our current commissioners, Froerer, Harvey and Jenkins, are well educated, professional, amiable, collaborative, experienced and responsible. So, this isn’t a question about them. It’s a question about which form of government can best represent and serve our citizens over the years.

The American national government, by virtue of the Constitution, separates the executive and legislative powers. All states have structured their governments with separate branches as well. Some counties, believing in the wisdom of this division of power, have done the same.

The Weber County Commission unanimously passed a resolution allowing the study of the current and possible alternative forms to move forward if the people of Weber County vote “yes” in this November’s general election. It has bipartisan support.

Again, voters will decide if it should be studied, and then, after the study is completed, voters will decide if Weber County government should be restructured.

President James Madison wrote, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

If we never ask questions, we will never gain knowledge. The approval of a study means that a responsible citizen committee will have the chance to gather that knowledge through such questions as:

What have other counties experienced with changes in their form of government?

Would another form be more cost effective?

Could the citizens be better represented?

Would county operations run more smoothly in another form?

Which form, if any, would best suit our county’s needs and personality?

Are we seeking input, free of committee prejudice, from all reasonable sources?

Are we being transparent and communicative as we move through the process?

Answers to questions such as these will lead us to a good conclusion. The cost of the study will be negligible. The study’s process will make us all better informed.

It makes sense to vote “yes” on Proposition 3.

Robert A. Hunter is director of The Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service at Weber State University. Contact him at rhunter@weber.edu.

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